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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Examining the "Harms" Caused to Others

"We might next ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we have "harmed" other people. What kinds of "harm" do people do to one another, anyway? To define the word "harm" in a practical way, we might call it the result of instincts in collision, which cause physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage to people. If our tempers are consistently bad, we arouse anger in others. If we lie or cheat, we deprive others not only of their worldly goods, but of their emotional security and peace of mind. We really issue them an invitation to become contemptuous and vengeful. If our sex conduct is selfish, we may excite jealousy, misery, and a strong desire to retaliate in kind."

"Such gross misbehavior is not by any means a full catalogue of the harms we do. Let us think of some of the subtler ones which can sometimes be quite as damaging. Suppose that in our family we happen to be miserly, irresponsible, callous, or cold. Suppose that we are irritable, critical, impatient and humorless. Suppose we lavish attention upon one member of the family and neglect the others. What happens when we try to dominate the whole family by a rule of iron or by a constant outpouring of minute directions for just how their lives should be lived from hour to hour? Such a roster of harms done others - the kind that make daily living with us as practicing alcoholics difficult and often unbearable - could be extended almost indefinitely. When we take such personality traits as these into the shop, office, and the society of our fellows, they can do damage almost as extensive as that we have caused at home."

-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 80-81 --
 In Step Four (in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) Bill W. notes that our "desires" or "instincts" - for sex, for material and emotional security, and for companionship - may "far exceed their proper functions." Again, in Step Six he observes that, "(n)o matter how far we have progressed, desires will always be found which oppose the grace of God." Then, in Step Eight, he observes that the "harms" we have caused others are the product of "instincts in collision." For recovery and true emotional sobriety, it is thus necessary for us to examine such instincts - irrespective of how gross or subtle they may be - and make our amends for the instances and circumstances in which our instincts have driven us blindly, resulting in the "harms" we have caused to others.

It is relatively easy to examine our grosser instinctual missteps, the remembrance of which gives us the moral shudders. "How could I have done that?" we wonder, as we recall such instances with a mixture of regret, embarrassment and remorse. It is these instances that, perhaps, formed the bulk of our initial Fourth Step inventory. Examination of the subtler harms we have caused - at least for this alcoholic addict - prove the harder to recognize, face and amend. The fine line between the legitimate protection of those we love and care for and the selfish instinct to control and manage our lives by controlling the actions of those closest to us is indeed subtle. ("Mastery of life," one spiritual teacher observed, "is the opposite of control.")

For example, controlling others through an outburst of anger is both memorable for its intensity and eminently regrettable, while controlling others through our over-weaning anxieties is much more easily overlooked. Yet both these instinctual drives must be overcome if we are to effectively turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power and, more particularly, if we are to leave it there! And just as it seems that our coarser defects of character are easier to spot and overcome, so our subtler defects seem to be all the more difficult to weed out.

Thus, even when we have made our initial amends, we must take a daily look at our character defects, paying careful attention to subtler manifestations of our self-centered instincts. These subtle shortcomings may seem to be dangerously innocuous when compared, to say, an ugly outburst of anger or a brooding resentment over the actions of others.

"Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else's," Bill points out, "but when an honest effort is made "to practice these principles in all our affairs," well-grounded A.A.'s seem to have the ability by God's grace, to take these troubles in stride and turn them into demonstrations of faith."

"Like most people," he observes, "we have found that we can take our big lumps as they come. But also like others, we often discover a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous problems of life. Our answer," he notes, "is still more spiritual development."

"Only by this means," he points out, "can we improve our chances for really happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 114.]


  1. is ANOTHER great in Awe of your deep understanding of recovery dynamics..the clarity and crispness of your writing sets a very high bar..i hope someday i will have the same 'mind'....thanks for being here...

  2. I am just passing on what was passed on to me.