Summary of The Road Less Traveled
Notes by Doug Muder (1997)
I look at this book as a gradually unfolding answer to a question that Peck never states in just one line. I would state it like this: What prevents us from achieving our full potential as human beings? What keeps us from solving our emotional, spiritual, and psychological problems?
The first-level answer is given in the first section of the book: We lack discipline. Facing up to our problems and solving them is a painful, arduous, time-consuming process, and we just can't make ourselves do it. And so, the first section is a discussion of what discipline is, how a person learns (or fails to learn) it, and how it applies to the basic problems of life.
But this answer opens up another level of questioning: If solving our problems is hard and painful, why should we do it? What will motivate us to produce the effort and put up with the pain? The second section says that the answer is love. Love for ourselves and love for others will motivate us to endure risk, pain, and discomfort in the service of growth.
Yet another level of questioning opens up: Where does this love come from? It is, Peck claims in the fourth section, a miracle, a gift of grace.
Peck anticipates running into skepticism, or even outright hostility, to this answer. He recognizes that many of his fellow therapists view religion as the enemy of growth, a childish worldview that may in itself be a pathology. He tries to head this off by including a third section, in which he discusses the relationship between religion and growth. His conclusion is that there is indeed a childish form of religion, which can only be overcome by going through a period of skepticism. But he asserts that this skepticism is not the end state of growth, but can instead be the foundation of a mature religion.
Later in the fourth section, Peck unfolds the question one more level: Where does grace come from , and what is it trying to do? He concludes that grace is in fact the love of God, and that the purpose of grace is to nurture us as we grow into godhood. He identifies God with Jung's collective unconscious, and regards the personal unconscious as the link between our conscious individuality and God. The goal of human development is thus a conscious individuality that has become a part of God. "We are born so that we might become, as a conscious individual, a new life form of God."
Return to The Road Less Traveled main page.