Peck's book is not religious scripture, nor is it an ideological, political, or philosophical treatise. Rather, it is a practical, common sense exploration in psychology, love, and personal growth based on Peck's own experience working with real patients as a clinical psychiatrist.
The Road Less Traveled was published in 1978, one year before I was born. For the following decade—throughout the 1980s—it was a huge bestseller, demonstrating that many human beings really do earnestly seek after real answers to real problems in their lives, even if it requires hard work, courage, and personal sacrifice.
These two books—The Road Less Traveled, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, influenced my thinking—and the development of the Self-Action Leadership Theory and Model—more than any other single texts. Other books by Covey and Peck, including: Principle Centered Leadership (1990), Further Along the Road Less Traveled (1993), First Things First (1994), and The Road Less Traveled and Beyond (1997) were similarly influential on my thinking and writing.
For you old timers who are wondering what the NextGen Road or 7 Habits is going to be, you don't have to wonder anymore. It has already been written and published!
|The 1980s brought The Road|
The 1990s and 2000s brought The 7 Habits
The 2020s now offers SAL
But all in good time my friends; all in good time!
Or, in the words of Alexander Hamilton (of Hamilton the musical fame): "There's a million [copies I haven't sold], but just you wait; just you wait!"
Peck famously opened The Road Less Traveled with a timeless truism summed up unforgettably in just three (3) simple words...
"Life is Difficult."
As seemingly self-evident and obvious as this statement may be, Peck went on to explain that a certain irony exists in the phrase as it relates to us humans.
In his own words:
"Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief ... that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others" (The Road Less Traveled. 1978, New York, NY: Touchstone. p. 15).
Peck then humbly confesses what most (if not all) of us might well echo:
"I know about this moaning because I have done my share" (p. 15).
If I'm honest, I must echo Peck's confession myself.
"A [person's] suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative" (Man's Search for Meaning. 2006. Beacon: Boston, MA, p. 44).
Given this reality of our human experiences, we would all do well to spend less time and effort judging others and comparing ourselves to others and instead reinvest that same energy in alleviating and managing our own suffering in an effort to grow personally and professionally—and then help others to do the same.
By so doing, we can inch steadily toward "gain[ing] ever greater levels of maturity" (Peck, 1978, p. 11). After all, GROWTH (personal and professional) is the entire purpose of the SAL Theory and Model.
Along the way, we have the opportunity to realize that high ideal set forth by the great Russian novelist, Dostoevski (and reiterated by Frankl), whereby we have the potential to become "worthy of [our] sufferings" (p. 66). In Frankl's view, being worthy of our sufferings qualifies as a "genuine inner achievement" (p. 67), which can, in-turn, lead us to a "spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful" (p. 67).
As we consider our options for responding to the inevitable difficulties of life, there are, generally speaking, only two kinds of choices to be made in any situation. One option is negative, reactive, combative, and therefore counterproductive. This choice invariably makes any situation worse than it was in the first place. The other possibility is a positive, proactive, cooperative, and therefore productive response. If pursued consistently and persistently, the latter option is bound to either solve the problem(s) at hand, or at very least, to mollify or ameliorate it/them over time.
Such statements of "Truth" are rooted in science, religion, philosophy, politics, commerce, parenting, literature, and a wide range of other human endeavors. The authors of such statements—from Plato and Pericles to Caesar and Cicero; from Moses, Muhammad, and Jesus to Confucius, Siddhārtha Gautama, and Guru Nanek; from Franklin and Goethe to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.—are representative of all major civilizations, continents, cultures, creeds, races, and religions. When civilizations adhere to principles and practices contained in this diverse, yet largely harmonious, historical canon of "Wisdom Literature," positive long-term consequences ensue, both individually and collectively speaking. When this wisdom is disregarded, disasters always arise eventually, for both individuals and the body politic.
What is the answer to these deep, perplexing, and systemic problems? Wherein lies the key to our escape from the current moral ebb into a future ascent (hopefully) into the next flow of peace and prosperity? What will the next chapter in Western Civilization look like? And how in the world did we get here in the first place?
I would suggest that one of the biggest problems in the West today is our collective tendency to focus too much on the weaknesses and shortcomings of others while simultaneously failing to see, much less working to change, ourselves.
|Colonel Theodore Roosevelt|
First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
"There are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. ... It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong [one] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends [oneself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [he or she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that [his or her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
|Winston Churchill in middle age|
circa the World War I era.
|SAL is all about looking in the mirror|
in an effort to grow and improve personally.
It really is that simple (in theory). And it really is that difficult (in practice).
It is simple because the answer to all of our deepest and most distressing problems in American and beyond lies in right thinking, doing, and being—not from a political or cultural point of view, but from a behavioral, existential, and moral standpoint. And it is difficult because thinking, speaking, doing, and being right on a consistent basis is incredibly challenging; indeed, it is a lifelong struggle for even the most careful, conscientious, and circumspect among us.
In the words of Peck:
"We cannot solve life's problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotic... or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying 'It's 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 this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem. [And] the extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous" (p. 32-33).
For those willing to put forth the enormous effort required, it all beings with an EDUCATION that is dedicated to truth and reality. After all, in the words of Peck, "truth is reality" (p. 44) and "we must [therefore] be totally dedicated to truth ... [and] must always hold truth ... to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort" (p. 50).
