the following is my analysis of Dr Peck's book, I am pretty sure he won't
mind me promoting his book as although there following is a reasonable
summary, you really need to read his book to fully understand what he is
getting at, and if you haven't read it, and this makes sense to you &
you overcome any misconceptions of the good doctor, then I'm sure you will
want to check it out.
Life wasn't meant to be easy:
Life is difficult - this is a great truth, because only when we truly know
that life is difficult - once we truly understand it and accept it - then
life is no longer difficult, because once it is accepted, the fact that life
is difficult no longer matters.
most do not see this truth but instead moan more or less incessantly,
noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and
the difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy!
life is an endless series of problems.
Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our
children to solve them?
what makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and
solving problems is a painful one
problems, depending on their nature, evoke in us frustration,
grief, sadness, loneliness, guilt, regret, anger, fear, anxiety,
anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, and often
painful - indeed it is because they cause pain that we call them
thus life is always difficult and full of discomfort, pain ... and
joy, yet, it is this whole process of meeting & solving problems
that life has its meaning.
Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success
and failure & call forth our courage and our wisdom - indeed
they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of
problems that we grow mentally and personally. It is through the
pain of confronting and solving problems that we learn. Thus wise
people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and
actually welcome the pain of problems.
Unfortunately, most of us are not wise. Fearing the pain involved,
almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid
problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore
them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to
assist us in ignoring them. Many develop neuroses in their abortive
attempts to avoid problems. But by attempting to get out of them
rather than suffer through them, we miss important opportunities to
grow, and worse, the substitute behaviour to avoid the problem
ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was
designed to avoid.
Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else
remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of a person.
Problems require taking the time out to solve them.
Self-discipline - the only way to truly
solve life's problems:
Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems.
without discipline we can solve nothing, the more discipline, the more
we can solve.
when we teach ourselves & our children self-discipline, we are
teaching how to suffer, and how to grow.
the critical importance of good parenting:
when parents do things a certain way, it seems to the young child
the way to do them, the way they should be done. If a child
regularly sees his parents behaving with self-discipline, restraint,
dignity and a capacity to order their own lives, then the child is
more likely to follow this example.
yet even more important than role modeling is love, for
even in chaotic & disordered homes, genuine love may be present,
and from such homes may come self-disciplined children, while not
infrequently parents who are professional people leading lives of
strict orderliness & decorum, but yet lack genuine love, send
children into the world who are as undisciplined and destructive and
disorganised as any child from an impoverished & chaotic home.
when we genuinely love something, it is of value to us and we
spend time enjoying it and taking care of it. Good discipline
requires time. When we have no time to give our children, or no
time that we are willing to give, we don't observe them closely
enough to become aware when their need for our disciplinary
assistance is expressed subtly.
make sure you give them quality time as this can never
be replaced by quantity time of lesser quality!
the feeling of being valuable is a cornerstone of
self-discipline and essential to mental health and is a direct
product of parental love, and such a conviction must be gained
in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it during
adulthood. Once learned, it is almost impossible for the
vicissitudes of adulthood to destroy.
the first 7 years of life is critical in this learning phase,
and will determine the majority of their lifelong behavioural
Unfortunately, largely as a result of poor parenting, many
adolescents and adults have still not learnt its benefits and so
despite average or better intelligence, routinely under-achieve
simply because they do not work - they skip classes or defer jobs on
a whim, are impulsive - and this impulsiveness spills over into
their social life, often resulting in frequent fights, drug use and
the usual sequelae.
how can one expect kids to learn self-discipline from parents
who either teach no discipline or worse, undisciplined
"Do as I say, not as I do"
frequently get drunk in front of their kids
fight or constantly argue with each other without
restraint, dignity or rationality
make promises they don't keep
live lives that are in disorder and disarray
if father beats up mother regularly, what sense is it
going to make when his mother beats a boy up because he beat
up his sister?
does it make sense when he is told he must learn to
control his temper or what he eats when his parents are
Peck suggests there are 4 main categories of self-discipline needed:
learn to save the best till last, that way you can maximise your
enjoyment of the best part without having to worry about still
having to do the unsavory jobs and in the process will teach you not
this is the process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in
such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing
the pain first and getting it over and done with.
Most children learn the advantages of this by primary school (eg.
saving the icing of the cake until last), but it is only by the
child developing a strong sense of security and stability that the
child is free to delay gratification, knowing that the
opportunity for gratification is always there, available when
many parents cause severe instability for their children
unnecessarily by either:
saying the won't love them anymore if the behave in a
certain way and use the threat of abandonment as punishment
let them feel that they are thinking of divorce - the idea
of divorce is extremely threatening to a child's sense of
security - indeed so threatening that children do not have
the capacity to perceive it with much perspective. They are
seriously threatened by the possibility of divorce even when
it is remote.
acceptance of responsibility:
we cannot solve life's problems except by solving them - ie. we
must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it.
we cannot solve a problem by letting someone else solve it, we
have to say 'This is my problem & it's up to me to solve it'
there are two extremes of acceptance of responsibility:
assumes too much responsibility
when neurotics are at conflict with the world they
automatically assume they are at fault
are easier to help in psychotherapy because they take
ownership of the problems
in a sense, all children have neuroses - they will
instinctually assume responsibility for certain deprivations
that they experience but do not yet understand such as when
feeling unloved by parents will assume himself to be
unlovable rather than see the parents as deficient in the
capacity to love; or, early adolescents not successful at
sport or dating will see themselves as deficient rather than
late or average bloomers they usually are.
