by Rick R.

For some people it’s impossible to let their guard down. I think that most of us understand this, simply because we have all had to face this issue, to one degree or another, as we go through the steps. One of the things I learned when I was faced with this matter was I had a self-esteem problem. Hanging on to resentments and criticizing others’ behavior happens sometimes when we miss the peace of The Promises (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 83-84). I over-corrected by pointing out the faults of others to make myself appear normal. This never worked as I could not fool my conscience. Things only got worse. I still worked through the steps and did what I could at the time.

No one gets it perfectly the first time, but we can make a second effort when we establish a track record of living by principles. A.A. meetings are a training ground for how to treat others. If we can’t accept the people there, it’s a cinch we won’t do it outside of the rooms.

No one gets it perfectly the first time

Everyone in A.A. brings their own assortment of mental, emotional, spiritual, and material problems. None of us is without these concerns. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t need this program. We all feel somewhat vulnerable and we establish our own firewalls, with the help of our egos. We protect ourselves from our perceptions of what other people are thinking. We each might establish hard and fast reactions to protect our own turf. With so many different personalities together in one group, it can be hard to let down our guards. We may feel justified when pointing out the faults of others. This is what the alcoholic personality does.

With the understanding that most forms of criticism and character assassination stem from low self-esteem, it occurred to me I was just as guilty of the things that I was accusing them of. I likened it to two old men in a convalescent home hitting each other with their canes because one was not walking fast enough.

I am no longer in conflict with anyone

I had to step up to the plate and become strong enough to look deeper into people’s motives. I wanted to understand what caused them to behave the way they did. Then I felt less threatened by their outside behavior. I cannot express in words the mental freedom that this principle has produced in me. Now when I see someone acting out, my first thought is not judgmental but based on empathy and compassion. My next thought is: what I can do to help him or her? Having adopted this approach, I have come to terms with all the people that I interact with daily. I am no longer in conflict with anyone. To me, they are all like kids just learning how to do life. They all have problems and I am not going to be one of their problems.

The natural result of this approach is peace of mind

I must be strong enough to replace words like resentment, judgment and criticism with empathy, understanding and compassion. Today I have no adversaries that I can think of. The natural result of this approach is peace of mind.

I find no exceptions to this principle and I cannot be selective about who I apply it to. Everyone gets amnesty in my book. All that mental gymnastics about “those other people” are a distant memory and I can’t think of a single time that practicing this principle didn’t serve me well. The only one that is sorry for this profound and life changing transition is my ego. And about that—who am I to criticize?

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