Friday, November 18, 2011

Thoughts on The Road Less Traveled - Part 1

January 3rd, Day 3This year I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. When I started it I didn't know what it was about - I think I had it confused with The Road by Cormac McCarthy. However, I was captivated by the the first line and the first chapter.
Life is difficult...
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly... about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy....
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... Wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems. Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.... In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, "Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering."
Therefore let us inculcate in ourselves and in our children the means of achieving mental and spiritual health. By this I mean let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and experience the pain involved. I have stated that discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems. It will become clear that these tools are the techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. When we teach ourselves and our children discipline.
That is a bit of what struck me and made me think a lot about parenting and discipline and the role of suffering in our children's lives (and mine). It is incredibly profound and so often missing from how we practice psychology - and indeed I realized that Peck is a psychologist, and that this book was a best-seller when it was published in the '70s. Much of the rest of the book is equally profound, and then at points I'd be completely disgusted. Peck is a fascinating guy who was one of the first who is willing to integrate the role of God and faith into emotional well-being. At the time of the writing of the book I believe he was still on a bit of a spiritual journey, and some of what he says is ridiculous spiritual mumbo jumbo. Really a funny mix of mumbo jumbo with profound truth. And, when I look at Peck's life, though he says he eventually became a Christian, he certainly seemed to settle into Orthodox Christianity, and it seems like he never applied the truth in his book to his own life. There is a lack of discipline, a lack of commitment, and quite a bit of sexual irresponsibility. And you know, it's interesting to talk to people about how this book affected them. Isaac was recently talking to a friend of his at seminary who moved from agnosticism to Christianity beginning with reading this book. On the other hand I've also heard of people on whom the book had the opposite effect. I suppose it depends on the presuppositions you come to it with, as it tends to blow your presuppositions. I'm going to do several posts on some of the things I encountered in The Road Less Traveled, because I want to remember what I've read.


Jaimie said...

What he said about mental illness turned me off, haha. It's the old "you wouldn't be depressed if you would face your problems." Well I was suicidal because I have Grave's disease, a disease of the thyroid which has been statistically proven to cause anxiety/depression. So he can shove it! Ugh!

(I'm really not mad; it's just baffling to me that people think this.)

Kacie said...

Well, he doesn't deny the existence of real physical neurosis. A lot of what he digs into in the book is the difference between real human suffering that leads to growth (and thus he says is good) and neurosis to avoid suffering (which then blocks growth and is bad).

He's more addressing the attitude towards suffering and pain in our culture that leads to an increase of neurosis in our society because we are driving ourselves crazy trying to avoid any pain.

"To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.”