“A lot of the way that lobsters maneuver within dominance hierarchies is the way we maneuver within dominance hierarchies and if you’re an evolutionary thinker, you can’t just push that away.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
I’ve been reading this book lately called 12 Rules for Life by the famous Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Dr. Jordan Peterson. His work and lectures have generated a string of controversy because of his criticisms of today’s era of political correctness.
He’s subsequently been both revered and criticized for his viewpoints. Whether you like him or not, the ideas and points he brings up about what it means to be a man in this modern era can provide context and practical application to the internal chaos and suffering that we all experience as a result of the human condition.
If you don’t feel like reading his new book or don’t have the time, you can check out some of his content which provides a basis and some context to what many people consider controversial:
Before I go on another random tangent about how helpful Jordan Peterson’s content has been, let’s tie this in with the theme of this post. A few weeks ago, I was out coaching my most recent Dating Mastery Class and remembered a common theme we were talking about and working through during the lecture portions of the class.
One of our female students along with one of the guys asked us to provide a framework for asserting yourself in a healthy way, and how to navigate your way through a dominance hierarchical structure. In a way, it made me think about one of the lessons and rules from Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life.
He compares human behavior to the behavior of lobsters. Human beings and how we categorize and assert ourselves are a lot like lobsters. Lobsters regularly engage in dominance disputes. Since lobsters aren’t empathetic or social creatures, it really boils down to whoever is the toughest lobster is the one that wins.
What’s so interesting about the lobster is that when it dominates the weaker one, it spreads itself out by flexing so it looks bigger. The biochemical marker that makes the lobster flex is serotonergic. The same chemical affected by anti-depressants in human beings (serotonin) is released when the dominant lobster defeats the weaker lobster.
Think about it this way, when a lobster is defeated, is makes itself smaller by taking up less space, clamming up into a ball, and being submissive, just like a human being when he or she is depressed. When you give someone an anti-depressant, they stretch, expand, and mimic the behavior of a winner. They’re ready to take on the world again just like the dominant lobster. Likewise, if you give the defeated lobster serotonin, it will stretch out and fight again.
Our neurochemistry has many similarities to that of lobsters, which ties into the idea of the importance of hierarchies for human beings. Whether you’re aware of it or not, hierarchies exist everywhere, both overt and subtle. For more information on this topic, take a look at Jordan Peterson’s lecture on Darwin and lobsters.
Whether it’s within your friend group, familial structure, or even the formal and informal hierarchical structures that exist at the workplace, every single day millions of men and women are tested and aren’t even aware of it. If you fail one of these tests, just like how the dominant lobster defeated the submissive lobster, it’s not the end of the world for you. But it could be the end of a possible good opportunity.
Look at it this way, we all know that women test guys. It’s not because women are inherently mean, get an ego trip out of testing men, or want to find the next excuse to reject another guy. Women do it not because they want to but because they have to. Compared to men, women have a lot more to lose if they’re not selective or have screening processes in place while searching for a mate.
Women have a lot at stake when choosing a partner. When a girl tests you, she’s probing you for emotional weakness, since one of the most attractive traits a man can have is emotional strength. Passing these tests increases her attraction towards you, which is a good thing if you want to take things to another level romantically with her.
What a lot of men don’t realize is that men test other men but for different reasons. Here’s an example:
Imagine your friend invites you to play a pick up game of basketball at the park with a bunch of guys you’ve never met. You show up to the park and immediately notice eight tall, well-built athletic guys playing along with your one friend who invited you to come out. You get to the court, introduce yourself, and get ready to play. In the beginning everyone seems friendly, but after everyone has picked teams and you’re on the opposing team, all the guys including your own teammates begin to pick at you.
They’ve started to peel back the layers of your personality to see who you really are as a man. After paying careful attention to your vocal tonality, the things you’ve said to them after the introduction, and even your physical appearance, because you’re a pretty skinny and average looking guy who is just slightly over 5’9″, they’ve effectively sized you up.
The teams decide who gets first possession. Your team gets first dibs because one of the guys on your team made a shot that determines who gets first possession. Everyone asks who’s going to take the ball down the court and you volunteer to take it down and play point guard. All of a sudden, one of the taller and athletic guys on your team makes a joke about whether you’re sure you can dribble the ball down the court and make the plays.
Although he’s making what he said to you as a joke, there’s a little truth to it. By saying this, your teammate is basically calling you out on your biggest emotional weakness. This is what your standard test may look like when you’re entering a new social group.
