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Timeless and Timely Quotes by M. Scott Peck

April 1, 2020

M. Scott Peck (Author of The Road Less Traveled)

M. Scott Peck had a significant impact on me many years ago.  I often look back to the writers who have influenced me in the past to help navigate the present.  There is a lot of natural fear circulating around these days.  The Coronavirus/COVID-19 is a scary threat, as all threats are that are randomly distributed and potentially fatal.  We can’t operate from the safe individual premise of not fitting into a risk category, even though some people initially believed this to be true.   Moreover, there is a high probability that someone we know (and may love) will be adversely affected.  What do you do in times like these?  You do your best not to panic and be ruled by your fears.  You should also strive to stay informed to fully comprehend the rapidly changing environment.  Next, it is critical to try and put things in proper context and perspective (this is not the end of the world, and we have many bright people committed to providing solutions).  Lastly, you control what you can and bring the best of yourself to all situations.  In his landmark book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck gives us much to think about and act on.  Here are some selected quotes:


“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”


“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”


“Actually, there is a deficit in the approach to problem solving more primitive and more destructive than impatiently inadequate attempts to find instant solutions, a defect even more ubiquitous and universal. It is hope that problems will go away of their own accord.”


“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”


“…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; for the entirety of our lives, we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”


“It is only through a vast amount of experience and a lengthy and successful maturation that we gain the capacity to see the world and our place in it realistically, and thus are enabled to realistically assess responsibility for ourselves and the world.”


‘Whenever we seek to avoid responsibility for our own behavior, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organization or entity. But that means we give away our power to that entity…”


“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”


“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong, and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.’


“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”


“Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within, and it is certainly because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the majority steer away from it.”


“What rules, then, can one follow if one is dedicated to the truth?  First, never speak falsehood. Second, bear in mind that the act of withholding the truth is always potentially a lie, and that in each instance in which the truth is withheld a significant moral decision is required. Third, the decision to withhold the truth should never be based on personal needs, such as the need for power, a need to be liked, or a need to protect one’s map from challenge. Fourth and conversely, the decision to withhold the truth must always be based entirely upon the needs of the person or people from whom the truth is being withheld. Fifth, 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 other. Sixth, the primary factor in the assessment of another’s needs is the assessment of that person’s capacity to utilize the truth for his or her spiritual growth. Finally, in assessing the capacity of another to utilize the truth for personal spiritual growth, it should be borne in mind that our tendency is generally to underestimate rather than overestimate this capacity.”


The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had 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.”


“To function successfully in our complex world, it is necessary for us to possess the capacity not only to express our anger but also not express it. Moreover, we must possess the capacity to express our anger in different ways.”


“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”


“Bracketing is essentially the act of balancing the need for stability and assertion of the self with the need for new knowledge and greater understanding by temporarily giving up one’s self – putting one’s self aside, so to speak – so as to make room for the incorporation of new material into the self.”


Self-discipline is a self-enlarging process. The pain of giving up is the pain of death, but death of the old is birth of the new…”


“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”


“Decisions affecting the lives of others must always be made.  The best decision-makers are those who are willing to suffer the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to be decisive.”


“So, if your goal is to avoid pain and escape suffering, I would not advise you to seek higher levels of consciousness or spiritual evolution.  First, you cannot achieve them without suffering, and second, insofar as you achieve them, you are likely to be called on to serve in ways more painful to you, or at least as demanding of you, than you can now imagine.”


“Love is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.”


“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”


“… the act of loving is an act of self-evolution even when the purpose of the act is someone else’s growth.”


“One’s limits are one’s ego boundaries…”


“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”


“Passive dependent people lack self-discipline.  They are unwilling or unable to delay gratification for their hunger for attention.  In their desperation to form and preserve attachments, they throw honesty to the winds.  They cling to outworn relationships when they should give them up. Most importantly they lack a sense of responsibility for themselves.  They passively look to others, frequently even their children, as the source of their happiness and fulfillment, and therefore when they are not happy or fulfilled, they basically feel that others are responsible.”


“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 


“…genuine love is a self-replenishing activity…”


“When we extend ourselves, when take an extra step or walk and extra mile, we do so in opposition to the inertia of laziness or the resistance of fear.  Extension of ourselves or moving out against the inertia of laziness we call work.  Moving out in the face of fear we call courage.  Specifically, it is work or courage directed toward the nurture of our own or another’s spiritual growth.”


“True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love.  An essential part of true listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.”


“Even though we may feel in our business dealings or social relationships that we are listening very hard, what we are usually doing is listening selectively, with a preset agenda in mind, wondering as we listen how we can achieve certain desired results and get the conversation over with as quickly as possible or redirected in ways more satisfactory to us.”


Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”


“To fail to confront when confrontation is required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love equally as does thoughtless criticism or condemnation and other forms of active deprivation of caring…”


“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”


“it is no wonder, then, that the world of humanity is so full of conflict.  We have a situation in which human beings, who must deal with each other, have vastly different views as to the nature of reality, yet each one believes his or her own view to be the correct one since it is based on the microcosm of personal experience.”


“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”


“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”


“Again and again, I have emphasized that the process of spiritual growth is an effortful and difficult one.  This is because it is conducted against a natural resistance, against a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things, to take the easy path…But as is the case of physical evolution, the miracle is that this resistance is overcome.  We do grow. Despite all that resists the process, we do become better human beings.  Not all of us.  Note easily.  But in significant numbers humans somehow manage to improve themselves and their cultures.  There is a force that somehow pushes us to choose the more difficult path whereby we can transcend the mire and muck into which we are so often born.”


“Our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves than our forebears did of themselves.  Human behavior that we find repugnant and outrageous today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear.”


“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”


A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.


“Within each and every one of us there are two selves, one sick and one healthy – the life urge and the death urge, if you will.  Each of use represents the whole human race; within each of us is the instinct for godhood and the hope for mankind, and within each of us is the original sin of laziness, the ever-present force of entropy pushing us back to childhood, to the womb and to the swamps from which we have evolved.”


“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”


“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”


“The path of spiritual growth is the path of lifelong learning.”


“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this steppingstone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”


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