The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology Of Love, Traditional Values And Spiritual Growth, by M. Scott Peck
I probably would have read this book much earlier had I had a better impression of Peck, as my first introduction to his writing was in the disappointing A Search For Stones. And, to be fair, my criticisms of that work also apply to this one, as the author writes a lot about himself and tends to think of himself as some kind of guide to a mix of eclectic spirituality that is vaguely Christian (he became a Christian after writing this book) but also heavily influenced by a similarly eclectic psychology background. Despite the fact that my feelings about the author are somewhat ambivalent, I found a lot to enjoy about this book and the author’s approach. I have a great deal of agreement with the author’s focus on growth and the taking of responsibility as well as appreciation for his insights about the purpose of humanity to be transformed into members of God’s family. All of this suggests that I had been mistaken in not reading his material earlier or appreciating its worth nearly quickly enough. There are good reasons why this book was so popular, and not just because of the author’s flattering.
This book of just over 300 pages is divided into four sections with numerous smaller sections. After introducing the 25th anniversary version and giving a preface, the author begins this book by writing about the problem and importance of self-discipline. He contrasts neuroses and character defects, talks about how parents themselves provide material that torments their children, and the positive aspects of suffering and depression. After that the author discusses love, contrasting cathexis and dependency and “falling in love” with the self-sacrifice and enlarged concern that comes from genuine love, which is an action rather than a feeling. Again, as was the case before in looking at self-discipline and responsibility, there was a lot to appreciate here. The author spends a bit of time talking about growth and religion, criticizing the religion of science and its narrow-views and taking what he considers to be an elevated view of religion and worldviews. Finally, the author closes this book with a look of grace and the many miracles that take place. The author’s approach to much of the Bible is allegorical and he clearly views himself above the strict moral standards of the law (likely viewing that is “primitive” religion that he has moved beyond), but he has a grasp of the reasons why growth is a challenge.
Again, this is not a perfect book. A man as highly imperfect as M. Scott Peck is not going to make a perfect book. That said, this book is more insightful than any work by a naval-gazing psychologist of liberal political bent has a right to be. And in that sort of situation, I am inclined to take what I can get out of a book like this, recognize the author’s insight despite our disagreements, and to wonder at how someone could get so close to so many insightful truths. I do not necessarily consider those who engage in psychotherapy to be superior to others, as the author (in a somewhat biased sense) does, but as someone who is no stranger to such counseling myself, I could see that the author’s recognition that those who recognize they need help are at least on the way to improving their lives and growing beyond their mental issues was a valid one worth celebrating. This book does not necessarily say a lot that is new, but it does say a lot that is well worth appreciating, and if the path of responsibility and growth and effort and facing suffering honestly is a path less traveled, it is certainly a path well worth taking.