16 August 2007


At my home group Monday night, we read and discussed Bill W.'s excellent essay on "Honesty," as published in The Best Of Bill. This little book comprises a collection of articles originally written by Bill for the A.A. Grapevine (subscription required to access linked articles). I think these are them:

Here's how the "Honesty" essay begins:

THE problem of honesty touches nearly every aspect of our lives. There are, for example, the widespread and amazing phenomena of self-deception. There are those rather dreadful brands of reckless truth-telling, which are so often lacking in prudence and love. Then there are those countless life situations in which nothing less than utter honesty will do, no matter how sorely we may be tempted by the fear and pride that would reduce us to half-truths or inexcusable denials.

I think is what caught the attention of our leader. She had been hearing a lot about "brutal honesty"—Bill's "reckless truth-telling"—where she thought the speaker should have talked about "rigorous honesty." I was reminded of something I heard from Dinah, a very dear friend of 40+ years (a non-alcoholic). She said whenever she's tempted to say something, she uses three criteria for whether or not to actually speak:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it helpful?

I believe that true honesty is born of love and is therefore never unkind or unhelpful. It can be expressed extemely frankly, but only if the speaker's relationship to the listener is deep enough that frank won't be mistaken for unkind or unhelpful. The idea is that expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?" (Matthew 7:9)

Another excerpt from Bill's essay:

We must now leave the absorbing topic of self-delusion and look at some of those trying life situations which we have to meet foursquare and head on. Suppose we are handed an employment application that asks, "Have you ever suffered from alcoholism, and were you ever hospitalized?"...

I thought immediately about the several times in recovery when I've confronted this exact issue, whether on an employment application or some other form. It's a common dilemma, I think. I've always agonized when dealing with it. I've also asked for advice from my sponsor and from others in A.A. whom I respect. I won't reveal the conclusion I've come to—it's always been the same one—but I will tell you it goes against most of the advice I hear, including that of my sponsor. By the way, the remainder of the paragraph that Bill wrote in his essay implies that it's not that complicated and that, obviously, we should tell what he calls "the absolute truth" in such situations:

... Here, we AAs can assuredly make a good report of ourselves. Almost to a man we believe that nothing short of the absolute truth will do in situations of this type. Most employers respect our Fellowship and they like this rugged brand of honesty, especially when we reveal our AA membership and its results. Of course many another life problem calls for this identical brand of forthrightness. For the most part, situations requiring utter honesty are clean-cut, and readily recognizable. We simply have to face up to them, our fear and pride regardless. Failing to do this, we shall be sure to suffer those ever-mounting conflicts which can only be resolved by plain honesty.

As I say, the essay is excellent. It's also though-provoking. I'm inspired to get The Best of Bill the next time I see Grapevine material for sale.

1 comment:

Shadow said...

i found being honest with myself was a lot harder than being honest with others. my sneaky little mind came up with the most imaginative crazy reasons to justify what i was doing, and the worst is, i chose to believe it.... not anymore though.