I started M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.
What draws me to Peck’s books are his stories, particularly the ones pertaining to his experiences as a psychotherapist. In my latest reading of People of the Lie, Peck talked about two case-studies: George, and Bobby.
Let’s start with George’s story. George was a successful salesman who ran into a problem: he was having obsessive thoughts about his own death (among other things). For example, he crossed a bridge, and the thought occurred to him that this was the last time that he would cross that bridge, for he would die if he crossed it again. But it was an important bridge on his sales itinerary, and so George late one night drove miles back to the bridge to cross it and thereby to quiet his obsessive thought. Or a thought occurred to George that he hit somebody on the road while driving, and so he’d drive for miles back to where he came from just to make sure that he didn’t. These thoughts were taking a toll on George’s health and his job, so he went to see Dr. Peck. In the course of their conversations, Peck learned that George had a horrible childhood (i.e., his schizophrenic dad beat his sister’s kitten to death), that George’s marriage was on the rocks, that George showed favoritism to one of his children while alienating his other kids, and that George was afraid of death.
But George did not want to confront his demons, for he wondered what the point would be of fretting over such problems. And so George made a deal with the devil, whom George did not even believe in. The deal was this: if George had (say) a thought about dying the next time he crossed a bridge, his fear would actually come to pass if he did cross that bridge. Or his favorite son would die if he gave in to his obsessions. George was feeling good as a result of this pact, yet he felt slightly guilty. And Peck’s response was that it was good that George was feeling guilty, for George was cravenly seeking the easy path as opposed to the right path. George’s obsessions were signs that he needed to deal with certain issues, and George was choosing not to do so. George and his wife continued in therapy, and George became stronger. As Peck says on page 34: “He was able to realize that in these negative feelings, in his sensitivity and tenderness and vulnerability to pain, lay his humanity. He became less Joe Cool, and at the same time his capacity to bear pain increased.”
Now for Bobby’s story. Bobby was a teenager whose older brother Stuart shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle. Bobby became depressed, his grades plummeted, and he stole a car. Bobby then saw Dr. Peck, who learned at least two things: that Bobby was fond of one of his relatives, Aunt Helen, who lived miles away, and that Bobby’s parents gave to Bobby as a Christmas present the very rifle that his older brother had used to kill himself.
Peck then met with Bobby’s parents, and this scene appears to be important in People of the Lie because Peck feels that Bobby’s parents were evil. Bobby’s parents were working-class people. They told Peck that they did not try to get therapy for Bobby because they were working on weekdays and could not take off work. Bobby’s Mom said that she did not like her sister Helen because she thought that Helen acted superior, when all Helen did was run a cleaning service. Both of Bobby’s parents told Peck that they gave Bobby the rifle because they thought it was a good Christmas present—-did not every teenage boy want a gun?—-plus they could not afford another Christmas present, and they were unaware that their son Bobby had requested a tennis racket. When Peck said to them that their gift was problematic because it conveyed to Bobby that they wanted for Bobby to kill himself, too, they got really defensive and angry, saying that they don’t always know what to do because they don’t have the level of education that Peck does. When Peck suggested that Bobby live with his Aunt Helen for a while, Bobby’s father became belligerent, but Peck replied that he was trying to keep the issue within the family, yet he would involve the law if necessary. In my opinion, this overlaps with something that Peck says later on in the book: that raw force is the only thing that evil people understand. Peck reflects that Bobby’s parents should have tried to convince Bobby that his brother’s suicide was not Bobby’s fault, or that they should have at least sent Bobby to a therapist if they felt that their own resources were inadequate. But they did not do so.
Peck characterizes Bobby’s parents as people who did not want help in addressing their own character defects, plus he felt that he did not like them because they were evil, and evil people tend to repulse others.
Both of these stories hit some nerves. Do I, like George, tend to look for the easy way rather than the right way? Should I confront my demons and my negative feelings, or should I ignore them in order to feel better and to get through the day? Do people dislike me because they sense that I’m evil, and my evil is repulsing them? Like Bobby’s parents, I tend to have resentment about people, and I am reluctant to provide emotional support for others. (In my case, it’s due to feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy, but also not wanting to be inconvenienced or emotionally drained.) But, were I a parent, I hope that I wouldn’t be as callous or as uncaring as they were in their relationship with Bobby, and that I’d at least be open to seeing what I did wrong and learning what I could have done better.