Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Effective message-carrying: leave your axe at home

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone even alcohol." (84:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous') 
"no axes to grind . . .  these are the conditions we have found most effective" (18:5)
"You will be most successful with alcoholics if you do not exhibit any passion for crusade or reform." (95:1)

A common phenomenon in AA, particularly amongst those who have been taken through the Steps rapidly and, after years of floundering, drunk or sober, have had a barn-burning spiritual experience, is militancy.

What is more, a virtue is made of it.

And the spiritually awakened guerrilla runs around, dividing the wheat from the chaff, condemning anyone who disagrees with their particular brand, and reserving particular scorn for those who question their militancy. Anyone who rejects the message because they are put off by the delivery is deemed 'not ready to hear the truth' and dismissed. I know. I've done it.

There are two reasons for avoiding this.

The first is the law of life. Whatever I mete out, I will get back. Whenever I am on a militant jag, I feel persecuted, because I generate negative reaction left, right, and centre, and, of course, blame other people for the persecution. I do not enjoy persecution, and there is absolutely no virtue or merit in it.

"Nothing can come into our experience unless it finds something in us with which it is attuned; and so, to have trouble and difficulty is only a sign that our own mentality needs clearing up; for what you see at any time is nothing but your own concept. There is at this point a grave danger for weak, or vain, or self-righteous people. People others do not treat them just as they would like to be treated, because they do not get consideration that they probably do not deserve, they are often inclined to claim that they are being 'persecuted' on account of their spiritual superiority, and to give themselves absurd airs on this ground. This is a pathetic fallacy. In consequence of the great Law of Life, of which the whole Sermon on the Mount is an exposition, we can get only what belongs to us at any time, and nobody can prevent our getting that; and so all persecution and hindrance are absolutely from within." ('Sermon on the Mount', Emmet Fox)

The second reason is lack of efficacy.

Sure, certain results can be achieved. But is this approach maximally effective?

Again, in my experience, no. A small number of absolutely desperate people will be attracted, but most will be repelled. And the AA message can easily be tainted by and equated with the militancy. Who knows how many people have been deterred, perhaps permanently, by truth without love? As someone who heard a Step Five of mine once said, "If the grace of God works through you to save lives, how many people have you killed because they disagree with you?"

Time and time again, I've seen militant, rigid, tightly controlled, heretic-burning groups hamstrung by their inability to attract newcomers and grow. Militant groups, additionally, tend to comprise almost solely men. Quite telling, that.

The greatest lunacy is the belief that there are two alternatives: wishy-washy, frothy emotional appeal with no genuine spiritual substance and none of the necessary spiritual surgery, on one hand, and the brutal truth, on the other hand.

I'm glad that I have been shown a path between the two, which combines love, truth, life, and intelligence.

Tradition One: unity comes first—dividing AA into two camps helps no one.

Tradition Two/Three: God guides me in my work with others—the other guy and I, gathered together for sobriety, form a group, and, Boom!, the power flows. I cannot outline how that is going to work. Sometimes people have been tough with me. Sometimes, gentle. And that is true when I work with others. I cannot apply a single template and cut or stretch my alcoholic prospect to fit it, like on a Procrustean bed.

Tradition Four: everyone else has the right to be wrong.

Tradition Five: my primary purpose is to carry the message—my limited ideas about how that message 'should' be carried must never get in the way of the actual carrying.

Tradition Six: I must never get personally identified with the message such that I will be offended if someone is not interested in it.

Tradition Ten: how other people find God—or not—is not my concern.

Tradition Eleven: attraction, not promotion.

Is it possible to be extremely effective in carrying the message set out in the first 164 pages without confrontation, without fighting, without perceiving AA as a battle ground between good and evil? Totally.

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