Mental health is a big topic right now. It seems as though mental illness is rampant in our society with immorality everywhere we look, lies and deceit being exposed in politics, school shootings, we see it all the time on social media and on tv.
Lots of people are unwell, but not of us are perfect, right? We all have our shortcomings; we’re all human. So, what is mental health, really? I’m sure there are plenty of complex explanations for what mental health is and what you are expected to see in a mentally healthy person. Well, today I happened to come across and short and simple definition of what mental health is in M. Scott Peck, M.D.’s book, The Road Less Traveled, one of my favorite books.
“Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” – M. Scott Peck, M.D.
What does that mean, dedication to reality, dedication to truth? Well, Peck describes our perception of reality as a map that we use to navigate the terrain of life. The degree to which our view of reality is true or false relates directly to the degree of accuracy of our maps which we use to navigate through life. The more accurate the map, the more rooted in reality it is, the better equipped we are to deal with the problems we face in life, and the more likely we are to end up where we want to be.
Peck states that the problem with most people’s maps is that often reality is a painful thing to face. It requires courage and openness to challenge which is painful to do and it is often much easier to ignore reality or easier to choose to accept falsehood instead because then you can avoid the pain of dealing with reality.
These maps are created over the extent of our lives, but often times people stop revising their maps because it can be painful to accept that you’re living wrong, that you are the problem and changing that map that you used to navigate life takes a lot of effort and courage, and the avoidance of that responsibility is where the major source of the many ills of mankind takes root.
Sometimes we consciously choose to ignore new information that exposes our erroneous view of reality, and sometimes we do so unconsciously because it is simply too painful, too overwhelming. We have to accept the truth, live in it, be dedicated to it; we have to have courage, willingness to be open to challenges to our views and beliefs and be able to admit where we went wrong and then revise our maps so that we can navigate life in a realistic and healthy way.
“What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination.” -M. Scott Peck M.D.
Self-examination is tough. I know through personal experience. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and it’s a hard pill to swallow when you find yourself the wrongdoer, the culprit, that maybe you acted wrongly because you had a clouded perception of reality. I’ve done my fair share of ignoring what is painful to accept, but I’m getting better and better at facing the pain of being wrong and taking a closer look at myself and the truth becomes easier to deal with.
“Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within, and it is certainly because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the majority steer away from it. Yet when one is dedicated to the truth this pain seems relatively unimportant-and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful) the farther one proceeds on the path of self-examination.” – M. Scott Peck M.D.
I’m not claiming to be outstanding at self-examination and the acceptance of the pain that accompanies it, but what Peck wrote is true, and I like to draw parallel what he wrote to the process of physical exercise. The more you do it, the less painful and uncomfortable it becomes, and you come out all the better for it. Eventually, the discomfort you experience when you first begin to exercise becomes unimportant when you see the valve of the end result.
“A life of total dedication to truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed system- within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy, rebreathing only our own fetid air, more and more subject to delusion.” – M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Being challenged disrupts our sense of security, its horribly uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary to see progress and growth. This is why courage and openness to challenge is so deeply intertwined with truth. As human beings we naturally do what we can to avoid suffering and many a time acknowledging the truth is to suffer and we need the courage to do so.
Peck writes that one of the roots of mental illness is lies. The lies we have been told by others and the lies we have told ourselves, and that the way to uncover and remove those roots is by being honest. Thats painful. To admit at times you were weak, and to realize that some of the people in your life were dishonest, that they hurt you, or that you hurt other people, it requires a lot of courage to face those things.
Life is difficult. Those are the first three words Peck wrote in his book, The Road Less Traveled. And he’s not wrong, but you have the tools to combat its difficulty and perhaps come out of its challenges for the better. Those tools are truth and courage, or as Peck puts it, dedication to reality and openness to challenge.