Verdict: (5 / 5)
I can’t remember who recommended The Road Less Traveled to me, but I’m truly grateful to have gotten to read it. It’s subtitled A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, its author was an American psychiatrist, and it made history – it is now a classic title.
M. Scott Peck resolves to redefine classic concepts, and to connect the psyche with the spiritual side of the human being, using the means of psychotherapy. His own experience with psychotherapy (at the giving end), lends his book great authenticity, and his final goal is releasing his readers from chains they may not even know they are tied with. The book is written in an accessible style, but permeated by the manner and reservation specific to academics, alternating lecture with friendly discussion and clinical case presentations.
From the very start, the psychiatrist states that, in this book, he will not differentiate “mind” from “spirit”, hence mental development from spiritual development. This is a very important premise. This is the stage where he also points out that this developmental process will likely last a lifetime – and with this, The Road Less Traveled makes it clear that it is not a-dime-a-dozen self-help maculature.
The book has four sections. Discipline, Love, Growth and Religion, and Grace.
Among the valuable ideas in Discipline, we find the capital importance of being able to delay gratification in all things, the very important role of parents, and the paramount importance of cultivating responsibility and truth (indeed, they are all superlatively important).
One of the remarkable concepts unveiled here is that of bracketing – putting yourself between brackets , that is to say a technique that requires you to voluntarily and temporarily abandon your current system of views regarding a situation or phenomenon, in a controlled fashion, with the purpose of gaining new or better perspective about it, which you would otherwise be unable to get, because your own views block it. For example, the temporary, but complete abandonment of any idea, opinion, or personal feeling regarding a certain activity, so that we may get to re-know it in a new light, possibly better or more profoundly, unhindered by our own self. The strategy of bracketing is the antidote for the grumpiness and rigidity that tend to come with age – and I mean people as young as thirty-something, not in their sixties.
The Love chapter has the great merit (huge, in my opinion) of providing a coherent definition for love, and especially of systematically destroying the preposterous ideas with which popular culture, through mass-media, has surrounded the concept of Love.
In summary, love is not:
- being in love
All these are magisterially detailed in this section, which contains powerful revelations about human nature, relationships, and the abundance of misconceptions at the very core of modern society (which, if I may add, are kept alive and well fed continuously, for commercial purposes).
And here is the definition of love, according to Dr. Peck:
This is a profound definition, which deserves (and gets) extensive explanation. It is a very suitable and functional definition, once integrated with the rest of the book, and it’s compatible with the all important self love. The rest of the section details the mechanisms and features of love. As an interesting example, we’re informed why, according to this perspective on love, no one can really claim to “love” their pet, without revealing other psychological disturbances.
Growth and religion greets us with a startling sentence: everyone has a religion, whether they know it or not, although this is not widely recognized. And it continues even more bafflingly: science is a religion, because it is “a world view of considerable complexity with a number of major tenets”, such as: “the universe is real, and therefore a valid object for examination; it is of value for human beings to examine the universe; the universe makes sense – that is, it follows certain rules an is predictable” – so science is the religion of skepticism and it is the religion everyone should adopt, because the scientific view allows the transformation of our microcosm experience (childhood experiences, local culture and dogma, half truths instilled by our parents, etc.) into macrocosm experience.
Far to great a number of people live with the belief that they are not spiritual, because they don’t go to church and are religion skeptics. To those, M. Scott Peck says: you do have a religion, and a profound one – you worship the truth.
The book ends on the shaky (for a scientist) ground of Grace, where the author finds himself at a time of questioning and prodding in the dark. The concept is introduced by way of the idea of miracles. For example, the miracle of health (and the more one knows about how the physical human being functions, thanks to the religion that is science (sic!), the more one realizes that the state of health really is a miracle). Next, we are introduced to the theory of entropy, and then the doctor attempts a systematic approach to grace, and does a great job, in a section that deserves to be read in a heartbeat.
In the end, The Road Less Traveled, written in 1978, is a jewel that can only be ignored at your own peril, not only if you strive for evolution, but even if you simply can read. This reading is truly one of those few in a lifetime that will leave a profound mark on it. It has my most warm recommendation.