Monday, 25 September 2017

'Clear-cut directions' and Step Nine

The Big Book states that it contains clear-cut directions. This is often quoted to suggest that these directions tell us exactly how to take each step, leaving no room for discussion, interpretation, or personal twist, and sometimes people are criticised for filling in the detail or describing Step Nine actions or content that are not set out verbatim in the Book, on the basis that they are somehow deviating from what the Big Book stipulates. Set out below is a worked example, which shows that although there are indeed clear-cut directions, these are not exhaustive and that a certain amount of the content needs to be devised by the person taking the step (presumably based on spiritual principles, prayer/meditation, and consultation with others), in order to take the step in question fully. To take a perhaps ridiculous but illustrative example, imagine a child's colouring-in book, with the designs all laid out, and some of the colours already filled in. The child must fill in the rest of the colours in a manner consist with what has already been done.

What are the clear-cut directions on Step Nine? To arrive at these, let's strip away anything which is not a clear-cut direction, and see what we're left with. This means that general commentary and explanation is disregarded.

From page 76 onwards, the directions are these (paraphrased for brevity); I have limited myself to extracting only that which directs us what to actually say and do:

Maybe mention the spiritual feature of the exercise.
Communicate a sincere desire to set right a wrong.
Demonstrate good will.
Refer to God if relevant.
Confess former ill-feeling to someone we dislike and express regret.
Do not criticise.
Do not argue.
Tell him: we will never get over our drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.
Never tell him what to do.
Do not discuss his faults.
Stick to our own.
Approach creditors and arrange a good deal.
Tell creditors we are sorry.
If others would be implicated: obtain consent and consult with others before taking action.

Examples from specific amends stories:
Write admitting faults and asking for forgiveness.
Send what money one has, even if it only a fraction of the debt.
Explain intention to continue to repay money owed.
Express willingness to do whatever is required.
Make public disclosure of wrong.
If the aggrieved party does not know of the wrong, do not necessarily disclose.
Do not implicate a third party.
Pray, having the other's happiness uppermost in mind.
In some cases, exhibit 'utmost frankness'.
With family: frankly analyse the past.
Ask God in meditation for the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.

What is interesting is that the Book tells us a lot about what not to say or do, where to keep our mouths, shut, and where to exercise tact and discretion.

However, it specifically avoids dictating precisely what we say. It is clear we come clean on our faults and express a willingness to set things right, but the content is otherwise left largely open-ended. There is nothing in the way of a script. There is nothing to suggest exactly what we can do to amend the past (beyond paying back the money we owe and beyond admitting harm and apologising). We are to set things right, but we are not told specifically how.

It is important to remember that, as the Book says, 'these reparations take innumerable forms'. The Book specifically refrains from comprehensively cataloguing these, instead setting out general principles, with the authors keen not to lay out any specific rule (see page 81). It is clear, therefore, that we must exercise discretion, and there is indeed ample room for discussion and interpretation of how general principles will be applied in a specific situation. Exactly what we say will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Interestingly, we are sometimes told that Step Nine is not about apologising. Although the word 'apology' is absent, we are indeed told to admit our faults, express regret, say we are sorry, and ask for forgiveness. It is hard to imagine what definition of apology would not include at least one or more of these four elements. There is indeed an admonition against a mere 'remorseful mumbling' we are sorry specifically with the family, since action needs to back up the words (see page 83), and the style needs to be frank and open. There is nothing to suggest that we refrain from apologising at all, however.

To sum up, the 'clear-cut directions' are clear cut in as far as they lay out general principles, but this should not be understood to mean that they are comprehensive, leaving no room for discretion in application, rendering us mindless automata who are committing spiritual heresy by introducing other ideas or discussing specific application. The clear-cut directions deliberately and expressly fall short of dictating exactly what to do in each situation, and instead we have to rely on prayer, meditation, discussion, and careful consideration.

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