The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck


Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d;

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;

Raze out the written troubles of the brain;

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?


Therein the patient

Must minister to himself.

 ( From the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare)

The Road less travelled is a self help book.

Well dear reader, if you got a smirk after reading that last sentence; no one really blame you.

In fact  it is possible to make an argument against the phrase “self help” itself. It is not exactly self help when you are doing what someone else (a guru or author a self help book) tells you to do. Particularly when you have paid him, so you can help yourself. Why the price then? (in this case the price of the book).

Here in lies the first lesson. It is alright to seek “self help” by consulting a guru. A genuine guru (or consultant) lets you know that he cannot solve your problems. In such matters you must minister yourself. And to his credit M. Scott Peck lets the reader know that ultimately he has to help himself.

This book does have a lot of merit. So let us go through the preaching one section at a time. In the first section the author talks about discipline. And by discipline he means delay of gratification. To succeed in life you should let go of temporary or ephemeral pleasures. The simplest way to understand is investing. Investing is nothing but letting go of present consumption for a more financially secured future. Another easy way to understand the concept is pizza and weight gain. As they say – once on the lips, forever on the hips. Easy lesson, nothing controversial here, behavioural psychologists recommend the same.

Then he talks about love. This was my favourite part of the book. Like a true iconoclast M. Scott Peck blasts most people’s notion of love.

If you love someone as he fits into your scheme of things, then you don’t really love that person. If you are in a giddy “falling in love” phase where you think that only that other special person matters in the whole world, then the news for you is that such a phase is not going to last. Real love is when one person helps the other person grow mentally (or so says the writer). I am not able to sum this part up with succinct examples but let me say I found myself agreeing with almost everything in the book so far.

After that the book gets really rubbish. M. Scott Peck talks about how there is a universal force he calls grace (he is not suggesting anything new but the good old concept of god) and the ultimate objective of any human life is to be filled with grace (or godliness). He manages to force fit evolution into his unscientific framework; using an often repeated but very ridiculous argument (will get into the details in some other post) about how evolution was a mechanism incepted in the world by god all mighty himself. There is no logic to whatever he is saying; just broad sweeping generalizations.

But after I was disgusted by the third part (the one where he talks about grace), I realized how flawed my reading of the book was. The first and second parts of the book were not logical either. They were also full of broad sweeping generalizations without much scientific basis.

I just enjoyed the first two parts of the book as they fitted nicely with my already existing world view. But the third part that I hated, was not any more or any less logical or scientific than the others.

We all like to see what we want to see.  We do not like being confronted by things that do not fit into our version of reality; no matter how real they are. A person who is a de facto atheist will not find much merit in M. Scott Peck’s argument for striving to achieve unity with god. But a religious person would.

–          Amaresh


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