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Morgan Scott Peck (1936–2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author. He was born on May 22, 1936, in New York. He earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard, did premedical studies at Columbia University and received his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University. He served in the U.S. Army, rising to lieutenant colonel. His Army assignments included stints as chief of psychology at the Army Medical Center in Okinawa, Japan, and assistant chief of psychiatry and neurology in the office of the surgeon general in Washington.
Peck was born in New York City. His parents sent him to the prestigious boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy (in Exeter, New Hampshire) when he was around 15 years old, but he did not stay there for long. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, he confides the story of his brief time at Exeter, and admits that it was a most miserable time, during which he did not cease begging his parents to let him leave until they finally agreed to let him return home. He graduated from Friends Seminary in 1954, after which he received a B.A. from Harvard in 1958 and an M.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1963. He served in administrative posts in the government during his career as a psychiatrist. He was the Medical Director of the New Milford Hospital Mental Health Clinic and a psychiatrist in private practice in New Milford, Connecticut. His first and best-known book, The Road Less Traveled, has sold more than seven million copies.
Peck's works combined his experiences from his private psychiatric practice with a distinctly religious point of view. In one of his books, People of the Lie, he wrote, "After many years of vague identification with Buddhist and Islamic mysticism, I ultimately made a firm Christian commitment — signified by my non-denominational baptism on the ninth of March 1980..." One of his religious insights was that people who are evil attack others rather than face their own failures. His religious views are criticized by some fundamentalist Christians (for example, Debbie Dewart).
In 1984, Peck co-founded the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), a tax-exempt, nonprofit, public educational foundation, whose stated mission is "to teach the principles of community to individuals and organizations." FCE ceased operations in 2002.
Peck married Lily Ho in 1959, and they had three children. In 1994, they jointly received the Community of Christ International Peace Award. In 2004, they were separated and later divorced. Peck then married Kathleen Kline Yates.
Peck died at his home in Connecticut after suffering from Parkinson's disease and pancreatic and liver duct cancer.
The Road Less Traveled
The Road Less Traveled is Peck's best-known work, and the one that made his reputation. It is, in short, a description of the attributes that make for a fulfilled human being, based largely on his insights as a psychiatrist and a person.
In the first section of the work Peck talks about discipline, which he considers essential for emotional, spiritual and psychological health, and which he describes as "the means of spiritual evolution". The elements of discipline that make for such health include the ability to delay gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one's actions, a dedication to reality and balancing.
In the second section, Peck considers the nature of love, which he considers the driving force behind spiritual growth. The section mainly attacks a number of misconceptions about love: that it is about dependency, that true love is "falling in love", that love is cathexis, that love is a feeling. Instead love is about the extending of one's ego boundaries to include another, and about the spiritual nurturing of another.
The final section describes Graces — phenomena which Peck says:
- nurture human life and spiritual growth
- are incompletely understood by scientific thinking
- are commonplace among humanity
- originate outside conscious human will
He concludes that "the miracles described indicate that our growth as human beings is being assisted by a force other than our conscious will".
Random House, where the little-known psychiatrist first tried to peddle his original manuscript, turned him down, saying the final section was "too Christ-y." Simon & Schuster bought the work for $7,500 and printed a modest hardback run of 5,000 copies. The book took off only after Mr. Peck hit the lecture circuit and personally sought reviews in key publications. Reprinted in paperback in 1980, "The Road" first made best-seller lists in 1983 — five years after its initial publication.
In his epoch making book The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck talked of the importance of discipline. He described four aspects of discipline:
- Delaying gratification: Sacrificing present comfort for future gains.
- Acceptance of responsibility: Accepting responsibility for one's own decisions.
- Dedication to truth: Honesty, both in word and deed.
- Balancing: Handling conflicting requirements. Scott Peck talks of an important skill to prioritize between different requirements -- bracketing.
Peck’s book begins with the profound truth that ‘Life is difficult!’. We must attest to the fact that life was never meant to be easy, and that it is nothing but a battlefield of problems. We can either moan about them or solve them. It is here that the vital role of discipline assumes significance.
Peck defines discipline as the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. These tools are delaying gratification, assuming responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. These are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work through them and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. Most of us do not want to wrestle with our problems because of the pain involved. Yet, it is only in grappling with our problems that life has its meaning.
Delaying gratification is the process by which we learn to meet and experience pain first, and then enjoy pleasure. By doing so, we enhance the joy of pleasure. Most of us learn this activity by the age of five. For e.g., a six-year-old child will prefer eating the cake first and the frosting last. Children will rather finish their homework first, so that they can play later on. However, a sizeable number of adolescents seem to lack this capacity. These problematic students are totally controlled by their impulses. Such youngsters indulge in drugs, get into frequent fights, and often find themselves with loggerheads with others.
