The following appears in a booklet on The Four Absolutes distributed by Cleveland Central Committee of AA. Thanks to Stuart M for spotting it.
Over and over we must ask ourselves, "Is it true or is it false?" For honesty is the eternal search for truth. It is by far the most difficult of the four Absolutes, for anyone, but especially for us in this fellowship. The problem drinker develops genuine artistry in deceit. Too many (and we plead guilty) simply turn over a new leaf and relax. That is wrong. The real virtue in honesty lies in the persistent dedicated striving for it. There is no relaxed twilight zone, it's either full speed ahead constantly or it's not honesty we seek. And the unrelenting pursuit of truth will set you free, even if you don't quite catch up to it. We need not choose or pursue falsity. All we need is to relax our pursuit of truth, and falsity will find us.
The search for truth is the noblest expression of the soul. Let a human throw the engines of his soul into the doing or making of something good, and the instinct of workmanship alone will take care of his honesty. The noblest pleasure we can have is to find a great new truth and discard old prejudice. When not actively sought, truth seldom comes to light, but falsehood does. Truth is life and falsity is spiritual death. It's an everlasting, unrelenting instinct for truth that counts. Honesty is not a policy. It has to be a constant conscious state of mind.
Accuracy is close to being the twin brother of honesty, but inaccuracy and exaggeration are at least "kissing cousins" of dishonesty. We may bring ourselves to believe almost anything by rationalization, (another of our fine arts), and so it's well to begin and end our inquiry with the question, "Is it true?" Any man who loves to search for truth is precious to any fellowship or society. Any intended violation of honesty stabs the health of not only the doer but the whole fellowship. On the other hand if we are honest to the limit of our ability, the basic appetite for truth in others, which may be dormant but not dead, will rise majestically to join us. Like sobriety, it's the power of example that does the job.
It is much simpler to appear honest, than to be honest. We must strive to be in reality what we appear to be. It is easier to be honest with others than with ourselves. Our searching self-inventories help because the man who knows himself is at least on the doorstep of honesty. When we try to enhance our stature in the eyes of others, dishonesty is there in the shadows. When falsehood even creeps in, we are getting back on the merry-go-round because falsehoods not only disagree with truth, they quarrel with each other. Remember?
It is one thing to devoutly wish the truth may be on your side, and it is quite another to wish sincerely to be on the side of truth. Honesty would seem to be the toughest of our four absolutes and at the same time, the most exciting challenge. Our sobriety is a gift, but honesty is a grace that we must earn and constantly fight to protect and enlarge. "Is it true or false?". Let us make that a ceaseless question that we try to answer with all the sober strength and intelligence we have.
At first blush, unselfishness would seem to be the simplest of all to understand, define and accomplish. But we have a long road to travel because ours was a real mastery of the exact opposite during our drinking days.
A little careful thought will show that unselfishness in its finest sense, the kind for which we must strive in our way of life, is not easy to reach or describe in detail. In the final analysis, it must gain for us the selflessness which is our spiritual cornerstone, the real significance of our anonymity.
Proceeding with the question method of digesting the absolute, we suggest you ask yourself over and over again in judging what you are about to do, say, think or decide, "How will this affect the other fellow?"
Our unselfishness must include not merely that we do for others, but that which we do for ourselves. I once heard an oldtimer say that this was a 100% selfish program in one respect, namely that we had to maintain our own sobriety and its quality before we could possibly help others in a maximum degree. Yet we know that we must give of ourselves to others in order to maintain our own sobriety, in a spirit of complete selflessness with no thought of reward. How do we put these two things together?
Well, for one thing, it points up that we shall gain in direct proportion to the real help we give others. How many of us make hospital calls simply because we think that we need to do it to stay sober? Those who think only of their own need and who reflect little on the question of doing the fellows at the hospital some genuine good are missing the boat. We know, for we used to make hospital calls in much the same way that we took vitamin pills.
Then one day in our early sobriety, we were asked to call on a female patient. There weren't enough gals to go around in those days and the men were called in to help. Never will we forget the anxiety on the way to that nursing home. And after nearly two hours of earnest talk we left one of the noblest women we will ever meet, worried about whether we had helped, or hurt, or perhaps had accomplished nothing at all. Some of her questions stayed with us. We thought of better answers later on, and returned to see her several times.
We are helped on our long journey to unselfishness by our great mission of understanding which sometimes seems as precious as the gift of sobriety itself. But the quality cannot be confined alone to that which we do for others. We must be unselfish even in our pursuits of self-preservation. Not the least of our aid to others comes from the examples of our own lives.
