This week’s HTYH is a continuation of a Step Eight discussion from Bill Wilson’s book, “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”: What real harm, therefore, had we done? No more, surely, than we could easily mend with a few casual apologies.
This attitude, of course, is the end result of purposeful forgetting. It is an attitude that can only be changed by a deep honest search of our motives and actions. Though in some cases we cannot make restitution at all, and in some cases action ought to be deferred, we should nevertheless make an accurate and really exhaustive survey of our past life as it has affected other people. In many instances we shall find that though the harm done others has not been great, the emotional harm we have done ourselves has. Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness. At the time of these occurrences, they may actually have given our emotions violent twists that have since discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.
While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations, every bit of information about ourselves, and our fundamental difficulties that we can. Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one. Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We can go far beyond those things that were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws that were basic, flaws that were sometimes responsible for the whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay-and pay handsomely.
We might next ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we have “harmed,” other people. What kinds of “harm” do people do one another, anyway? To define the word “Harm” in a practical way, we might call it the result of instincts in collision, which cause physical, mental emotional, or spiritual damage to people. If our tempers are consistently bad, we arouse anger in others. If we lie or cheat, we deprive others not only of their worldly goods, but also of their emotional security and peace of mind. We really issue them an invitation to become contemptuous and vengeful. If our sex conduct is selfish, we may excite jealousy, misery, and a strong desire to retaliate in kind.
Such gross behavior is not by any means a full catalogue of the harms we do. Let us think of some of the subtler ones that can sometimes be quite as damaging. Suppose that in our family we happen to be miserly, irresponsible, callous, or cold. Suppose that we are irritable, critical, impatient and humorless. Suppose we lavish attention upon one member of the family and neglect the others. What happens when we try to dominate the whole family, either by a rule of iron or by a constant outpouring of minute directions for how their lives should be lived from hour to hour? What happens when we wallow in depression, self-pity oozing from every pore, and inflict that upon those about us? Such a roster of harms done others-the kind that make daily living with us practicing alcoholics difficult and often unbearable-could be extended almost indefinitely. When we take such personality traits as these into the shop, office, and the society of our fellows, they can do damage almost as extensive as that we caused at home.