Principles Before Personalities

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The Alcoholics Anonymous Bibliography site has a great essay on the principles of AA. Well worth reading. The essentials are this: Those character flaws we know from our failed life as an alcoholic can yield valuable principles when we do the opposite. For instance, where jealousy is the defect, trust becomes the principle to strive for. Where fantasy leads to drinking, living in the real world becomes the principle. It’s the same for lying becoming honesty.

So where do personalities come in? Well, we already know our own personality traits that violate the principles we’d like to honor and adopt. That’s one reason we work the steps. The clash is obvious there. Where it might be harder to see is when the personalities of others blocks communication and understanding.

The best examples are bad ones. We remember those – the jerk who was loud and wouldn’t stop talking; the lady who kept gossiping and badmouthing others; the young man who knew it all and couldn’t get past his own boredom… So, yeah, we’ve all run headlong into types of people that irritate and annoy us. This is exactly where the “principles before personalities” comes into play.

I know I have a duty to help others stuck firmly in the muck. I know that part of what makes them obnoxious is their addiction. But even if I can’t stand them sober I have to help the best I can. Why? Because underneath all the personality conflict there is a person who needs support and whatever help I can offer them. That’s it.

When confronted with a whiney and emotionally needy person, my instinct is to fob them off with a lie when I don’t want to be supportive. The principle of honesty tells me that I cannot. I’d like to ignore the painful story that I know is the result of an avoidable mistake… but the principle of empathy doesn’t allow this.

The real key is to see past the outside shell, the mask someone uses to get by in the world, and see the troubled person underneath. We all have buttons and we all have our buttons pushed when others rub us the wrong way. The trick is to see the bigger picture, to see how our own sobriety is tied to following the highest principles; to think first and don’t take the bait.

The best example of what happens when principles are not put before personalities comes at least once a year at meetings. Someone gets upset. They say some nasty thing and the object of the attack reacts violently – either verbally or physically. Everyone who witnesses it feels the emotional damage. Sometimes a member will quit coming altogether because of a fight. It’s times like these that I think of forgiveness as a principle worth practicing, along with humility.

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