09 November 2007


Yesterday, Sharon over at Fellow Traveler posted three definitions of humility. I was inspired to briefly research the various definitions of humility given in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Sharon likes the definition of humility as being right-sized. The 12&12 has that definition: "We found many in A.A, who once thought as we did. They helped us to get down to our right size. By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first" (p. 30, in the essay on Step 2). The implication seems to be that our intellects easily come into conflict with being humble. That's certainly true for me—I don't have much humility when, as usual, I think I have all (or even some of) the answers.

Interestingly, the essay on Step 1 contains only a single reference to humility, despite the fact the summary for Step 1 in the Table of Contents on p. 5 contains what seems like a major point: "Relation of humility to sobriety." The essay says, "We know that little good can come to any alcoholic who joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety— if any— will be precarious."

Page 48, on Step 4, says humility consists of getting perspective on ourselves: "For we had started to get perspective on ourselves, which is another way of saying that we were gaining in humility." Or another way of saying right-sized.

My personal favorite is on p. 58 (Step 5): "Another great dividend we may expect from confiding our defects to another human being is humility—a word often misunderstood. To those who have made progress in A.A., it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move toward humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies." It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that the closest feeling to humility I think I ever experienced came immediately after I had completed my 5th Step. I felt—and still feel—that for the first time in my life I had come to see myself in true relationship to my Higher Power. How much more right-sized can one be?

Page 64 (Step 6) makes it clear that humility is necessary for that daily reprieve we all seek: "As they [men and women who pour so much alcohol into themselves that they destroy their lives] are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession." This point is reiterated on pages 72-73 (Step 7): "Every newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous is told, and soon realizes for himself, that his humble admission of powerlessness over alcohol is his first step toward liberation from its paralyzing grip."

Page 72 says the "basic ingredient of all humility" is a "desire to seek and do God's will." This is from the essay on Step 7, which is of course the only step that actually mentions humility. This essay mentions humility more often than any other, though most of these mentions didn't help me in trying to define humility.

Page 98 (Step 11) says that "self-searching... is a step in the development of that kind of humility that makes it possible for us to receive God's help. Yet it is only a step." It seems obvious that conscious contact with a Higher Power through prayer and meditation couldn't help but enhance our humility.

Page 149 (Tradition 4), says that that ability to laugh at oneself is "the very acme of humility." I like this a lot. I think it makes a very important point about humility. We instinctively distrust people who are unable to laugh at themselves.

Pag 187 (Tradition 12) says that "anonymity is real humility at work. It is an all-pervading spiritual quality which today keynotes A.A. life everywhere. Moved by the spirit of anonymity, we try to give up our natural desires for personal distinction as A.A. members both among fellow alcoholics and before the general public." By today, Bill meant in the 1950's. But today (by which I mean today) I don't know that the same could be said. Is the spirit of anonymity truly pervading our A.A. lives? Does it keynote our blogging on this most public and widely read of modern media? Does it bear any relation at all to what the press has to say about celebrity drunks?

The danger of ignoring these lessons, of not making the effort to acheive true humility, whatever our definition, is clear:

Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant. His drunkenness and dissolution are not penalties inflicted by people in authority; they result from his personal disobedience to spiritual principles.

The same stern threat applies to the group itself. Unless there is approximate conformity to A.A.'s Twelve Traditions, the group, too, can deteriorate and die. So we of A.A. do obey spiritual principles, first because we must, and ultimately because we love the kind of life such obedience brings. Great suffering and great love are A.A.'s disciplinarians; we need no others.

1 comment:

sharonsjourney said...

Wow! I just got a good lesson in humility. I think my fav now, is in seeking God, & doing his will. Thank you for this post, I am humbled.