The author of this book is Morgan Scott Peck (May 22, 1936 – September 25, 2005).
Peck was a Psychiatrist, born in New York City and best-selling author, best known for this book, The Road Less Traveled, published in 1978.
Wow – what a book! In this article I have summarised what I think are some of the key points of the book. There is a lot of wisdom packed into this book and the whole book must be read to be appreciated. The book itself is a classic in personal development. The book spent 13 years on the New York Times bestseller list to create a paperback record, sold 10 million copies worldwide and was translated into more than 20 languages. I have read this book before and as I re-read it again I realise how good it is and why it has remained so popular over the years. It is the type of book from which you can gain new insights every time you read it.
I have highlighted some of the Key points from the book below.
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. Once a person understands this they can transcend this.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them? Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us all that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.
It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.
Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. Avoiding problems leads to neurosis which eventually is more painful than the problems we are trying to avoid.
We need to learn the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved.
How do we solve life’s problems? Answer – Discipline.
“We teach ourselves to do the unnatural until the unnatural becomes itself second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural”
Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. There are 4 tools in Discipline:
1. Delaying of gratification
Eat that frog for breakfast! Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live. Work through the pain first – do the thing you hate the most first! We want instant solutions to problems without giving them the time to be solved – we want instant gratification of the solution. Another destruction behaviour is ignoring problems and hoping they will go away of their own accord. Confronting problems is painful. To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful.
2. Acceptance of responsibility
We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We like to pass the buck and deny that a problem belongs to us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.” The book discusses Neuroses and Character Disorders. A neurotic takes too much responsibility for what happens to them. They have a self-image as an inferior man or woman, always falling short of the mark, always making the wrong choices. A person with a character disorder believes that their life is completely directed by external forces totally beyond his or her control and that they have no power of choice. By casting away their responsibility for problems they may feel comfortable with themselves, but they have ceased to solve the problems of living. Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices. We must learn must learn that the entirety of one’s adult life is a series of personal choices, decisions. If they can accept this totally, then we become free people.
3. Dedication to truth
Truth is reality. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world-the more our minds are befuddled by false-hood, misperceptions and illusions-the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. To make an accurate map of reality requires effort in a constantly changing world as we also change throughout our lives. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other mapmakers. However because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity. The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge becomes a way of life.
For individuals and organizations to be open to challenge, it is necessary that their maps of reality be truly open for inspection by the public. Such honesty does not come painlessly. The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.
Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility. Extraordinary flexibility is required for successful living in all spheres of activity. Mature mental health demands, then, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually re-strike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc. In order to grow we must give up parts of our old selves and this process is painful. Self-discipline is a self-enlarging process. The pain of giving up is the pain of death, but death of the old is birth of the new. The pain of death is the pain of birth, and the pain of birth is the pain of death.
The book also deals extensively with love. Scott Peck defines love as the “will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion through the fact that for that someone (or for our self) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful. Scott Peck deals with different types of love including the myth of romantic love. The book also deals with marriage and what constitutes a healthy marriage. The book uses examples from his therapy work. The opposite of love is laziness, taking the easy way out.
Move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as joy will be your reward. A full life will be full of pain. But the only alternative is not to live fully or not to live at all. The attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.
The book also deals with parenting and religion, our world view and issues of spiritual growth. The book also delves in to the mystery of life – phenomenon which science cannot explain – the paranormal. He talks of the complexity of the human mind:
“the mind that sometimes presumes to believe that there is no such thing as a miracle is itself a miracle”.
Within each and every one of us there are two selves, one sick and one healthy. We all need to work on ourselves to become healthier (move away from laziness and entropy and towards God). Overall this is a wonderful insightful book based on the observations of the author as a result of his psychiatry practice. The case studies he uses to illustrate his points were real patients of his and their stories are fascinating.
What can I experiment with in my life as a result of reading this book? One take away for me is to me more open to face challenges and take risks. This will mean I become more open to criticism and allowing my maps of reality to be challenged. This is a painful process. I am not a very open person so this is a real challenge. According to Scott Peck being more open to challenges and risk taking is a struggle against laziness. Laziness is the opposite of love.