"neurotics make themselves miserable" but often
make good parents if they have the time
the character disordered:
assumes too little responsibility
when they are at conflict with the world they
automatically assume the world is at fault
are difficult to help in psychotherapy as the blame
everything but themselves & fail to see the need for
in a sense, all children are character disordered - they
will usually blame someone else for mistakes or who started
usually make disastrous parents, blissfully unaware that
they often treat their children with vicious destructiveness
as "character disordered people make everyone
miserable, especially their children and spouses" and
then blame the school system or other children for being a
bad influence and worse, lay the responsibility for their
plight onto their children or spouse such as "the only
reason I stayed married to your father is because of you
kids" or "your mother's a nervous wreck because of
you" or "I could have gone to university if I
didn't have to support you"
when they avoid taking responsibility, nothing is solved,
nothing accomplished, and although they may feel comfortable
with themselves, they have ceased to solve the problems of
living, have ceased to grow personally and have become a
dead weight for society. Eldridge Cleaver's saying "If
you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the
what is worse, by giving your problem to someone else to
solve, you empower them to make decisions that will impact
on you, and you become a loser twice over.
when we are children, by virtue of our real &
extensive dependency on our parents, they are
responsible for our well-being & we are largely at
their mercy & largely powerless to do anything about
it and our choices are limited.
when we are physically healthy adults, our choices are
almost unlimited, although often still painful, and
frequently lie between the lesser of two evils, but it
is still within our power to make these choices.
few of us can escape being neurotic &/or character disordered
to at least some degree as the problem of distinguishing what we are
and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the
greatest problems of human existence & is never completely
solved. For the entirety of our life we must continually assess
& reassess where our responsibilities lie, and requires
parents can do much to teach children the responsibility for their
actions, by ensuring that their avoidance of responsibility is
dedication to truth:
our map of the world:
the more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better
equipped we are to deal with the world
the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions
& illusions, the less able we are to determine correct
courses of action and make wise decisions
our view of reality is like a map with which we negotiate the
terrain of life
if the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost
whilst this is obvious, most people ignore it because the
route to reality is not easy
we are not born with maps, we have to make them, and this
the more effort we make to appreciate & perceive
reality, the larger & more accurate our maps become
many stop making the effort during adolescence resulting
in small sketchy maps with views of the world that are
narrow and misleading, by the end of middle life, most
people have given up the effort, feeling certain their maps
are complete and are no longer interested in new
information, as if they are tired or perhaps just arrogant.
the biggest problem is not in starting our maps but in the
need to continually revise them as the world and our
relationship with it and our vantage point in perceiving it
is constantly changing (eg. change in circumstance from
child to independent adult to married spouse; from poor to
the process of making such revisions, particularly major
revisions, is painful, sometimes excruciatingly painful, and
herein lies the major source of many of the ills of mankind.
major revisions require renunciation and rebirth of one's
self analagous to reincarnation but within one life span -
it is this giving up of an old self that human beings can
find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of
life, it is death of an old map that provids life with all
its meaning. This 'secret' is the central wisdom of
the life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined
with action with continuous and never ending self-examination
and an openness to challenge our perceptions of the world -
something that is not part of human nature as we tend to avoid
for individuals and organisations to be open to challenge, it
is necessary that their maps of reality be truly open for
inspection by the public.
the best decision makers are those that are willing to suffer
the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to
if your goal is to avoid pain & escape suffering, then do
not seek higher levels of consciousness with its long-lasting
you cannot achieve them without suffering and you are
likely to suffer more pain or have more asked of you than
you can imagine
you must have something in order to give it up - if you
give up winning without ever having won, you are where you
were at the beginning - a loser. You must forge yourself an
identity before you can give it up, you must develop an ego
before you can lose it. There are no shortcuts.
indeed, the subconscious need of giving up old maps
which are no longer tenable or constructive results in a
normal grieving process and subsequent depression which
will be resolved if the individual completes the process of
giving up the old map, but in many individuals unable to
give up old maps, results in pathological depression such as
mid-life crises. Very often psychiatric help is needed
to help the individual understand that things can no longer
be as they were and to help them the patient complete the
growth process that subconsciously or consciously has
already begun. Unfortunately, if not addressed, prolonged
pathological depression may cause semi-permanent
biological-based depression due to altered brain wiring and
chemistry which will then need anti-depressant therapy.
