Monday, April 24, 2017

Living With Adjustments

M. Scott Peck in the 1978 book that made him famous, The Road Less Traveled describes (in so many words) life as terrain, so we need a “map”. Immediately one ruffles through the mental index, checking all the metaphors used to describe life: strange; a dream; a seed; a river; a box of chocolates; a mountain railway; a highway; a journey; a beautiful ride; a cereal, and so forth.

Solomon Rabinovich (better known as Sholem Aleichem, author of “Fiddler On The Roof”, a beautifully tragic portrayal of life in it’s own way) is credited with saying that, “Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.” So what is life? Peck assumes that life is territory to be explored and in order to find our way, we need a kind of representation, a chart that reveals the arrangement of the area, or what he calls, a “route to reality.”

Peck holds that we are born without maps so we must make them and the more effort dedicated to its formation, the more one is able to appreciate reality. Map-making has changed over time, which means gone are the days when men either recorded where they’ve been or were able to chart the course that lay ahead from the high points. It’s difficult to chart a course if one cannot see where he is going. Accuracy is required for map to work properly, so maps require revision.

Peck redefines “transference,” as “that set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood and which is usually entirely appropriate to the childhood environment . . . but which is in appropriately transferred into the adult environment.”

Perhaps an illustration will help. A scene in the movie “Hook,” shows the adult Peter Pan (Peter Banning) in a moment of retreat from Captain Hook saying, “I remember you being a lot bigger” and Hook replies, “to a 10 year-old, I’m huge.” Presuppositions must constantly change until they are in line with reality and perception has much to do with that. The difficulty for us is that the world is constantly changing. Our world has been flattened by technology. A friend recently commented how he is able to stay at home and virtually scuba dive a reef half-way around the world. How are we to update our “maps” so we are able to navigate this terrain called life?

Self-discipline and truth are important to Peck, for in these one is able to alter the map and in turn, make adjustment to perceived reality. Let’s try an experiment: take out a flat world map and look it over. Notice the country size. As many times as you’ve looked at a map, you’ve may never have known how inaccurate that map is compared to reality. Greenland, for example might be appear huge on your map in contrast to Japan. But if you put them side by side as they exist in reality, Japan is almost exactly the same length as Greenland. Take a look at Russia then notice how small China appears. In actual size, China overlaps Russia. Which is bigger: Canada or Australia? Did you know that Brazil is larger than Alaska? Reality never changes. Something's wrong with the map (we stretch the poles).

The inescapable component of change is pain, discomfort. Felt a little weird to do that experiment, didn't it? It doesn’t hurt to change your mind, but there are times when a challenged presupposition can feel like a train wreck. One must be committed to truth or face great harm in the grind of reality. And there’s the rub: we don’t like pain. Pain hurts. And if change brings us pain, then we tend to avoid the hurt of that change. The result is that our perception and our interaction with reality becomes skewed. Peck would say that we are navigating the terrain of life with an inaccurate map, lying to ourselves.

Socrates, under the sentence of death said, “ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ (“the unexamined life is no life for a man”). One must be open to change, to make the necessary adjustments or he will be broken on life’s hard places.

The problem with Peck’s premise is he assumes we make the map as we go. If that’s the case, then how do we know the way? How do we make a map we are to follow? Our maps only record where we’ve been--and Peck does not simply mean learn from your mistakes. “Transference happens” if you want to put it that way. 

Peck’s book begins with the statement that life is hard. And it’s true. Life is just plain hard. The easy part's behind you. Someone said that, "fife ain’t always beautiful, but it is a beautiful ride." Decisions must be made. That’s what happens at the twists and turns, decisions. Fork in the road? Decision. You think you’re on your way, and suddenly there’s a dead end. But it’s not a dead end. It’s an obstacle to get over, or go around. The journey isn’t over. Life goes on. 

Don’t ever get tired of walking. Keep going and as you go, make adjustments. Let the truth do its work. But as you're going, note where you've been. And share the wisdom with someone. 

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