Taking responsibility for our problems is perhaps the most difficult. Only by accepting the fact that we have problems can we solve them. An attitude of ‘It’s not my problem!’ will not take us anywhere. Neurosis and character-disorder are the two disorders of responsibility. Neurotics assume too much responsibility and feel culpable for everything that goes wrong in their life. The latter instead, shirk responsibility, and blame others for their problems. ‘Neurotics make themselves miserable, character-disordered people make everyone else miserable.’ All of us are neurotics or character-disordered at some time or the other. Neurotics must realize that they need not be excessively guilt-ridden, while character-disordered ones must learn to take things in stride, instead of becoming a yoke to the society. The words of Eldridge Cleaver, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”, hold good for all of us.
Dedication to the truth comes next. We all have a certain worldview that must be constantly updated and revised as we find ourselves exposed to new data. If our viewpoint is narrow, misleading and outdated, then we will be lost. The same applies to our life experiences. A bitter childhood can leave a person with the false idea that the world is a hostile and inhuman place. Yet, if the person has to grow, he must set aside this prejudice and revise his worldview. Being true also implies a life of genuine self-examination, a willingness to be personally challenged by others, and total honesty to oneself and others.
We finally come to balancing-the technique of flexibility. Many a time we function with rigid, set patterns of behaviour. Extraordinary flexibility is a must for successful living. Part of this technique is also learning to give up something that is dear and familiar to us. In refusing to suffer the pain of giving up, we fail to truly grow. It is in giving that we gain more. This of course presupposes that we have something to offer in the first place.
These interrelated techniques of discipline are paramount if we are to cope with the tribulations of life. A person may employ two, three or even all the strategies at the same time. The strength, willingness, and energy to apply these techniques is provided by love. There are no short cuts to happiness. Only by learning to discipline ourselves can we set foot upon the path to contentment and wholeness.
Neurotic and genuine suffering
Scott Peck believes that it is only through suffering and agonizing that we can resolve the many puzzles and conflicts that we face. This is what he calls genuine suffering, the Christian way. By trying to avoid genuine suffering, people ultimately end up creating more causes for suffering. Unnecessary suffering is what Scott Peck terms neurotic suffering.
Scott Peck says that our aim must be to eliminate neurotic suffering and work through our genuine suffering, to achieve our individual goals.
Scott Peck discusses evil in his book People of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. He describes in some detail several individual cases involving his patients. In one, a moderately impaired neurotic patient pseudo-named George, made a 'pact with the devil' to alleviate his symptoms. As a psychiatrist Scott Peck makes an uncharacteristic moral judgement about George's therapeutic pact and was ultimately successful in treating him.
Most of his conclusions about the psychiatric condition he designates 'evil' are derived from his close study of one patient he names Charlene. Although Charlene is not dangerous, she is ultimately unable to have empathy for others in any way. According to Scott Peck, people like her see others as play things or tools to be manipulated for their uses or entertainment. Scott Peck claims that these people are rarely seen by psychiatrists and have never been treated successfully.
He gives some identifying characteristics for evil persons. Discussed below are Scott Peck's views.
Evil is described by Scott Peck as "militant ignorance". In this it is close to the original Judeo-Christian concept of "sin" as a consistent process that leads to failure to reach one's true goals.
An evil person:
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto others and tries to remove them from others
- Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so
- Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency
- Is unable to think from other people's viewpoints.
Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the locus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character disorder.
In a discussion on group evil, Scott Peck talks about the My Lai Massacre tragedy during the Vietnam war:
- In the spring of 1972 I was chairman of a committee of three psychiatrists appointed by the Army Surgeon General, at the request of the Chief of Staff of the Army, to make recommendations for research that might shed light on the psychological causes of MyLai, so as to help prevent such atrocities in the future. The research we proposed was rejected by the General Staff of the Army, reportedly on the grounds that it could not be kept secret and might prove embarrassing to the administration and that "further embarrassment was not desirable at that time". (Chapter 6, "MyLai: An Examination of Group Evil")
Scott Peck makes great efforts to keep much of his discussion on a scientific basis. He says that evil arises out of free choice. He describes it thus: Every person stands at a crossroads, with one path leading to God, and the other path leading to the devil. The path of God is the right path, and accepting this path is akin to submission to a higher power. However, if a person wants to convince himself and others that he has free choice, he would rather take a path which cannot be attributed to its being the right path. Thus, he chooses the path of evil.
Peck's writings on evil are to some extent based on accounts of apparent demonic possession and exorcism by Malachi Martin. However the veracity of these accounts has been questioned.
His perspective on love (in The Road Less Traveled) is that love is not a feeling, it is an activity and an investment. Love is primarily a concern for the spiritual growth of another. Love cannot be sustained by mutual dependence, rather, love between two parties is made stronger when they are completely independent of one another.
Scott Peck seeks to differentiate between love and cathexis. Cathexis is what explains attractions to the opposite sex, the instinct for cuddling pets and pinching babies' cheeks. However, cathexis is not love. All the same, true love cannot begin in isolation, a certain amount of cathexis is necessary to get sufficiently close to be able to truly love.
The four stages
Scott Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:
- Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
- Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith. Once children learn to obey their parents, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
- Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and inquisitivity. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III.
- Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith but does so because of genuine belief. Stage IV people are labelled as mystics.