In other words, SAL only works if YOU are willing to get out of your comfort zone and stay out of it for as long as true change and authentic growth demands.
To illustrate the kind of education promoted at Freedom Focused, consider a story from the life of M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Peck then goes on to say:
"I've often thought that it would be saving if we could develop some program of mental health education in our public schools, but I know we wouldn't get away with it. People would object to it. ... But ... [who could] possibly object to a program in our schools to teach the old proverbs to our children[?] ... So I hope someone will start instituting such a program. I also hope it will be done soon" (p. 143-144).
I will never forget reading these words back in 2011. I was high up in the air on an airplane en route to an eastern Canadian city where I was scheduled to teach some business seminars. I had known for nearly a decade already that my life's calling was to answer this call of Peck's, and had been anxiously engaged in striving to fulfill that mission since 2003. Peck's words therefore served to powerfully reinforce the mission in my own mind.
Unfortunately, though, Peck is right... many people—including and perhaps especially those in positions of power capable of doing something about it—do object to it. And there is a chance that Freedom Focused won't "get away with it," just as Peck feared. But that won't stop us from making the attempt and giving our all in the process. Thus, if we do fail, it won't be for lack of effort or passion; it will merely be because those who needed it most chose to reject it.
This article—and everything else that goes forth from the mouth of this organization—is part and parcel of that attempt. We will keep trying and won't ever give up until someone in a position of power finally does listen, and by-and-by grants us the opportunity to empower a growing number of others with the kind of saving education that all successful, happy, and self-actualized (Maslow, 1943) persons ultimately receive and apply—to their own benefit and the blessing of others.Self-Action Leadership TEXTBOOKS have existed (in one form or another) for 15 years. Sadly, its message of self-leadership, personal responsibility, education, truth, and a "dedication to reality" (Peck) has been almost entirely ignored for all those years.
As frustrating as this fact sometimes feels, it doesn't alter the quality of my life personally.
I have a great life no matter what happens with Freedom Focused.
How is that possible, you ask?
Simple: I have a healthy mind and body and a wonderful, loving family that is committed to SAL principles and practices. Moreover, my wife has been very successful in her career, so we don't need the money.
What more could I possibly ask for?
In other words, our lives are already FANTASTIC because we have lived this stuff ourselves for many decades now. It's just who we are; SAL is inextricably linked to our very souls and we practice what we teach, even though we admittedly do so imperfectly—just like all human beings. Yet, even with imperfect practice, the results speak for themselves in terms of the long-term happiness, success, unity, growth, love, and inner peace we have enjoyed. And those same patterns will continue in our lives as long as we remain committed to SAL principles and practices. After all, there is nothing special about us, per se, but everything is special about SAL principles and practices. Thus, other people—including YOU—can ultimately benefit from them as richly as we have if you are willing to pay the price demanded by natural law.
Simply stated: if you are willing to put in the work, then SAL principles and practices will WORK for you, and serendipity will usually take care of the rest over time.
|Self-Action Leadership works because it is rooted |
in physical and metaphysical truisms.
That doesn't mean our lives will mirror each other's exactly; and that is a good thing, because how boring would that be? Besides, SAL is not about comparisons. As our pal Teddy Roosevelt once wisely put it: Comparison is the thief of joy.
"Comparison is the thief of joy."
— Theodore Roosevelt
Self-action leaders do not spend their time unwisely comparing themselves to other people and their unique talents, attributes, accomplishments, or successes. Self-action leaders recognize and rejoice in the reality that unlimited happiness, success, unity, growth, and inner peace is as much a possibility for THEM in their lives as it is for me and my wife in our lives—or anyone else on the planet for that matter.
I do confess that it saddens me that so many people who could be helped right now aren't being helped by the message of SAL because of a current lack of courageous, proactive, visionary, and principle-centered leaders who presently possess the power to begin bringing SAL into the lives of their students, children, subordinates, etc., but who, for whatever reasons, choose to ignore, reject, or delay.
But I'm not worried.
Such leaders are in the process of being developed, and when the time is right (i.e. once they have gathered up their courage and are otherwise sufficiently prepared), I have no doubt they will rise to the occasion and help us change the world—one mind and heart at a time. In the meantime, I certainly can't complain about the myriad of blessings I enjoy both personally and professionally—thanks to a synergized amalgamation of serendipitous grace and my own conscientious dedication to SAL—so I am amply prepared to continue to work hard and wait patiently... for however long it takes.
If you are a parent, educator, leader, politician, or just an ordinary citizen bereft of any formal title or organizational influence, I invite you to buy, read, and study the Self-Action Leadership textbooks—and complete the SAL Master Challenge along the way. If you discover the value and benefit of taking on that challenge yourself—as I did in my own extended, comprehensive journey throughout the past 34 years, I further invite you to help me spread the message of SAL far and wide, so that it can begin to influence, impact, and even transform the lives of others who, like all those readers of The Road Less Traveled in the 1980s-90s and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the 1990s and 2000s, are desperately seeking for real solutions to real problems in their lives and careers.
Peck was spot on: Life is indeed difficult.
But that doesn't mean it isn't doable.
With the power of SAL and the grace of serendipity in your corner, the sky is truly the limit—both personally and professionally.
What are you waiting for?
Tune in NEXT Wednesday to learn what Faith has to do with Self-Action Leadership.