Selfless Purpose and Openness to the Whole

One of the best-selling books of all time is The Road Less Traveled.  It is written by a psychotherapist named Scott Peck.  The job of the professional psychotherapist is to help people change.  Yet Peck reflects on his many cases and he sees mostly failures.  Instead of growing discouraged, he determines to learn from excellence.  He shifts his focus to the moments of his greatest, positive impact. Here is what Peck learned.

“It has been said that the successful psychotherapist must bring to the psychotherapeutic relationship the same courage and the same sense of commitment as the patient.  The therapist must also risk change.  Of all the good and useful rules of psychotherapy that I have been taught, there are very few that I have not chosen to break at one time or another, not out of laziness and lack of discipline but rather in fear and trembling, because my patient’s therapy seemed to require that, one way or another, I should step out of the safety of the prescribed analyst’s role, be different and risk the unconventional.  As I look back on every successful case I have had I can see that at some point or points in each case I had to lay myself on the line.  The willingness of the therapist to suffer at such moments is perhaps the essence of therapy, and when perceived by the patient, as it usually is, it is always therapeutic.  It is also through this willingness to extend themselves and suffer with and over their patients that therapists grow and change.  Again as I look back on my successful cases, there is not one that did not result in some very meaningful, often radical, change in my attitudes and perspectives.  It has to be this way.  It is impossible to truly understand another without making room for that person within yourself.  This making room, which once again is the discipline of bracketing, requires an extension of and therefore a changing of the self (Peck, 1978:148-149).

I interpret this passage as follows.  An effective change agent (leader, teacher, therapist, parent) is a person of purpose and love who is willing to risk learning.  In order to bring about the learning and development of another, the change agent must have the courage to also be in the state of learning and development.  The first step is the modeling of selfless purpose which leads naturally to the second; openness to the whole being of the other.

The essence of therapy or leadership is productive intimacy which results in individualized concern.  It means being fully present to the wholeness of the other.  When we engage in such conversations of social excellence we discover that we walked away with our own change in “attitudes and perspectives.”  Nonviolent social change requires the inclusion of the other.  Authority figures do not become leaders until they come to understand and model selfless purpose and openness to the whole.  As they continue to evolve, they eventually learn to become inclusive of all humankind.


  • In organizations we typically pursue change by practicing rational persuasion, telling people what they need to change, how does Peck’s theory fit with rational persuasion.
  • What does it mean to model selfless purpose and openness to the whole being of another?
  • When a leader engages Peck’s practice, why does the leader leave the experience with their own change in “attitudes and perspectives.”
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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