I enjoy going to old bookstores (new ones too) and thrift shops for book browsing. There’s no telling what treasures you’ll find there. Even if you don’t purchase a book, there are certain to be snippets of food for thought, passages that touch your heart, or facts that you didn’t know until that moment. Case in point: Winnie the Pooh was inspired by a real-life black bear purchased by a veterinary surgeon and captain in the Canadian Army. Who knew?
Friday as my friend and I surfed through the book selection in the back-left corner of a Goodwill in Fletcher, NC, she came across one of our favorites from the late 1970s, M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. She plucked it from the shelf, opened the book, and turned to me with an amused look, the kind that says, “Get ready. I’m gonna ask you something.” She was a teacher; I know that look.
“Do you remember the first sentence in here?” she asked, turning the book’s cover toward me.
“How could I forget? ‘Life is difficult.’ Those three words stung me, and I had to read more.” Satisfied with my answer, she glanced back at the page.
“Doesn’t he go on to say that once a person accepts that life is difficult, then she can start solving problems?” I asked.
“Something like that,” she said, skimming the first couple of pages.
“I might buy it,” I said. “I know I have a copy somewhere at home, but I might run into somebody who needs to it, and I can’t part with mine.”
According to Dr. Peck, people moan more or less incessantly about how unfair life it and how their suffering and their problems are somehow deeper and more painful than others. Peck says he knows about this moaning because he’s done his share of it. He states that life is a series of problems and asks whether the reader wants to moan about them or solve them.
Rereading the first page of Peck’s seminal work reminded me of two things: (1) beginnings are important and (2) his book is filled with truth—and with some easy-to-understand ways of solving problems and alleviating pain and undue suffering.
- There are numerous examples of the importance of beginnings, but in the present situation, I’m referring to the beginning three words of The Road Less Traveled:
Life is difficult. As mentioned earlier, they drew me in. As someone who wants to improve her writing, I’m learning the importance of beginnings in setting scenes, introducing characters, and capturing the attention of the reader.
- Notice that I said easy to understand, not easy to practice. It’s difficult for people to give up their problems. Sometimes they don’t even recognize the fact that they themselves are responsible for bringing much of their suffering on themselves; it’s easier, after all, to blame it on someone or something else. And although I’m a little hesitant to say this, some people get a lot of mileage (sympathy and attention for starters) for their long-suffering. Woe is me and all that.
Mental health is a serious matter, and I’m not making light of it. I’m saying that there are proven ways to gain insight into one’s difficulties and work through them. Work is the operative word. “We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotically tautological 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….I can solve a problem only when I say, “This is my problem, and it’s up to me to solve it.” (p.32)
A simplified version of Dr. Peck’s advice follows:
- Nothing changes if nothing changes.
- If not me, then who?
- If not now, then when?
By the way, other pluses of reading The Road are several case studies (stories, y’all!), a powerful discussion about love, and many of the topics in the chapter “Grace,” including the miracles of the unconscious and of health. Sometimes I feel like words never die; they just jump from mind to mind. Dr. Peck’s powerful words influenced my thinking and teaching forty years ago…and still do.
I bought the copy last week. It’s yours if you want it.