Tonight, at my 12 step home group, I get to speak to the topic of the 4th Tradition.
The 4th Tradition states (in paraphrase) that each group within this 12 step organization is autonomous except
in matters that affect OTHER groups that are a part of the 12 step family.
In other words, each gathering of like minded and similarly afflicted people can establish their own customs (pray the Lord's Prayer, hold hands during the Preamble, read out of various pieces of the literature, etc) but they do not get to do things that reflect poorly upon the organization as a whole (charge people for sponsorship, demand that everyone in the meeting swear allegiance to Satan, etc).
Now, that part is pretty easy. I mean, no one can argue that individual groups and fellowships should have their own flavor and flair without giving the outside world the idea that the organization as a whole is exactly like that particular group. It allows people to find their own place within the structure and it gives everyone an opportunity to sample differences without losing the essentials.
But how does that play out in my personal life?
When I first got sober and got a sponsor, I was on fire for 'the program'. I mean ON FIRE. I wanted to drag people off of bar stools into meetings. I was just a bit short of banging a tambourine on a street corner while singing "Amazing Grace".
I was, to all intents and purposes, an arrogant pain in the ass.
I was anything but kind or considerate of those around me, especially those still struggling with sobriety. God FORBID you might have a different take on how sobriety manifests itself. I had 'gotten it'. Why can't YOU get it? MY sponsor told me to do things a certain way - why aren't YOU doing it this way?
As a result I was very 'in your face'. My manner of speech, of writing, of communication as a whole was tantamount to poking my finger in peoples' chests and saying, "Now look you". And if they objected to being treated in that manner? Look, that's their problem. It is their fault. I didn't mind when MY sponsor got in MY face about things so they should not mind when I got in THEIR face about things, right?
As time went on, I really struggled with communication. It seemed to me I was insulting people without meaning to and my confidence began to plummet. I got resentful, angry about that - it is NOT my fault that THEY get offended - and my fear of people increased. Oddly enough, this was happening at the same time I was being asked to chair meetings and, later, speak at larger gatherings. This really confused me. How could people give me a standing ovation after I speak and then ask me to please phrase my questions or statements to them in a more respectful manner when we were speaking one-on-one?
I was confused.
When I get confused, I decide it is the other person's fault. I get whiny and childish. I get scared. I do the emotional equivalent of putting both hands on my hips, stamping my feet, and saying, "You are not the boss of ME".
After all, I know what I mean. I know what I am asking. It is not MY responsibility or fault if THEY get their panties in a bunch over my delivery.
Then I got it.
The 4th Tradition actually does give me a bit more responsibility than I, as a selfish and self-centered alcoholic, would like to take - especially in terms of communication. In fact, the entire program requires me to shoot higher than those around me, to try and be more loving, softer, kinder. It requires me to be strong, but it does not OK my splattering my personality all over everyone else.
That does not mean to say that I don't sometimes still do that - I can be too loud, too harsh, too critical and most of all too scared.
I am, of course, not yet St. Leslie of Modesto.
However, what I must be willing to do is be better than I was in terms of communication, of reaching out to those around me. I have modified my speech, tried to be softer, kinder, more loving. All in all, the results have been astounding. I try to keep my humor aimed at myself or if I tease someone I try and make sure the person is someone I know can stand the teasing, and if it turns out I was wrong and I hurt their feelings inadvertently, I apologize. I do not tell them I am sorry they got their feelings hurt. I tell them I am sorry I hurt their feelings, that it was unintentional and that I will try and remember not to speak to them that way in the future.
Now how does this all fit in with Tradition 4?
Each person, including myself, is an individual. We have the absolute right to speak, to act, and to be exactly the way we want to by virtue of our standing as a creature of a loving Creature. We have, from the moment of our conception, an inherent human dignity that only WE can tarnish and destroy but that we can restore any time we wish to return to God.
What we do not have the right to do is be ourselves at the expense of another person.
For me, and for those I sponsor, I take it further. If I find that an action I have taken, deliberate or not, has hurt someone else it is my responsibility to tell them I am sorry. I can be honest and tell them I did not mean to do it, tat it was not intentional and that I was not aware that my taking the action or spouting the words would hurt them. However, I do not get to denigrate their feelings by being dismissive and arrogant (well, that is not my problem that you don't like how I spoke or acted).
In today's world, I see so many people who wave the banner of their individuality high. They are well aware of their RIGHT to do, to be, to act, to say anything they want any way that they want.
What is missing, in my opinion, is the Love that comes from a willful and intentional turning to God. No matter what I am feeling emotionally or what I WANT from you, I need to be mindful of your inherent human dignity.
The tough part? I have to be mindful of it, even when you refuse to be mindful of mine.
That, however, is the cross of a Faithful Catholic. I can tell you, "Hey, that is not right. Do not speak to me like that" but if you insist upon your right to do so, there is nothing I can do about it.
I believe in tearing down walls, rather than setting boundaries. My experience has been that the more people get to know me, the better chance I have of having high quality people in my life. This is because those who understand that speaking to me with disrespect, or being hurtful will be forgiven but their place in my life may not be what they would hope get to decide for themselves whether or not I am worth being around. It may not be worth it to them to modify their speech, to try to become a kinder person. I have had people flat out tell me that they don't want to have to drop the profanity from their speech when they talk to me so it is just better that we not talk. That's up to them. They can never state I set a boundary; rather, I let them get to know me and decide for themselves whether or not someone like me is worth hanging out with if it means giving up the 'f' bombs.
So, tonight, when I speak about Tradition 4, I hope to share my communication struggles. I know that there will be at least two people in the room who will think I am speaking AT them, one person in the room who will disagree totally and speak up about setting boundaries and probably five people in the room who won't understand what I am talking about at all.
And that is OK - because they are autonomous, except in matters affecting other people and humanity as a whole.
See you tonight!