Acceptance of Responsibility – Tool/Technique 2 for Dealing Constructively with Suffering and the Pain of Problems – M. Scott Peck
Menanteau Serfontein – 3 June 2021
M. Scott Peck, an American Psychiatrist and Author, wrote the Book entitled “The Road Less Travelled” which contains important principles about life which I have found extremely useful.
The book focuses on Peck’s core belief that, as stated in its opening sentence, “Life is difficult,” and that its problems can be addressed only through self-discipline. Humans, however, tend to try to avoid problems, a habit that only creates more difficulties, Peck said.
To the dose of self-discipline, Peck added an inseparable spiritual element. He states “I make no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth.” For the avoidance of confusion, my simplified interpretation of Peck’s reference to “spiritual growth” is that he means growth of the “inner being”.
Peck refers to the following four Tools/Techniques to deal with suffering and the means of experiencing the pain of problems constructively, which he calls “Discipline”:
- Delaying Gratification (dealt with in the previous Article)
- Acceptance of Responsibility (dealt with in this Article)
- Dedication to Truth (to be dealt with in the next Article)
- Flexibility and Wisdom (Balancing)
They are simple tools and almost all children are adept in their use by the age of ten. Yet, presidents and kings will often forget to use them, to their own downfall. The problem lies not in the complexity of these tools, but in the will to use them. For they are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided, and if you seek to avoid legitimate suffering, then you will avoid using these tools.
This Article is the Second of a Four-Part series analyzing each of the four Tools/Techniques. Thereafter, we shall examine in detail, the will (the driving force) to use them, which is Love, i.e. What is Love, What it is Not and its Role.
Please note that almost all of the content of this Article has been transcribed verbatim from Peck’s Book.
Tool/Technique 2: Acceptance of Responsibility
What makes life difficult, is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. Wise people learn not to dread, but to welcome problems and to welcome the pain of problems.
Peck says “We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them.” I can solve problems only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.” But so many seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it’s up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem.” Peck says that the extent to which people will go psychologically, to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous.
Neurosis and character disorders
Peck says that most people who come to see a psychiatrist are suffering from what is called either neurosis or character disorder. Put most simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that “they” (the world) is at fault.
Even the speech patterns of neurotics and those with character disorders are different. The speech of the neurotic is notable for such expressions as “I ought to”, “I should”, and “I shouldn’t”, indicating the individual’s self-image as a person who is always falling short of the mark, always making the wrong choices. The speech of a person with a character-disorder, however, relies heavily on “I can’t”, “I couldn’t”, “I have to”, “I had to”, demonstrating a self-image of a being who has no power of choice, whose behaviour is completely directed by what they believe to be external forces, totally beyond his or her control.
In actuality, many individuals have both a neurosis and a character-disorder and are referred to as “character neurotics” who, in some areas of their lives, are guilt-ridden by virtue of having assumed responsibility that is not really theirs, while in other areas of their lives they fail to take realistic responsibility for themselves.
Neurotics, because of their willingness to assume responsibility, may be quite excellent parents, if their neurosis is relatively mild. Character-disordered people however, make disastrous parents, blissfully unaware that they often treat their children with vicious destructiveness. It is said that neurotics make themselves miserable; those with character-disorders make everyone else miserable. Chief among the people that character-disordered parents make miserable are their children.
Character-disordered parents almost invariably produce character-disordered or neurotic children.
The character traits of character-disordered individuals usually extend to their marriages, their friendships and their business dealings – to any area of their existence in which they fail to assume responsibility. This is inevitable since, as has been said, no problem can be solved until an individual assumes the responsibility for solving it. When character-disordered individuals blame someone else – a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, an employer or something else – bad influences, the schools, the government, racism, sexism, society, the “system” – for their problems, these problems persist. Nothing has been accomplished. By casting away their responsibility, they may feel comfortable with themselves, but they have ceased to solve the problems of living. They have ceased to grow spiritually, and have become dead weight for society. They have cast their pain onto society. The saying of the sixties (attributed to Eldridge Cleaver) speaks to all of us for all time: “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.”
Whenever we seek to avoid responsibility for our own behaviour, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organisation or entity. Erich Fromm aptly entitled his study of Nazism and authoritarianism “Escape from Freedom”. In attempting to avoid the pain of responsibility, millions daily attempt to escape from freedom.
Dr Hilde Bruch in the preface to her Book “Learning Psychotherapy”, states that basically all patients come to psychiatrists with “one common problem: the sense of helplessness, the fear and inner conviction of being unable to “cope” and to “change” things.” One of the roots of this “sense of impotence” in the majority of patients, is some desire to partially or totally escape the pain of freedom, resulting in a degree of failure (partial or total), to accept responsibility for the problems in their lives. They feel impotent, because they have, in fact, given their power away. Sooner or later, if they are to be healed, they must learn that the entirety of one’s adult life is a series of personal choices and decisions. If they can accept this totally, then they become free people. To the extent that they do not accept this, they will forever feel themselves victims.
The Next Article in this 4-Part Series will deal with the third Tool/Technique of discipline, i.e. “Dedication to Truth”.
Almost all of the content of this Article has been transcribed verbatim from M. Scott Peck’s Book entitled “The Road Less Travelled”.
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