the risk of independence

All life itself represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives the more risks we take. Of the thousands, maybe even millions, of risks we can take in a lifetime the greatest is the risk of growing up. Growing up is the act of stepping from childhood into adulthood. Actually it is more of a fearful leap than a step, and it is a leap that many people never really take in their lifetimes. Though they may outwardly appear to be adults, even successful adults, perhaps the majority of “grown-ups” remain until their death psychological children who have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

The Right Man for the Job

His writing talents were never in doubt. Certainly not after he authored a well-written pamphlet called A Summary View of the Rights of British America. However, the tall red-headed, Virginian was so quiet during debates that some questioned his strength. The real power of that critically important Congress of 1776 was John Adams of Massachusetts. His bull-necked honesty and enthusiastic zeal made him a power center in that legislative body. It was natural that Adams be a principal choice to prepare the key policy paper on the future of the 13 colonies. Three others joined him to form a committee: Ben Franklin, a Connecticut merchant and a New York lawyer. Another man was added to give place to the importance of Virginia. When the committee met to do its work, it was naturally expected that John Adams would be the primary architect of the writing. But Adam suggested instead that the quiet Virginian draw up the first draft for the committee’s consideration. “I’m too obnoxious,” he said. So, almost by accident, the new man had the job. “I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing,” he said. He first draft was received without change by the committee and approve later by the entire Congress. Written almost by chance but just the right man, Thomas Jefferson. The document - the Declaration of Independence.

The Individual Journey

As an adolescent I used to thrill to the words of love the early American poet Ann Bradstreet spoke to her husband: 'If ever two were one, then we.'

As I have grown, however, I have come to realize that it is the separateness of the partners that enriches the union. Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage. Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss. The ultimate goal of life remains the spiritual growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can be climbed only alone.

Significant journeys cannot be accomplished without the nurture provided by a successful marriage or a successful society. Marriage and society exist for the basic purpose of nurturing such individual journeys.

But, as is the case with all genuine love, “sacrifices” on behalf of the growth of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self. It is the return of the individual to the nurturing marriage or society from the peaks he or she has traveled alone which serves to elevate that marriage or that society to new heights.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

The Ethical Task

Self-actualization is not merely a good to be desired, but rather a task, something human persons have been assigned to do and which they will be held responsible for achieving or failing to achieve.

Of course, not everyone is aware of this ethical task. (Kierkegaard) says that a great many people drift through life, “managing with custom and tradition” in their respective cities. Such people live their lives in a way similar to the way children who have not been taught table manners might get by at a fancy party: “Watch the other polite children and behave as they do.” Someone who lives life this way lacks… “authenticity” or “originality.” Such a person “would never do anything first and would never have any opinion unless he first knew that other had it.

C. Steven Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

Independently Connected

We must help the individual to discover how commitments may be made without surrendering individuality. We must help him to understand and resist any impulse he may have to flee the responsibility of individual choice by mindless submission to a Cause or Movement.

In short, he must recognize the hazard of having no commitments beyond the self and the hazard of commitments that imperil the self.

John Gardner, Self-Renewal

The creative process

The creative process is often not responsive to conscious efforts to initiate or control it. It does not proceed methodically or in programmatic fashion. It meanders. It is unpredictable, digressive, capricious. As one scientist put it, “I can schedule my lab hours, but I can’t schedule my best ideas.”

Creative individuals have the capacity to free themselves from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. They don’t spend much time asking “What will people say?” The fact that “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t mean they’re doing it. They question assumptions that the rest of us accept. As J. P. Guilford has pointed out, they are particularly gifted in seeing the gap between what is and what could be (which means, of course, that they have achieved a certain measure of detachment from what is.

It is easy to fall into the romantic exaggeration in speaking of the capacity of people of originality to stand apart. Those who are responsible for the great innovative performances have always built on the work of others, and have enjoyed many kinds of social support, stimulation and communication. They are independent bout they are not adrift.

John Gardner, Self-Renewal

Projecting ourselves onto others

Large numbers of American soldier had idyllic marriages to German, Italian or Japanese “war brides” (after World War II) with whom they could not verbally communicate. But when their brides learned English, the marriages began to fall apart. The servicemen could then no longer project upon their wives their own thoughts, feelings, desires and goals and feel the same sense of closeness one feels with a pet. Instead, as their wives learned English, the men began to realize that these women had ideas, opinions and aims different from their own. As this happened, love began to grow for some; for most, perhaps, it ceased.

The liberated woman is right to beware of the man who affectionately calls her his “pet.” He many indeed be an individual whose affection is dependent upon her being a pet, who lacks the capacity to respect her strength, independence and individuality.

Probably the most saddening example of this phenomenon is the very large number of women who are capable of “loving” their children only as infants.

As soon as a child begins to assert its own will- to disobey, to whine, to refuse to play, to occasionally reject being cuddled, to attach itself to other people, to move out into the world a little bit on its own – the mother’s love cease… At the same time, she will often feel an almost overpowering need to be pregnant again, to have another infant, another pet. Usually she will succeed, and the cycle is repeated.

The point is that nurturing can be and usually should be much more than simple feeding, and that nurturing spiritual growth is an infinitely more complicated process than can be directed by any instinct.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Pet love

We don’t keep pets around very long when they protest or fight back against us. The only school to which we send our pets for the development of their minds or spirits is obedience school. Yet it is possible for us to desire that other humans develop a “will of their own;” indeed, it is this desire for the differentiation for the other that is one of the characteristics of genuine love.

In our relationship with pets we seek to foster their dependency. We do not want them to grow up and leave home. We want them to stay put, to lie dependably near the hearth. It is their attachment to us rather than their independence from us that we value in our pets.

This matter of the “love” of pets is of immense import because many, many people are capable of “loving” only pets and incapable of genuinely loving other human beings.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled