Book Log: The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck

My mum’s took a Psychology course last year and has been reading many books on Psychology lately. She recommended this book to me. The copy I’m reading is a very faded, old copy, but it’s testament to how timeless the truths in this book are.

I’ve only read the first section of the book, but there’s so much to mull on that I decided to note down what was significant first before proceeding on with the rest of the book.

To provide some background, the first section on the book begins with “life is difficult – this is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.” and then goes on to talk about how “Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.”

Peck then proposes 4 techniques of suffering which will help us to experience the pain of problems constructively – delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing.

On ignoring problems and delayed gratification…

This inclination to ignore problems is once again a simple manifestation of an unwillingness to delay gratification. Confronting problems is, as I have said, 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. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary.

On determining responsibility…

… the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events. Nor is this assessment and reassessment painless if performed adequately and conscientiously. To perform either process adequately we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination. And such capacity or willingness is not inherent in any of us. 

On accepting responsibility

The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behaviour lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences of that behaviour… Whenever we seek to avoid the responsibility for our own behaviour, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organisation or entity. But this means we give away our power to that entity, be it ‘fate’ or ‘society’ or the government or the cooperation or our boss… In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions and even billions daily attempt to escape from freedom.

On making maps. Peck introduces a really powerful concept here of the our individual maps of the world.

Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there… We are not born with maps; we have to make them, and the making requires effort. The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our maps will be. But many do not want to make this effort. Some stop making it by the end of adolescence…

But the biggest problem of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are inaccurate we have to continually revise them. The process of making revisions, particularly major revisions, is painful, sometimes excruciatingly painful.

Transference is that set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood and which is usually entirely appropriate to the childhood environment, but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.

On how one can be dedicated to truth in our modern environment..

So the expression of opinions, feelings, ideas and even knowledge must be suppressed from time to time in these and many other circumstances of human affairs. What rules, then, can one follow if one is dedicated to the truth?

1) Never speak falsehood.

2) Bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is potentially a lie and that in each instance in which the truth is withheld a significant moral decision is required.

3) The decision to withhold the truth should never be based on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be liked or a need to protect one’s map from challenge.

4) The decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld.

5) The assessment of another’s needs is an act of responsibility which is so complex that it can only be executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the other.

6) The primary factor in the assessment of another’s needs is the assessment of that person’s capacity to utilise the truth for his or her own spiritual growth.

7) In assessing the capacity of another to utilise the truth for personal growth, it should be borne in mind that our tendency is generally to underestimate rather than overestimate this capacity.

… The rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people.