This week’s DYK was written by a prominent professor of philosophy with a long-term membership in Alcoholics Anonymous: There is nothing evil about a desire for respect, recognition, salary raises and promotions but it is all a matter of good balance. Either too much ambition or too little can create resentment, self-pity and all sorts of anxieties, worries, shame and guilt. We can err in either direction by falling into grandiosity and setting our sights higher than our abilities, or by falling into self-loathing, by failing to see our possible potential and setting our sights too low. But the balanced life will enable us to live with a basic inner peace at the core of our being even during periods when extremely difficult events are disturbing the surface level of our emotions.
The way we cleanse our minds in the 12-step program therefore involves doing a fourth step: Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves. We continually searched for patterns that repeated themselves in episodes of overwhelmingly explosive resentment and fear, and using this information to work towards living life in such a way that our natural instincts can be better balanced.
The bicycle principle: What I call the bicycle principle simply notes that it is possible to fall off of a bicycle in either direction, on the left side or the right. Making up a rule which tells people to lean to the right or left will produce disaster. In fact, there is no way a beginner can learn to ride a bicycle by memorizing rules about balance. We fall if we lean too far in either direction so people learn to ride a bicycle by learning “what it feels” like to be balanced. Balance requires learning how to make small corrections while they are still possible. If I end up hitting the pavement with great force it means that I have totally lost my balance and it does not take a complicated theory to figure that out; pain teaches us what it means to be totally out of balance.
The bicycle principle is a good way of illustrating a point that Aristotle made. In an attempt to act ethically, I will always know when I have fallen into bad moral (truth), balance because it will create great disharmony and destruction, and it usually ends up hurting very badly. Once I have learned to feel when I am beginning to lean too far to the left, or right and learned to make the appropriate small corrections, before I lose balance and hit the pavement, I will be able to journey through life without leaving a trail of destruction behind me. This is our goal in the Twelve-Step program; it is an achievable goal and will make our lives a thousand times happier, more manageable and successful.
Canny ancient Greek thinkers and playwrights, like Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus and others understood the best possible path through life lay through learning how to accept life on life’s terms. Idealistic absolutes of any sort were not only dangerous fantasies but they could easily lead them down a slippery slope to destruction.
A woman once visited a psychiatrist and told him her family sent her to him because she liked pancakes. The psychiatrist said, “Well, I don’t see anything wrong with that, I like pancakes myself.” “Oh, goody,” said the woman, “And is your house stacked from floor to ceiling with pancakes too?” Alcoholics get into trouble because they perpetually do things to extremes (compulsive-obsessive). Passing zero tolerance laws saying that people who eat pancakes will be jailed, does not speak to the real problem which was ruining the woman’s life. It was not pancakes in the ordinary sense that was her real problem or the mark of her insanity and passing draconian laws against substances that affect only a small percentage of our population is out of balance and insane.
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