Are you familiar with M Scott Peck? He was a prominent psychiatrist, a prolific author who has become one of the seminal writers on psycho-spirituality. Among the books he’s written are The Road Less Travelled, as well as Further Along The Road Less Travelled, A World Waiting To Be Born, The Different Drum, People of the Lie and In Heaven As On Earth. Notice me fight the temptation to list them all, because each is truly excellent. I guess you have figured that he must be a favorite of mine. This is because in Dr Peck, I find that science and religion have no conflict, as each in fact reinforces the other. His writing’s appeal to me, a psychologist and a renewed Christian, seems a most natural thing.
In the next few months, therefore, I have decided to write articles based on the work of M Scott Peck, linking the material closely to family life and to parenting in particular. To launch this series, we will discuss the most basic, the most fundamental element in family life: love.
Defining And Debunking
M Scott Peck defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” The operant keywords here are: WILL – love is a conscious intent; EXTENDING ONE’S SELF – it is an evolutionary process, as extending oneself makes one larger than one used to be; ONE’S OWN – it begins within, for we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves; and SPIRITUAL – love necessarily has regard for eternity, because love is God relating to us. Love then, is willful, effortful, painful and soul-oriented. It is always a form of work or a form of courage. If an act is neither, then it is not an act of love. There are no exceptions.
Love IS NOT Feeling. Real love is volitional rather than emotional. Real love is often manifest when we decide to take loving and constructive action despite the fact that we don’t feel loving toward the beloved at the time, in fact even when we are experiencing dislike. Thus, a father who tries to hold his temper as he looks into the eyes of a son he knows is lying to him, or a mother who attends to a picky eater even as she’s tired from a whole day at the office. True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision. People who love must regularly, routinely and predictably attend to the person and to the relationship regardless of how they feel.
Love IS NOT Dependency. We truly love not because we are compelled, nor coerced, but because we choose. Loving requires maturity. There are no shortcuts. The self must be defined before it can be extended. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find oneself before one can share it. This presents itself as a perfect argument against teen marriages, as adolescents are still in the process of self-formation and self-discovery. Thus committing to a married relationship at this time is dangerously premature.
Love IS NOT Self-Sacrifice. The paradox of love is that it is both selfless and selfish. 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. Yet, it is not the selfish-selfless continuum that distinguishes love from non-love, rather it is the AIM of the action. In the case of genuine love the aim is ALWAYS spiritual growth. This view towards the long haul is an especially important consideration for parents. Saying “no” at the right time is more loving than saying “yes” at the wrong time. Fostering independence – even if it means being tough on our children – is more loving than taking care of them when and where they can otherwise take care of themselves. Love must be manifest in confrontation as much as in acceptance.
The Labors of Love
ATTENTION. The principal form of work that love takes is most commonly and importantly exercised as LISTENING. It requires that we make the effort to set aside our existing preoccupations and actively shift our consciousness. Often we are unable or unwilling to expend the energy required for true listening, for no matter how briefly, it requires tremendous effort and total concentration. True listening can only occur when time and effort are set aside for it. Listening however has many levels, and this largely depends on the nature – both in content and form – of the communication. For instance, in a party or during playtime, it’s perfectly alright to give cursory attention to our children’s chatter. But when a child is explaining himself, or talking about his feelings, or approaches us to ask a question, then we must truly attend to him. This can be tricky too, as oftentimes children use levity to mask their big topics.
Tue listening is love in action. Listening to children is the best possible concrete evidence of esteem towards them. The more they feel valued, the more they will begin to say things of value, and children indeed have valuable things to say. In addition, the more our children know that we listen to them, the more willing they will be to listen to us and afford us the same esteem. The cyclical nature of benefits to listening underlines the reciprocity of loving: the giver also receives and the receiver also gives.
INDEPENDENCE. The process of growing up usually occurs gradually, via multiple little leaps into the unknown. Although they can be made at any age, many of these leaps are made during adolescence. Knowing this should provide parents with the impetus to aim for their children’s independence, especially emotional independence. A vast majority of parents fail in some degree to adequately recognize or fully appreciate the unique individuality or “otherness” of their children. It is very easy to fall into the trap of regarding them as “my children” rather than their own persons. This tendency sadly contributes to the fact that many so-called grown-ups remain children psychologically, as they have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them
The more lovingly we live our lives, the more we work (move out of our inertia) and the more we take courage (move out of our fears). Moving out of our fears and inertia requires risks, and the greatest is the risk of growing up. Risking, transcending, changing – these are all acts of self-love. Love for oneself provides motivation for change and is the basis for the courage to risk it. It is only when one has taken the leap into the unknown of selfhood, independence and individuality that one becomes free to proceed along still higher paths of spiritual growth and to manifest love in its greatest dimensions. The highest forms of love are inevitably totally free choices and not acts of conformity.
COMMITMENT. Commitment is the foundation, the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship. It is our sense of commitment after the wedding which makes possible the transition from falling in love to genuine love. It is our sense of commitment after conception which transforms us from biological to psychological parents. Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship. Commitment involves self-confrontation and change. Only when we are willing to confront ourselves and grow by changing can we become the fathers and mothers our children need us to be.
If one can say that one has built genuinely loving relationships with a spouse and children, then one has already succeeded in accomplishing more than most people in a lifetime.