Peck's works combined his experiences from his private psychiatric practice with a distinctly religious point of view. In one of his books, People of the Lie, he wrote, "After many years of vague identification with Buddhist and Islamic mysticism, I ultimately made a firm Christian commitment — signified by my non-denominational baptism on the ninth of March 1980..." One of his religious insights was that people who are evil attack others rather than face their own failures. His religious views are criticized by some fundamentalist Christians.
In 1984, Peck co-founded the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), a tax-exempt, nonprofit, public educational foundation, whose stated mission is "to teach the principles of community to individuals and organizations." FCE ceased operations in 2002.
Peck married Lily Ho in 1959, and they had three children. In 1994, they jointly received the Community of Christ International Peace Award. In 2004, they were separated and later divorced. Peck then married Kathleen Kline Yates.
While Peck's writings emphasized the virtues of a disciplined life and delayed gratification, his personal life was far more turbulent. For example, in the book In Search of Stones, Peck acknowledged having extramarital affairs and being estranged from two of his children.
Peck died at his home in Connecticut on September 25, 2005 after suffering from Parkinson's disease and pancreatic and liver duct cancer. Fuller Theological Seminary houses the archives of his publications, awards, and correspondence.
In the first section of the work Peck talks about discipline, which he considers essential for emotional, spiritual and psychological health, and which he describes as "the means of spiritual evolution". The elements of discipline that make for such health include the ability to delay gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one's actions, a dedication to truth and balancing.
In the second section, Peck considers the nature of love, which he considers the driving force behind spiritual growth. The section mainly attacks a number of misconceptions about love: that romantic love exists (he considers it a very destructive myth), that it is about dependency, that true love is not "falling in love". That type of love is cathexis, it is a feeling. Instead "true" love is about the extending of one's ego boundaries to include another, and about the spiritual nurturing of another, in short, love is effort.
The final section describes Grace, the powerful force originating outside human consciousness that nurtures spiritual growth in human beings. To do so he describes the miracles of health, the unconscious, and serendipity—phenomena which Peck says:
He concludes that "the miracles described indicate that our growth as human beings is being assisted by a force other than our conscious will".
Random House, where the little-known psychiatrist first tried to publish his original manuscript, turned him down, saying the final section was "too Christ-y." Simon & Schuster published the work for $7,500 and printed a modest hardback run of 5,000 copies. The book took off only after Mr. Peck hit the lecture circuit and personally sought reviews in key publications. Reprinted in paperback in 1980, The Road first made best-seller lists in 1983 — five years after its initial publication.
In The Road Less Traveled, Peck talked of the importance of discipline. He described four aspects of discipline:
Peck’s book begins with the profound truth that "Life is difficult!". We must attest to the fact that life was never meant to be easy, and that it is nothing but a battlefield of problems. We can either moan about them or solve them. It is here that the vital role of discipline assumes significance.
Peck defines discipline as the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. These tools are delaying gratification, assuming responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. These are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work through them and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. Most of us do not want to wrestle with our problems because of the pain involved. Yet, it is only in grappling with our problems that life has its meaning.
Delaying gratification is the process by which we learn to meet and experience pain first, and then enjoy pleasure. By doing so, we enhance the joy of pleasure. Most of us learn this activity by the age of five. For example, a six-year-old child will prefer eating the cake first and the frosting last. Children will rather finish their homework first, so that they can play later on. However, a sizable number of adolescents seem to lack this capacity. These problematic students are totally controlled by their impulses. Such youngsters indulge in drugs, get into frequent fights, and often find themselves in confrontation with authority.
Taking responsibility for our problems is perhaps the most difficult. Only by accepting the fact that we have problems can we solve them. An attitude of ‘It’s not my problem!’ will not take us anywhere. Neurosis and character-disorder are the two disorders of responsibility. Neurotics assume too much responsibility and feel culpable for everything that goes wrong in their life. The latter instead, shirk responsibility, and blame others for their problems. ‘Neurotics make themselves miserable, character-disordered people make everyone else miserable.’ All of us are neurotics or character-disordered at some time or the other. Neurotics must realize that they need not be excessively guilt-ridden, while character-disordered ones must learn to take things in stride, instead of becoming a yoke to the society. The words of Eldridge Cleaver, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”, hold good for all of us.
Dedication to the truth comes next. We all have a certain worldview that must be constantly updated and revised as we find ourselves exposed to new data. If our viewpoint is narrow, misleading and outdated, then we will be lost. The same applies to our life experiences. A bitter childhood can leave a person with the false idea that the world is a hostile and inhuman place. Yet, if the person has to grow, he must set aside this prejudice and revise his worldview. Being true also implies a life of genuine self-examination, a willingness to be personally challenged by others, and total honesty to oneself and others.
