Book Review After a Dozen Years

It was 1998 when I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. I have not re-read it since then, so please bear with me. I’m working from memory.

Before I get to the good stuff, which comprises the first half of this book, I should start with a few negatives. The title is misleading – this is not a book about the science of psychology in any sense. Psychology is a soft science, but it is a science none-the-less. This is not a psychology book, though Peck is a psychiatrist (maybe a good one, I don’t know), and though he occasionally alludes to a bit of scientific information that helps him present his points. It is not a psychology book – it is a self-help book.

And, unfortunately the latter half contains a hefty portion of Christian-flavored New Age mumbo jumbo.

That said, I would recommend the book (at least the first half of it) to anyone… and may even go procure a copy for my family at home to peruse.

The big lesson of it – one that I shamefully didn’t figure out without Peck’s assistance – has stayed with me for a very long time now, at least in some permutation or another. It is this: sentimentality is not the same as love (though loving relationships can inspire some sentimentality). Romance is not the same as love (though romantic feelings can characterize some stages in the growth of a loving relationship).

Love is not an emotion. Instead, it is a committed activity.

Now, I’m not exactly clear on how Peck understands what that activity is… but here’s how he puts it: “Love is not a feeling. Love is an action, an activity… Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom… love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth…..true love is an act of will that often transcends ephemeral feelings of love or cathexis, it is correct to say, ‘Love is as love does’.”

I think that’s a reasonable way to put it. Maybe I would replace “spiritual growth” with something else that conveyed both more and less than that phrase does. Maybe I would say instead that love is the extension of oneself for the purpose of enriching the life of another.

As imperfect a construction as I find Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I think that love means playing a role in helping others meet all sorts of “needs” (in Maslow’s sense) under various circumstances, and depending on the nature of the relationship. I put “needs” in scare quotes because I want to make clear that, while I may be a fuzzy-headed liberal, the sense that I am trying to convey here is compatible with the “tough love” championed by sensible conservatives. In other words, I don’t mean that love nurtures in a way that undermines the self-reliance of the beloved, but that enhances it, instead.

I would also be careful to add that while love sometimes requires self-sacrifice, love doesn’t require a noble but meaningless gesture of self-sacrifice. No greater love hath someone than that they lay down their life… but not so that their corpse can be a temporary crutch for the beloved. Love preserves for itself the ability to nurture in real and meaningful ways, and only sacrifices when doing so will bring meaningful good and when it can afford to do so without giving up more opportunities for good.

Oh… but I have strayed from the task. I’m no longer reviewing the book. I’m sharing the perspective that I owe in part to that book. Which I guess is the point. A person could do worse than to internalize this view of what love means and to strive to live it in all of their relationships. That in mind – maybe you should pick up a copy of “The Road Less Travelled”.

1 comment to Book Review After a Dozen Years

  • It has been a while since I read that one.

    Love has always been confusing to me. It has confused me from the time I first realized that there was eros, phileo and agape.

    Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If you can figure out how to do all of that in one lifetime then you have pretty much nailed it.

    Right now for fun I am reading Homer and Langley. For edification I am reading The Power Of Now. I think I have a copy of The Road Less Traveled somewhere around the house. I’ll see if I can dig it out.

    But last night while I was reading Balloon-Juice my wife told me that if I did not put the Blackberry down she was gonna shove it up my ass.

    Love takes many forms.

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