Humility and Tolerance

Honesty with ourselves and others gets us sober, but it is tolerance that keeps us that way. The values of tolerance and modesty form a particularly important foundation to Bill W’s writings…

Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939, p. 30)

Personal glorification, overweening pride, consuming ambition, exhibitionism, intolerant smugness, money or power madness, refusal to admit mistakes and learn from them, self-satisfaction, lazy complacency—these and many more are the garden variety ills which so often beset movements as well as individuals…. Let us never say, “It can’t happen here.” (Wilson, 1945/1988a, p. 4)

Varieties of AA Experience
Wilson often remarked that, beyond the “suggestions” set forth in AA’s Twelve Steps, there is no ONE true brand of AA. Wilson chastised those AA members who conveyed the message, “Folks, listen to us. We have the only true brand of AA—and you’d better get it!” (Wilson, 1961/1988b, p. 252).

He illustrated the futility such an attitude in the following 1946 reflection on AA’s early history. Two or three years ago the Central Office [of AA] asked the groups to list their membership rules and send them in. After they arrived we set them all down. They took a great many sheets of paper. A little reflection upon those rules brought us to an astonishing conclusion. If all these edicts had been in force everywhere at once, it would have been practically impossible for any alcoholic to have ever joined Alcoholics Anonymous. About nine-tenths of our oldest and best members could never have gotten by! (Wilson, 1946/1988, p. 37)

The Question of Secular Recovery
Bill Wilson wrestled for many years with the question of recovery from alcoholism that did not apparently involve a spiritual dimension. He first noted the numbers of atheists and agnostics who had recovered in AA
Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is no dogma. The one theological proposition is a “power greater than one’s self.” Even this concept is forced on no one. The newcomer merely immerses himself in our society and tries the program as best he can. Left alone, he will surely report the gradual onset of a transforming experience, call it what he may. (Wilson, 1949/1994, pp. 261-262)

Religion and Recovery
Bill Wilson’s respect for the varieties of AA experience is further reflected in his comments on the role of religion in recovery.

We think it no concern of ours what religious bodies our members identify themselves with as individuals. This should be an entirely personal affair which each one decides for himself in the light of past associations, or his present choice. Not all of us have joined religious bodies, but most of us favour such memberships. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939, p. 39)

Dr. Bob on defining humility

I practiced humility without knowing; I was beaten into it by my drinking. According Clarence Snyder humility means un-conditionally let your HP remove your short-comings… KP says Humility is the act of letting go of our self-centeredness and asking God for help and making amends to those we have wronged. Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. I can’t – step one, He can – step two, I’ll let Him – step three.

On his desk, Dr. Bob had a plaque defining humility:

Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble.

Bill W. once termed it: “an utter” … A.A. life and growth, is the tolerance that flows from humility.

Bill W. considered each step to be a spiritual principle in and of it-self, in the 12 & 12, he outlined the spiritual principles behind each step. The most important of these is Humility.

Love and tolerance is our code. The tolerance written of in the Big Book is not a begrudging “putting up with.” It is a step in the direction of true kinship and love. It is a tolerance that says: “You, like me, are weak. Let us strengthen each other.”

Tolerance does not live where there is harsh judgement. As Bill W pointed out: “The way our “worthy” alcoholics tried to judge the “less worthy” is, as we look back on it, rather comical. Imagine, if you can, one alcoholic judging another.”

Where there is pride, there is no tolerance. Where there is no tolerance, there is no love.
Tolerance: That active appreciation of the richness and variety of our collective humanness.
Tolerance: That understanding that we share common weaknesses and fears.
Tolerance: That honest belief that each of us is doing the best we can to play the hand life dealt us.

Bill Wilson emphasized that it is through the development of true tolerance that we develop the compassion to identify with and strengthen one another rather than differentiate and tear down. May we resist the urge to puff ourselves up and instead seek to be as inclusive and supportive as possible.

Bill W wrote;

“Honesty with ourselves and others gets us sober, but it is tolerance that keeps us that way.”

“Experience shows that few alcoholics will long stay away from a group just because they don’t like the way it is run. Most return and adjust themselves to whatever conditions they must. Some go to a different group, or form a new one.”

In other words, once an alcoholic fully realizes that he cannot get well alone, he will somehow find a way to get well and stay well in the company of others. It has been that way from the beginning of A.A. and probably will be so.”

LETTER, 1943
From “As Bill Sees It” page 312

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