We finally come to balancing-the technique of flexibility. Many a time we function with rigid, set patterns of behavior. Extraordinary flexibility is a must for successful living. Part of this technique is also learning to give up something that is dear and familiar to us. In refusing to suffer the pain of sacrifice, we fail to truly grow. It is in giving that we gain more.
These interrelated techniques of discipline are paramount if we are to cope with the tribulations of life. A person may employ two, three or even all the strategies at the same time. The strength, willingness, and energy to apply these techniques is provided by love. There are no short cuts to happiness. Only by learning to discipline ourselves can we set foot upon the path to contentment and wholeness.
Peck believes that it is only through suffering and agonizing that we can resolve the many puzzles and conflicts that we face. This is what he calls genuine suffering, in a spiritual way. By trying to avoid genuine suffering, people ultimately end up creating more causes for suffering. Unnecessary suffering is what Scott Peck terms neurotic suffering.
Peck says that our aim must be to eliminate neurotic suffering and work through our genuine suffering, to achieve our individual goals.
Peck discusses evil in his book People of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. He describes in some detail several individual cases involving his patients. In one, a moderately impaired neurotic patient, pseudo-named George, made a "pact with the devil" to alleviate his symptoms. As a psychiatrist, Peck makes an uncharacteristic moral judgement about George's therapeutic pact and was ultimately successful in treating him.
Most of his conclusions about the psychiatric condition he designates "evil" are derived from his close study of one patient he names Charlene. Although Charlene is not dangerous, she is ultimately unable to have empathy for others in any way. According to Scott Peck, people like her see others as play things or tools to be manipulated for their uses or entertainment. Scott Peck claims that these people are rarely seen by psychiatrists and have never been treated successfully.
He gives some identifying characteristics for evil persons. Discussed below are Scott Peck's views.
Evil is described by Peck as "militant ignorance". In this it is close to the original Judeo-Christian concept of "sin" as a consistent process that leads to failure to reach one's true goals.
An evil person:
Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the locus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character disorder.
In a discussion on group evil, Peck talks about the My Lai Massacre tragedy during the Vietnam war:
In the spring of 1972 I was chairman of a committee of three psychiatrists appointed by the Army Surgeon General, at the request of the Chief of Staff of the Army, to make recommendations for research that might shed light on the psychological causes of MyLai, so as to help prevent such atrocities in the future. The research we proposed was rejected by the General Staff of the Army, reportedly on the grounds that it could not be kept secret and might prove embarrassing to the administration and that "further embarrassment was not desirable at that time". (Chapter 6, "MyLai: An Examination of Group Evil")
Peck makes great efforts to keep much of his discussion on a scientific basis.
He says that evil arises out of free choice. He describes it thus: Every person stands at a crossroads, with one path leading to God, and the other path leading to the devil. The path of God is the right path, and accepting this path is akin to submission to a higher power. However, if a person wants to convince himself and others that he has free choice, he would rather take a path which cannot be attributed to its being the right path. Thus, he chooses the path of evil.
Peck's writings on evil are to some extent based on accounts of apparent demonic possession and exorcism by Malachi Martin. However the veracity of these accounts has been questioned (see Fr. Richard Woods OP, National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005 ).
His perspective on love (in The Road Less Traveled) is that love is not a feeling, it is an activity and an investment. He defines love as, "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Love is primarily actions towards nurturing the spiritual growth of another. Love cannot be sustained by mutual dependence; rather, love between two parties is made stronger when they are completely independent of one another.
Peck seeks to differentiate between love and cathexis. Cathexis is what explains attractions to the opposite sex, the instinct for cuddling pets and pinching babies' cheeks. However, cathexis is not love. All the same, true love cannot begin in isolation, a certain amount of cathexis is necessary to get sufficiently close to be able to truly love.
Once through the cathexis stage, the work of love begins. It is not a feeling. It consists of what you do for another person. As Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, "Love is as love does." It is about giving the other person what they need to grow. It is about truly knowing and understanding them.
Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:
Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual. Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.
In his book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, Peck says that community has three essential ingredients:
Based on his experience with community building workshops, Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:
It is in this third stage that Peck's community-building methods differ in principle from team development. While teams in business organizations need to develop explicit rules, guidelines and protocols during the norming stage, the ''emptiness' stage of community building is characterized, not by laying down the rules explicitly, but by shedding the resistance within the minds of the individuals.
Peck started the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE) to promote the formation of communities, which, he argues, are a first step towards uniting humanity and saving us from self destruction.
The Blue Heron Farm is an intentional community in central North Carolina whose founders stated that they were inspired by Peck's writings on community, although Peck himself had no involvement with this project.
Peck describes what he considers to be the most salient characteristics of a true community.
WRESTLING WITH THE DEVIL BEING POSSESSED IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING EVIL, M. SCOTT PECK WRITES.(ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT)
Jan 16, 2005; Byline: William R. Wineke Wisconsin State Journal Probably, some place in this land, there is someone who hasn't read "The Road...