When you’re among a new group of guys (and even girls) or a mixed social group, you can always think of the beginning as an initiation period, similar to how fraternities and sororities make their new members pledge, just not as physically or emotionally harsh.
Most the tests you’ll hear or learn about are usually about the types of tests women run on men to screen them out. But you rarely hear about the tests guys run on other guys as a form of dominance. To reinforce this concept, think back to a time when you were younger, like when you were in high school. The testing is much more overt and pronounced, and in some cases much harsher than how a grown adult would test you.
How to Handle & Respond to Tests
Now, let’s take a step back and revisit our pick up game of basketball. After that taller and athletic guy made the joke about you playing point guard, how you respond to the test will determine if you fail or pass. Let’s look at a few of these possible outcomes together.
Option A: You say nothing
Just a precaution, you would look pretty ridiculous and weird if you chose to go this route.
Option B: You laugh with him
Understand that if you do this, you will pass one part of the test but fail the other.
Option C: You get defensive
Getting defensive the worst thing you can do because it shows weakness. Think back to the times when you were in school. Maybe you were bullied or saw someone else who was bullied, or maybe you did the bullying yourself. You probably noticed that the ones who got defensive or more aggravated for the taunting provided the bully with more incentive to keep pressing that sensitive pain point.
Every single time a guy runs a test on you, he’s basically sub-communicating that “I’m more dominant than you are, what are you going to do about it?” Just like how a girl will test your emotional fortitude, if you fail too many of these tests in front of other guys, your social standing amongst the group starts to dwindle.
As your standing drops, the other less dominant guys in the group will also begin to test you just like the first guy. Eventually, everyone in the group will start to view you as nothing more than a doormat that they can walk all over.
Going back to the lobster example from earlier, humans act a lot like animals. But instead of trying to dominate you physically as our crustacean friend would do, other men (and women) will test and try and dominate you emotionally. In other words, if the dominant male, dominant female, or the alpha of the group pokes at you emotionally and you show fear and weakness, the other members of the group will do the same thing over time until you’re viewed as the lowest member of the group.
Another good example to think about is the TV show, the Dog Whisperer. One of Cesar Milan’s tips is to never act afraid around the dog because dogs can sense and smell a person’s fear, which will cause the dog to act in an aggressive way. You can see this in action by watching this video.
The same concept applies to humans, but in a slightly different way. Like lobsters, dogs, and other types of animals, other guys and girls can sense fear and weakness. It’s like that lesson about why you should never turn your back on a bear and start running, because this will get the bear to start to view you as it’s prey.
Let’s go back to our pick up basketball game example. What do you do now?
Option D: Show no weakness
By now you probably know that Option D is the optimal choice. But you came here to learn how to safe guard yourself and pass these tests so you can open more doors and opportunities while also gaining the respect of your peers. So how exactly do you do this?
You match the dominant guy in the group tit-for-tat. This means that when another guy pokes at you, you poke back. But, don’t take this as a get out of jail free card to openly insult or demean the other person poking at you, like how President Trump attacks all his critics and the media outlets on Twitter or in the news. It’s pretty easy to do this with people you know a little bit about, while it’s harder to do with complete strangers.
If you don’t know the person well enough to know their pain points and weaknesses, you can neutralize the test by laughing about it and turning it into a compliment for yourself. Someone who does this really well that you can study and watch is the comedian, Russell Brand.
To simplify this concept even more and go back to the previous point, the key here is to respond in a way that doesn’t make you look weak or defensive. At the core of it, all the tests other guys run on you is about respect. Just like how women test you, men are probing you for your confidence and to see if you respect yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, you can’t earn their respect.
Think about how a pack of wolves will almost never go after another pack of wolves, but they will routinely single out and go after the weakest link in the chain within their own group.
In a nutshell, by understanding this behavior you will automatically know how to gain respect within a group of guys or new social group, and hold your ground when you’re tested.
I understand that a lot of what I just talked about could easily be taken out of context. The most important part is to not be a bully or a dick, and respect other people who give respect or have earned it. Most of all, there’s a way to handle this without getting bullied or dominated, or by doing the bullying and domination.
Please take a look at a few of the following resources. These videos have helped me tremendously and made me more aware of healthier and better ways to command respect from other people:
You can also check out our article to learn the mental framework of how to be an alpha male.
‘Til next time,