Is there any protection against that first drink which equals our thought of what it may do to others, those whose unselfish love guided us in the beginning, and those whom we in turn guided later on? We are again reminded of the last verse of an anonymous poem:
"I must remember as I go
Though sober days, both high and low,
What I must always seem to be
For him who always follows me."
We often learn more by questions, than by answers. Did you ever hear a question that caused you to think for days or even weeks? The questions which have no easy answer are often the key to the truth. However, in this series on the four Absolutes, we are concerned with the questions we should be asking ourselves over and over again in life. The integrity of our answers to these questions will determine the quality of our life, may even determine the continuance of our sobriety.
The old song tells us that love is a many splendored thing. In giving it we receive it. But the joy of receiving can never match the real thrill of giving. Consider that this great mission of love which is ours is seldom experienced by the non-alcoholic, and you have a new reason for gratitude. Few are privileged to save lives. Fewer have the rich experience of being God's helper in the gift of a second life. Love is a poor man's beginning toward God. We reach our twelfth step when we give love to the new man who is poor today, as we were poor yesterday. A man too proud to know he is poor, has turned away from God with or without alcohol. We have been there too. But if he has a drinking problem, we can show him the way through love, understanding and our own experience.
When we live for our own sobriety, we again become beggars in spiritual rags, blind once again with the dust of pride and self. Soon we shall be starving with the hunger of devouring ourselves, perhaps even lose sobriety, Love is "giving of yourself" and unless we do, our progress will be lost. Each one owes the gift of this second life of sobriety to every other human being he meets in the ceaseless presence of God, and especially to other alcoholics who still suffer. Not to give of himself brings the desolation of a new poverty to the sober alcoholic.
When we offer love, we offer our life; are we prepared to give it? When another offers us love, he offers his life; have we the grace to receive it? When love is offered, God is there; have we received Him. The will to love is God's will; have we taken the Third Step? Ask yourself, "Is this ugly or is it beautiful?" If it's truly beautiful then it is the way of love, it is the way of A.A., and it is the will of God as we understand Him.
Purity is simple to understand. Purity is flawless quality. Gerard Groot in his famous fourteenth century book of meditation, has an essay entitled, "Of Pure Mind and Simple Intention", in which he says, "By two wings a man is lifted up from things earthly, namely by Simplicity and Purity. Simplicity doth tend towards God; Purity doth apprehend and taste Him."
Purity is a quality of both the mind and the heart, or perhaps we should say the soul of a man. As far as the mind is concerned, it is a simple case of answering the question, "Is right, or is it wrong?" That should be easy for us. There is no twilight zone between right and wrong. Even in our drinking days we knew the difference. With most of us, knowing the difference was the cause or part of the cause of our drinking. We did not want to face the reality of doing wrong. It isn't in the realm of the mental aspects of purity that our problem lies. We can all answer the question quoted above to the best of our ability and get the correct answer.
It's in the realm of the heart and spirit that we face difficulty. We know which is right, but do we have the dedicated will to do it? Just as a real desire to stop drinking must exist to make our way of life effective for us, so we must have a determined desire to do that which we know is right, if we are to achieve any measurable degree of purity. It has been well said that intelligence is discipline. In other words knowledge means little until it goes into action. We knew we should not take the first drink, remember? Until we translate our knowledge into the action of our own lives, the value of it is non-existent. We are not intelligent under such circumstances. So it is with the decency of our lives. We know what is right, but unless we do it, the knowledge is a haunting vacuum.
In discussing unselfishness we mentioned that it includes more than just doing for others. We repeat that it includes all that we do, since much of our help to others comes through our own example. Nowhere is this more true than in the decency and rightness of our life. Were we to contemplate the peace and contentment that a pure conscience would bring to us, and the joy and help that it would bring to others, we would be more determined about our spiritual progress. If our surrender under the Third Step has not been absolute, perhaps we should give the Eleventh Step more attention. If you have turned your will and your life over to God as you understand Him, purity will come to you in due course because God is Good. Let us not just tend toward God, let us taste of him.
In Purity as in Honesty the virtue lies in our striving. And like seeking the truth, giving our all in its constant pursuit, will make us free even though we may never quite catch up to it. Such pursuit is a thrilling and challenging journey. The journey is just as important as the destination, however slow it may seem. As Goethe says: "In living as in knowing be intent upon the purest way."