Sunday, 13 February 2011

'Practising the principles' and online behaviour

From the dust-jacket of the Third Edition of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (the Big Book):
". . . the basic text (pages 1 through 164) remains unchanged. This is the AA message."
The foreword to the third edition contains the line:
"The Twelve Steps that summarise the programme . . ."
The Twelfth Step, introduced for the first time on page 60, suggests that we "practise these principles in all our affairs."
If, therefore, I believe in what the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' presents as a way of life, the 'design for living' referred to on two occasions (15:1 and 28:1), I have to adopt the entire package: practising the last part of Step Twelve therefore means practising all the principles set out in all 164 pages, not just those that are attractive or convenient.
How does this apply to online behaviour? Down to business:

(1) Demonstration
"A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations, and affairs." (19:1)"The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it." (83:2)
This means that, of far more importance than regurgitating my knowledge of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is a demonstration, in my actual conduct online, that I am living in accordance with those principles. Paragraph 18:4 does indeed indicate the importance of being armed with the facts. The next paragraph, however, goes on to say that "his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer". If my deportment does not demonstrate that I have a real answer, if my demeanour and conduct does not attract people to this way of life, the facts are dead. "Then faith would be dead indeed" (15:0)—and so might those people who could otherwise have been helped.

(2) Tolerance
"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." (19:4)
"Each group had the right to be wrong" (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Tradition 4:4)
"Love and tolerance of others is our code." (84:2)
In online forums, people will disagree. I will regularly believe that others are wrong. They will regularly believe I am wrong. If I am to practise tolerance, I must respect others' right to hold whatever views they wish. We all have the right to be wrong. It is not my job to change others' views. It is my job to present mine. What other people do with those views of mine is their business, not mine.
The Book does not list exceptions to the code of love and tolerance. This is because there are none.

(3) Cease fighting
"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone—even alcohol." (84:3)
Again, the Book does not list exceptions. This is because there are none.
"We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit." (117:3)
"So cooperate; never criticize." (89:3)
"Our best defence in these situations would be no defence whatever—namely, complete silence at the public level." (Concept XII)
"It is of little use to argue and only makes the impasse worse." (126:3)
"If you cooperate, rather than complain, you will find that his excess enthusiasm will tone down." (119:2)
"We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness." (122:1)
I know I have tipped over from presentation of my views into fighting if:
(1) I repeat myself in a discussion.
(2) I personalise any comment.
(3) I feel heated—I am not at peace.
(4) I criticise.
(5) The posters on a particular thread are reduced to me and my co-fighter—everyone else has fled.
(6) I cannot stop typing until (a) my co-fighter has conceded defeat (b) my co-fighter has left the ring.
"As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived." (66:1)
(4) Let it begin with me
"Though his family be at fault in many respects, he should not be concerned about that. He should concentrate on his own spiritual demonstration. Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague. In many homes this is a difficult thing to do, but it must be done if any results are to be expected. If persisted in for a few months, the effect on a man's family is sure to be great. The most incompatible people discover they have a basis upon which they can meet. Little by little the family may see their own defects and admit them. These can then be discussed in an atmosphere of helpfulness and friendliness." (98:3)
I cannot change how others operate online. I can, however, concentrate on my conduct.
Here is how I apply the above principles online:
(1) Say it once. Repetition within a thread is either bullying or manipulation.
(2) Say it kindly—never personalise (Tradition XII) . . . and never take anything personally.
(3) Keep it to my experience—the words 'you' and 'they' are best avoided.
(4) Ignore attack—a fight needs two people.