bashing forum and I really want to try and stick to that idea. However, so much
of what they do wrong makes for a great starting point for how to possibly do
some of those things right.
I was reading somebody’s post on a blog the other day his point
really made sense to me. What he basically said was that most people, when they
finally decide to walk into the doors of AA, are usually at a very low point, if
not flat out depressed. Others may be extremely angry because they were “forced”
there by family or work.
In either case and particularly the former, telling people in this state that they are
“powerless” is about the WORST thing that you could impose on them!
Recovery should be all about positive change, personal empowerment and embracing the
future. Obviously we all caused a lot of damage and hurt along the way and by no means
should we try to poo poo that away. What you do with that stuff is acknowledge it, apologize
for it but then move on. You make amends by doing the next right thing.
You change the things that you should change if you can. One of
the few positive references made in AA is to that which is known as the Serenity
Prayer. AA by no means wrote it and they in fact re-worded and lessoned the
awesomeness of it, but in its original wording, is great wisdom. The following
comes from “The Freedom to Recover” (Chapter 3)
“To Alcoholics Anonymous’ credit, the organization does recognize the importance of acceptance
as is evidenced by the fact that virtually all of its meetings close with what has
become known as The Serenity Prayer. Granted, some meetings adjourn with the
Lord’s Prayer or that of St. Francis but I would say that over ninety percent do
so with The Serenity Prayer. Hmmm, doesn’t AA claim to be non-religious? Anyway,
I digress. AA’s version goes like this; “God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom
to know the difference.”
Something about the 2nd half of the prayer always bothered me but it took me some
time to put my finger on it. After doing some research on the subject,
my intuition for what was wrong with it was confirmed for me. For some reason, AA in its
infinite wisdom changed the prayer from the way it was originally written. That version, penned
by the well-known theologian and political thinker, Ronald Niebuhr, goes as follows; “God, give us
the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” Before I examine
the fundamental difference between using the word can instead of should as far as changing things is concerned, let me first discuss the first part of the prayer in which both AA and I are in agreement.
Accepting things that can’t be changed is the only mature and rational response to reality. The alternative
of denial as previously discussed is not a terribly healthy or sane choice. It is in our nature to resist change and continue doing what is known and therefore comfortable and not dangerous to our ego. Acceptance means that you acknowledge the world as it is right now, regardless of whether or not it is as you would
like it to be!
Could have, would have, should have
The saying, “could have, would have, should have”, is very useful in pointing out and deciphering some of
the thoughts that are often present when trying to accept the reality and ramifications of your actions. Events may take place and you may think to yourself that if you could go back, that you would have or could have done something differently and therefore the results would have been more favorable.
Acceptance means understanding that that ship has passed and that you can’t “undo” what is done. It is what it is! Now as far as the “should have” goes; here is where you still may have a chance to “set things right”. Maybe you didn’t initially do the right thing or take the best course of action
but maybe it isn’t too late! This is where the 2nd part of Niebuhr’s version of The Serenity Prayer comes into play. You may very well have the opportunity to “change the things that you shouldtry and
change”. Of course there are no guarantees that any new course of action will bring about the desired results, but at least you tried to do the right thing. After these attempts of making sound choices and trying to undo past harm are exhausted, then you need to accept the final results. If you don’t, you are
going to get caught up in resentments, self-pity or fear, none of which are good for your mental state
They should have left it alone
AA’s version of the second verse of the Prayer, which states that we should change the things that we can, is fundamentally flawed. I’m sure that wasn’t their intent but they should have left the original version intact.
The problem here is that we can change a whole plethora of things and make them even worse!
We can also effect change that might benefit ourselves but that is hurtful to others or that is just
Just because you can does NOT mean that you should!
Let me make up a little hypothetical story here just to make my point. John is the controller of a small family business owned by the Ortega family and he handles virtually every financial aspect of the company’s affairs. Because they like him and English is their second language, the Ortegas have complete
faith and trust in John and never question in the least any financial statements or opinions that he offers. Recently John’s family has suffered through financial hardships due to his wife having been laid off from her job and his son having begun college. They have missed two payments on their mortgage and
the bank is threatening foreclosure. Although John loves and respects the Ortegas greatly, his mind starts conniving ways in which he can skim some money to save his home. He cooks the books and does just that, while jeopardizing the solvency of the Ortega’s family business. Obviously he was put in the position
whereby he COULD do this. SHOULD he have? Of course not, it was both illegal and immoral! He should have gotten a second job, negotiated with the bank, sent his son to community college or come up with a legal solution to his dilemma.
The last part of the prayer says that we should have the WISDOM to know the difference.
Knowing the difference between what we can’t change (the acceptance part) and the courage to change the things we can (the change part), isn’t rocket science. The true WISDOM is in the decision to change the things that we SHOULD, if we can when appropriate. Again, while I believe that AA really had Niebuhr’s
intention in mind, they should have left the wording just as it was.”
So the bottom line here folks, is that we are not Powerless. You just have to do some sincere soul
searching, apply analytical thought and then get busy changing things for the better. Be kind to yourself because none of this comes easily or overnight. A great barometer as to whether you are doing the “right things” is to take an honest look at your intent in pursuing any particular path. If the intent is pure, altruistic and empathetic, chances are that the results, more times than not, will be authentic and positive.