According to Bill W., pride, leading to self-justification, and always spurred by conscious or unconscious fears, is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to true progress. (Twelve and Twelve, pp 48-49).
In the context of Bill’s writings on pride, the overall topic has to do with character defects and centers on what is commonly called the seven deadly sins. They define a classification of inherent human character defects that has been in use since early biblical times. It is a set of well-rooted underlying attitudes that lead to human failings. These root sins or defects are pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. They are identified as root defects as all other defects stem from them.
In is likely that the terms “human difficulties” Bill is referring to includes our relationships with people. Some describe these root defects as deadly since, when active within us, they essentially murder the attitude of the love or charity needed to have healthy human relationships. Pride takes many forms and is often difficult for us to spot it in ourselves although we seem to spot it in others easily. More easy to recognize are the effects of our prideful actions, usually bad consequences . A healthy understanding of the various forms of observable behavior that indicate the presence of pride can be helpful. Our aim here is not to provide that definitive list of behaviors but to identify the spiritual principles that in themselves will help combat pride. It is the understanding of what pride is that leads to the healthy admission that we indeed have it. That admission is essential if the change process that we encounter in AA is to be effective.
Referring to the opening statement we see two additional clues that can help us come to the starting line of the inventory character building lifetime marathon with an admissive attitude. First, pride leads to self justification. Self-justification describes how, when we encounters a situation in which our behavior is inconsistent with known good behavior we have a tendency to justify the behavior, even though deep down we know it’s wrong. Recognition of self-justifying thinking can also be difficult as pride itself causes blindness to its self. It is clearer to see wrong behavior after it has already happened. Recognizing that self-justification is an indicator of pride helps us to admit to its workings within us more quickly.
Another clue is found in the statement that pride is always spurred by conscious or unconscious fears. The truth of that bears some amplification. Fear is an emotion that has both negative and positive connotations. Most of the time it’s those pesky negative fears that cause the actions that produce trouble. Although it takes time in recovery to recognize the specific underlying fears we have, the mere presence of the emotion can be a useful indicator that wrong behavior is only a sliver away from causing us grief. Fear is not the source of pride but it is easily sensed by the pain and confusion that fear produces in our emotions. Early recognition of it and proper preventative action can often thwart the behavior that pride feels necessary to cover with self-justification. Do all you can to understand the fears you have as it may prevent you having to deal with the results of pride run amuck. Pride certainly brings a fall as biblical scripture tells us.
How do we combat against this subtle deadly defect? As stated, the very first part of the solution is admission. Our additional steps in the process direct us to be entirely ready for the defect to be removed and then with humility we ask God to remove it. So it seems that if we want to have and maintain good relationships with others we need to ask God to help us remove the pride we have in us. But can we just ask and then leave the whole responsibility of removing character defects to God alone? I think not.
In fact, we are instructed to participate in the process of removing character defects by practicing the principles discussed in Alcoholics Anonymous, principles which have their source in New Testament writings. We do not hear this in recovery as often as we should. I so often hear remarks that seem to give God the full responsibility of removing our defects. That type of thinking can result in repetitive failures and perhaps even blaming God for it, thereby removing personal responsibility and accountability from the process. That does not work well.
Philippians 2:3-4 provides some good insight. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The practice of absolute unselfishness, absolute humility, absolute love, and absolute purity is the part that God leaves to us. God will remove our character defects but we have to stand on the front line and supply the ammunition through the practice, practice, and more practice of these principles until they become a habit we wear. These four principles are known as the four absolutes, the topic of the next post.