Helping and Owingness

Help Others by Keoki Seu

A couple of items caught my eye because they illuminate some of the spiritual principles of AA.

First on the magic that happens when a group of drunks get together and emphasize serving others:

“I’m a churchgoing Catholic, and I do that as a matter of, it’s good to stand with my family. It’s good that I didn’t have to come up with my own creation myth for my children. It’s a wonderful community. It’s not really where I find God. The accommodation I’ve reached is a very jury-rigged one, which is: All along the way, in [substance abuse] recovery, I’ve been helped … by all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it’s not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again. Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? That’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten.”

A believer might say this is God, a non-believer might say this is G.O.D. (group of drunks or good orderly direction)

This post has nothing to do with AA, but it touches upon one way AA explains this service obligation—that we owe a debt to those who helped us and have an obligation to try to repay it through service to the newcomer:

I can think of myself as an empty container of freedom, as a sovereign who exists prior to my entanglements with others, but this is a paltry and ghost-like self. The person who matters is the one who is son, father, husband, cousin, son-in-law, friend, and each of those roles limits my ability to do just whatever I want, whenever. As son, I owe piety; as husband, I owe fidelity; as father, I owe gentle instruction; as friend, I owe loyalty. Consequently, I am what I am in virtue of the responsibilities I bear. Insofar as I matter as a person, I am constituted not by sovereignty, but by what I owe. And only by knowing what I owe to others do I know who I am and what I’m for; ignorance of owing is to be devoid of a self.

If this is true, then the ability to cultivate a sense of owingness is to become a real human being, a free human being. But almost every bit of our cultural life is stacked against our developing this sense, and so we are deaf and dumb about what matters most.

[Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan]

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