Scott Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual. Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.
In his book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace', Scott Peck says that community has three essential ingredients:
Based on his experience with community building workshops, Scott Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:
- Pseudocommunity: This is a stage where the members pretend to have a bon homie with one another, and cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudocommunity can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.
- Chaos: When pseudocommunity fails to work, the members start falling upon each other, giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences. This is a period of chaos. It is a time when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored. Chaos looks counterproductive but it is the first genuine step towards community building.
- Emptiness: After chaos comes emptiness. At this stage, the people learn to empty themselves of those ego related factors that are preventing their entry into community. Emptiness is a tough step because it involves the death of a part of the individual. But, Scott Peck argues, this death paves the way for the birth of a new creature, the Community.
- True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in community are in complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other's feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned.
- Forming where the team members have some initial discomfort with each other but nothing comes out in the open. They are insecure about their role and position with respect to the team. This corresponds to the initial stage of pseudocommunity.
- Storming where the team members start arguing heatedly and differences and insecurities come out in the open. This corresponds to the second stage given by Scott Peck, namely chaos.
- Norming where the team members lay out rules and guidelines for interaction that help define the roles and responsibilities of each person. This corresponds to emptiness, where the community members think within and empty themselves of their obsessions to be able to accept and listen to others.
- Performing where the team finally starts working as a cohesive whole, and effectively achieve the tasks setof themselves. In this stage individuals are aided by the group as a whole where necessary, in order to move further collectively than they could achieve as a group of separated individuals.
- Transforming This corresponds to the stage of true community. This represents the stage of celebration, and when individuals leave, as they must, there is a genuine feeling of grief, and a desire to meet again. Traditionally this stage was often called "Mourning".
It is in this third stage that Scott Peck's community building methods differ in principle from team development. While teams in business organizations need to develop explicit rules, guidelines and protocols during the norming stage, the emptiness' stage of community building is characterized, not by laying down the rules explicitly, but by shedding the resistance within the minds of the individuals.
Scott Peck has started the Foundation for Community Encouragement to promote the formation of communities, which, he argues, are a first step towards uniting humanity and saving us from self destruction.
The meaning of true community
Peck describes what he considers to be the most salient characteristics of a true community.
- Inclusivity, commitment and consensus: Members accept and embrace each other, celebrating their individuality and transcending their differences. They commit themselves to the effort and the people involved. They make decisions and reconcile their differences through consensus.
- Realism: Members bring together multiple perspectives to better understand the whole context of the situation. Decisions are more well-rounded and humble, rather than one-sided and arrogant.
- Contemplation: Members examine themselves. They are individually and collectively self-aware of the world outside themselves, the world inside themselves, and the relationship between the two.
- A safe place: Members allow others to share their vulnerability, heal themselves, and express who they truly are.
- A laboratory for personal disarmament: Members experientially discover the rules for peacemaking and embrace its virtues. They feel and express compassion and respect for each other as fellow human beings.
- A group that can fight gracefully: Members resolve conflicts with wisdom and grace. They listen and understand, respect each others’ gifts, accept each others’ limitations, celebrate their differences, bind each others’ wounds, and commit to a struggle together rather than against each other.
- A group of all leaders: Members harness the “flow of leadership” to make decisions and set a course of action. It is the spirit of community itself that leads and not any single individual.
- A spirit: The true spirit of community is the spirit of peace, love, wisdom and power. Members may view the source of this spirit as an outgrowth of the collective self or as the manifestation of a Higher Will.
- The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (Simon & Schuster, 1978)
- People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil (Simon & Schuster, 1983)
- What Return Can I Make? Dimensions of the Christian Experience(Simon & Schuster, 1985) (republished by Harpers in 1995 under the new title, Gifts For the Journey: Treasures of the Christian Life)
- The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (Simon & Schuster, 1987)
- A Bed By the Window: A Novel of Mystery and Redemption (Bantam, 1990)
- The Friendly Snowflake: A Fable of Faith, Love and Family (Turner Publishing, Inc., 1992)
- A World Waiting To Be Born: Civility Rediscovered (Bantam, 1993)
- Meditations From the Road (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
- Further Along the Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
- In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery (Hyperion 1995)
- In Heaven As On Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife (Hyperion, 1996)
- The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety (Simon & Schuster, 1997)
- Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives in Euthanasia and Mortality (Harmony Books (Crown), 1997)
- Golf and the Spirit: Lessons for the Journey (Harmony Books, 1999)
- Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption (Free Press, January 19, 2005)
- The Road He Travelled: The Revealing Biography of M Scott Peck by Arthur Jones (Rider Books, 2007)
- "'Road Less Traveled' Author Dies at 69" - obituary from the Associated Press, September 26, 2005
- "Gin, cigarettes, women: I'm a prophet, not a saint" - interview in The Times, May 10, 2005
- "Pop psychiatrist who ignored his bestselling advice on adultery" - obituary in The Guardian, September 25, 2005
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- Peck, Scott (1978). The Road Less Travelled, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-25067-1.