A 40-year anniversary tribute to M. Scott Peck’s timeless self-help book The Road Less Traveled [Part 1 of 2].
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D., was published 40 years ago. Many would say Dr. Peck’s book is the summa of the self-help movement.
How did I discover this timeless book? What thoughts and feelings surfaced when I read it? More importantly, how do I see The Road Less Traveled as an imperative for spiritual growth in this actual life, lived out daily, as a veteran and a civilian?
Scott Peck’s book came to me during my literal crisis of Love in the Time of Cholera at Seabreeze High School. OK, I need a dramatic beginning! Ironically, my crusty war veteran, Charles Bronson-haired father mentioned Peck’s book to me during my last high school year.
After my Dad witnessed an absurdist (his son, me) retreat into some fantasies about the military, he went fishing for an intervention. My Dad went beyond his usual 1001 repetitive commands of, “Do something!”
He’d had enough, and stopped badgering me to ‘act besides daydreaming.’ Badgering? Too much ‘military talk’ from me, especially after I viewed “Be All You Can Be” U.S. Army recruiting TV commercials (circa 1985).
By the way, my Dad is the only soldier who never fantasized about being a frogman, a Green Beret and such. My Dad prided himself on being a leg unit infantryman. So all the sexy commercials with guys jumping out of planes and diving into dark waters only made my dad fall asleep. What he saw during the Korean War could never be reproduced by the Discovery Channel or a Canadian documentary.
Act? So I did. I presented early military enlistment forms to my Dad—the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) forms. My father would not sign the forms, but my reactions to the recruiting commercials inspired me to bother him about it. My actions seemed desperate and my Dad probably wanted me to act beyond my fantasies about the military.
A love grounded on love itself
In 1985-86, my Dad was stressed, for he was carrying a real cross as a middle-aged theology student. In retrospect, he pursued the study of theology in his late forties. The bottom line was that my Dad was pursuing his purpose. He stopped practicing as a veterinarian and pursued a second career that joined the physical and the metaphysical. My Dad lost patience with my fantasies of military recruiting commercials.
My Mom had cancer, and I wrestled with this reality. I probably hid in my fantasies of being some kind of hero: the hero I could not be at the moment, but tried to find in recruiting commercials. My Mom was open to my desire, but she was too sick to sign forms and I didn’t want to create a family fight.
I accepted my father’s “NO!” Yet, I had contempt for him because my mother had said “YES!” to him following his path. What I remember about the forms was not the forms themselves.
During high school, I remember that my Mom was supportive of my Dad’s decision to live his purpose as she struggled with cancer. I wonder what possessed my mother to be that loving towards a middle-aged man who was chasing a desire for knowledge, and not a cure for cancer. My mother pitied the fool, and unlike Mr. T.’s pity, it was not weak, for it was a love grounded on love itself.
Socrates engaged this approach towards love in Plato’s Symposium. In my eyes, this is the highest love, yet the hardest love, for it seeks nothing other than the love. The great love letters between Heloise and Abelard point to a line from Heloise, “I wanted simply you, nothing of yours.”
In all of this, I find that my mother never cared about my Dad’s “at times high, mostly low” bank account or his high level of education. My mother, due to her strong character, was able to absorb a not-so-easy man with a not-so-easy path.
My Dad’s actual road-less-travelled led him to M. Scott Peck’s book. He would later share the book with me. As he pursued his purpose with discipline and courage, he had to deal with my demand to prematurely join the military.
My Dad needed to silence me in some way, without using a chokehold. Let’s see it from his perspective! When he was 16, he had already experienced the acrid taste of war. And in this realm, he did receive his stigmata, but in a gruesome spiritual climb.
What was the meaning of having a son who so wilfully desired to pursue the unbecoming/becoming state of war? Ecce Homo (This Man) carried something heavier than the load on Sisyphus‘ back.
My Dad carried something unexplainable, yet clearly dark. In his dark state of being, he gave his copy of Peck’s book to me. The book is as meaningful today as it was back then. My reflections on The Road Less Traveled affirmed the difficult but meaningful journey of life. More importantly, I learned more about my Dad by reading it, instead of just learning about myself.
After high school, I did serve in the military, and my fantasies were actualized in many ways. The actualization was not like a recruiting commercial. When I reflect on myself and my parents during my high school years, I think that life’s hardships inspired each of us to act in oddly authentic ways.
M. Scott Peck’s book challenged me to recognize one thing: Life is more than a commercial and is not as easy as a commercial.
Life is difficult
Every day since I have returned from Iraq, I’ve tried to understand the human condition more deeply. So why do I still carry The Road Less Traveled in my soul’s rucksack? My imperfect, challenging life is tied to a core message from Peck’s book: “Life is difficult.”
How am I (and my war buddies) supposed to engage in the difficult veteran reintegration/readjustment, while society constantly seeks an easy ‘fix’ to complex phenomenological problems?
‘Life is difficult’ is a theme in my existence that I often forget, as I am still barraged by TV commercials that preach the ‘easy’ approach to life. Family life, lovers, the workplace, dating, entertainment/media/news, the world of academia, friendships and so on have all transformed into easy, fleeting and disposable encounters. War has even been subjected to a disposable reframing of words in order to create a fleeting spectacle for the masses.
Whatever happened to the enduring process of critical learning? How about working things out? How am I (and my war buddies) supposed to engage in the difficult veteran reintegration/readjustment, while society constantly seeks an easy ‘fix’ to complex phenomenological problems?
YouTube has a limited number of videos about M. Scott Peck, yet his writing has influenced a diverse many, including Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, real-life secular Buddhist counsellors and others.
What inspired this interest in Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled? I think that the interest in Peck—and my choice to remember him—is tied to his courage in pointing out that life’s not really easy, but that is OK.
This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit THE ALCHEMY OF VETERAN SPIRITUALITY: An Interview with Vietnam Veteran and author, William “Rev. Bill” McDonald»
image 1 The road less travelled by mozinwrat via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0) 2 jumper by jane rahman via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 3 Pixabay 4 Sisyphus by AK Rockefeller via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) 5 Blue by Arez Ghaderi via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)