In Step 7 of the 12×12 it says that “humility, as a word, is often misunderstood.” When asked, what is the opposite of humility; my first guess would be pride. Who could argue that? It was in my 22nd year of sobriety, when I received a phone call from my first wife’s husband at the time and the conversation started going south.
I was trying to refrain from bickering with him and when he couldn’t get any traction, he made the statement that, “He had heard stories about me in the past, and that I was no angel.” I thought about it for a few seconds, and responded “Dave, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, but I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done in the last 22 years.” The call ended peacefully.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in that phone call, the polarity of pride and shame was evident. About 16 years later, at a meeting, the discussion of humility came up and I listened to all the different points of view. The memory of that phone call came back and I questioned where humility fits in.
In the 12 Steps & 12 Traditions Step 5, it amounts to “a clear recognition of what and who we really are followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.” With pride at one extreme and shame at the other, I see humility right in the middle. It simply means doing the things we are supposed to be doing every day, and doing them without fanfare. I always knew what I was supposed to be doing but with an overbearing sense of insecurity and neediness, seldom was I strong enough to do the right thing. I developed a sense of unworthiness that prevailed until I found a solution in the bottle which only deepened my guilt and shame.
In one of my more recent articles I explained that I was doing a little research to find the definition of the word happiness and discovered that it is often described as “a byproduct of right living, and not an end in itself.” Happiness is not a goal, but it is the result of living right. A friend once shared at a meeting that satisfying his wants will never make a person happy. Another person shared that she had read something that described it like this: “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the father way it gets, but when you stand still, it will land on your shoulder.” If my motive is to create happiness, it’s probably not going to happen.
I believe that this perspective applies to humility as well. I also believe that right living is a good start. I don’t think that anybody can claim humility for themselves but we can see it in others.
I’ve known some humble people throughout my years and they all have some things in common: They seldom bring attention to themselves, they never criticize others, they are always comforting, and they are always an asset and never a liability. Humble people do the things they were taught as a child. They treat others with respect. They are: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient… sound familiar? I learned it in the Boy Scouts. I learned the Golden Rule in church, but I was never strong enough to live by it.
If you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing, read the 11th Step Prayer in the 12×12 or The Boy Scouts Laws, or try practicing The Golden Rule. That should be a pretty good start. When I found Alcoholics Anonymous, I was reintroduced to these values that helped to rein in my ego, and today I am at peace with myself and with others.
By Rick R., The Filing Cabinet, Volume 25, Issue 7