individuals particularly unable to give up old maps are
those that suffered loss in childhood when they were not
ready to give it up or strong enough to truly accept their
loss. They thus are sensitised to loss and develop a
tendency to overly cling to things and seek to avoid the
pain of loss or giving up.
what happens when one has strived long & hard to develop a
working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and
then is confronted with new information suggesting the map is
wrong and needs to be redrawn? The painful effort required seems
frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than
not, and usually subconsciously, is to ignore the new
information or denounce it as false and we may even crusade
against it and even try to manipulate the world to conform to
our view of reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more
energy in defending the outmoded view of the world than would
have been required to revise it and correct it in the first
the process of clinging to an outmoded view of reality is the
basis of much mental illness & psychiatrists refer to it as
one definition of transference is that set of ways of
perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in
childhood & which is usually entirely appropriate in
childhood (indeed often life saving) but which is
inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.
eg. the child who learns not to trust his parents because
they always let him down and by not expecting trust, he
reduces his pain of disappointment He then transfers this
lack of trust into adulthood, and cannot trust anyone which
then results in conflict after conflict with authority
figures which then only reinforce his views. To change this
view, the only way is to learn to trust them and this means
to risk trusting them which is a deviation from his map and
this would also require he change his view of his parents -
to realise they did not love him, that he did not have a
normal childhood, and that his parents were not average in
their callousness to his needs. It is thus easier for him to
subconsciously create situationsthat served to reinforce his
view of mistrusting everyone, even though it meant not being
able to be intimate and loving with his spouse.
unfortunately, transference not only effects individuals and
their close relationships and employment, but impacts on
political leaders and the decisions they make for their country.
re-mapping - some major conditions, desires and attitudes that
must be given up in the course of a lifetime in chronologic order:
the state of infancy, in which no external demands need be
the fantasy of omnipotence
the desire for total (including sexual) possession of one's
the dependency of childhood
distorted images of one's parents
the omnipotentiality of adolescence
the "freedom" of uncommitment
the agility of youth
the sexual attractiveness &/or potency of youth
the fantasy of immortality
authority over one's children
various forms of temporal power
the independence of physical health
ultimately, the self and life itself
a life of total honesty is required, meaning a continuous and
never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our
communications - not only our words but the way we say them -
invariably reflect as accurately as humanly possible the truth
or reality as we know it.
such honesty does not come painlessly.
the reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge
its consequences, which then "protects" either
themselves or someone else.
black lies are statements we know are false
white lies are omissions of truth
often considered socially acceptable as 'we don't want
to hurt peoples' feelings', yet we bemoan the fact that
our social relationships are generally superficial.
for parents to feed children white lies is often
thought to be loving and considerate, but more often
than not, children are deprived of learning important
realities of life.
sometimes it is reasonable or even critical to with-hold
selective with-holding of one's opinions must be practiced
from time to time if one is to be welcomed by others, to be
always self-opinionated and not consider others views may
mean that you are "right" in your own mind, but
risks being unhappy as you may lose important
relationships or business opportunities.
Peck's rules of honesty:
never speak falsehood
bear in mind that the act of with-holding the truth is
always potentially a lie, and that in each instance, a
significant moral decision is required
the decision to with-hold the truth should never be based
on personal needs, such as a need for power, a need to be
liked, or a need to protect one's map from challenge
the decision to with-hold the truth ust always be based
entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom
the truth is with-held
the assessment of another's needs is an act of
responsibility which is so complex that it can only be
executed wisely when one operates with genuine love for the
the primary factor in assessing the other's needs is the
assessment of that person's capacity to utilise the truth
for his own personal growth
all this might seem like an extraordinary task, impossible to
be ever completely perfect, a chronic & never ending burden,
which requires self-discipline. This is why most people opt for
a life of very limited honesty, openness & relative
closedness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world, as
this is the easiest way. But the benefits of honesty allow
personal growth which far surpasses the cost, they are totally
free to be, they are not burdened by any need to hide, they
waste no effort covering tracks or maintaining disguises. The
more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest,
just as the more lies are told, the more necessary it is to lie
again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in
the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in
the open, they become free from fear.
the exercise of self-discipline is not only a demanding and
complex task, but it requires both flexibility and judgement.
to be free, we must assume total responsibility for ourselves, but
in so doing, must possess the capacity to reject responsibility that
is truly not ours.
courageous people must continually push themselves to be
completely honest, yet must possess th capacity to with-hold the
whole truth when appropriate.
to be organised and efficient, we must delay gratification and
keep an eye on the future, yet to live joyously, we must also
possess the capacity, when it is not destructive, to live in the
present and act spontaneously.
in otherwords, self-discipline must itself be disciplined.
Reference: The Road Less
Travelled. Dr M.Scott Peck. Arrow Books 1983, reprinted 1998.