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out as such, the Four Absolutes are not a formal part of
our AA philosophy of life. Since this is true, some may
claim the Absolutes should be ignored. This premise is approximately
as sound as it would be to suggest that the Holy Bible should
Absolutes were borrowed from the Oxford Group Movement
back in the days when our society was in its humble beginning.
In those days our founders and their early colleagues
were earnestly seeking for any and all sources of help
to define and formulate suggestions that might guide us
in the pursuit of a useful, happy, and significant sober
the Absolutes are not specifically repeated in our Steps
or Traditions, some of us are inclined to forget them.
Yet in many old time groups where the solid spirit of
our fellowship is so strongly exemplified, the Absolutes
receive frequent mention. Indeed, you often find a set
of old placards, carefully preserved, which are trotted
out for prominent display each meeting night.
could be unanimity on the proposition that living our
way of life must include not only an awareness of the
Absolutes, but a constant striving toward greater achievement
in the qualities that they represent. Many who have lost
the precious gift of sobriety would ascribe it to carelessness
in seeking these objectives. If you will revisit the Twelve
Steps with care, you will find the Four Absolutes form
a thread, which is discernible in a sober life of quality,
every step of the glorious journey.
The Four Absolutes
Honesty Unselfishness Love Purity
walked into this large group of which we had heard so much,
but had never attended. From the vestibule we saw a placard
on the corner of the far wall reading, "Easy Does IT".
We turned left to park our coat. We turned back and there
on the other corner of the same wall was a twin placard
reading, "First Things First". Then facing to
the front of the room, high above the platform we saw in
the largest letter of all, "But for the Grace of God".
Then as our eyes descended, there directly on the front
of the podium was another with four words, "Honesty,
Unselfishness, Purity and Love".
In the next ten minutes as we
sat unnoticed in the last row waiting for the meeting to
start, many thoughts tumbled through a mind that was really
startled by this first face to face meeting with the four
Absolutes for a very long time.
We started to grade ourselves
fearlessly on our own progress toward these Absolutes through
long years of sobriety. The score was a pitiful, lonely
little score. We thought of a fine lead recently heard in
which a patient humble brother had told his story, and had
mentioned his overwhelming sense of gratitude as an important
ingredient of his fifteen years of sobriety.
And in listing things for which
he was so grateful, he mentioned how comfortable it was
to be completely honest. Certainly he meant nothing prideful.
He simply meant that he told his wife and friends the truth
as best he could, had no fishy stories to reconcile, was
honest with money and material things, etc.
This was a truly grateful, humble
fellow. Certainly he did not resemble the man pictured in
the cartoon, speaking to a large audience, pounding on the
table and with a jutting chin proclaiming in a loud voice
that he had more humility than anyone there and could prove
But just think of "complete
honesty". Is it not the eternal search for the truth
which is endless, and in which none achieve perfection?
What do the four Absolutes mean
to most of us? Words are like tools. Like any other tools
they get rusty and corroded when not used. More importantly,
we must familiarize ourselves with the tools, understand
them, and ever improve our skill in their use. Else the
end product, if any, is pathetically poor.
We thought of a dear friend in
the fellowship, prone like other alcoholics to move quickly
from one hobby or interest to another, without really doing
much with any of them. (Does that sound like someone you
know?) Once this friend decided that working with his hands
would solve some problems—quiet his nerves—and
perhaps help him to achieve serenity and balance. So he
reviewed an impressive collection of tool catalogues with
friends already addicted to the woodworking hobby.
He bought a large expensive collection
of tools, and a lot of equipment. He hired a carpenter to
build a shop in his basement, install the equipment, and
make custom-built racks to house the tools. But in the end
not one shaving and not one tiny bit of sawdust graced its
floor. The idle tools serve just as will to keep our friend
occupied while he doesn't go to meetings, do Twelfth Step
work or engage in other happy activity in AA.
How many of you will be completely
honest and admit that you have put the four Absolutes in
the attic, a little rusty from non-use perhaps, but none
the worse for wear? Give or take a little, how many of us
who still maintain the workshop for the Absolutes, will
admit that not too many shavings or much sawdust from our
activity have ever graced its floor? Or even assuming that
the activity has persisted, how many will admit that the
end product did not win a prize for its quality?
Such lack of quality can only
mean lack of objectives or lack of all-out effort toward
such objectives. We must recognize the Absolutes as guideposts
to the finest and highest objectives to mortal man. But
recognition is not enough. We must use the tools.
must ask ourselves, over and over, "Is it true or is
it false?" For honesty is the eternal search for truth.
It is by far the most difficult of the four Absolutes, for
anyone, but especially for us in this fellowship. The problem
drinker develops genuine artistry in deceit. Too many (and
we plead guilty) simply turn over a new leaf and relax.
That is wrong. The real virtue in honesty lies in the persistent
dedicated striving for it. There is no relaxed twilight
zone, it's either full speed ahead constantly or it's not
honesty we seek. And the unrelenting pursuit of truth will
set you free, even if you don't quite catch up to it. We
need not choose or pursue falsity. All we need is to relax
our pursuit of truth, and falsity will find us.
The search for truth is the noblest
expression of the soul. Let a human throw the engines of
his soul into the doing or making of something good, and
the instinct of workmanship alone will take care of his
honesty. The noblest pleasure we can have is to find a great
new truth and discard old prejudice. When not actively sought,
truth seldom comes to light, but falsehood does. Truth is
life and falsity is spiritual death. It's an everlasting,
unrelenting instinct for truth that counts. Honesty is not
a policy. It has to be a constant conscious state of mind.
Accuracy is close to being the
twin brother of honesty, but inaccuracy and exaggeration
are at least "kissing cousins" of dishonesty.
We may bring ourselves to believe almost anything by rationalization,
(another of our fine arts), and so it's well to begin and
end our inquiry with the question, "Is it true?"
Any man who loves to search for truth is precious to any
fellowship or society. Any intended violation of honesty
stabs the health of not only the doer thus the whole fellowship.
On the other hand if we are honest to the limit of our ability,
the basic appetite for truth in others, which may be dormant
but not dead, will rise majestically to join us. Like sobriety,
it's the power of example that does the job.
It is much simpler to appear
honest, than to be honest. We must strive to be in reality
what we appear to be. It is easier to be honest with others
than with ourselves. Our searching self- inventories help
because the man who knows himself is at least on the doorstep
of honesty. When we try to enhance our stature in the eyes
of others, dishonesty is there in the shadows. When falsehood
even creeps in, we are getting back on the merry-go-round
because falsehoods not only disagree with truth, they quarrel
with each other. Remember?
It is one thing to devoutly wish
the truth may be on your side, and it is quite another to
wish sincerely to be on the side of truth. Honesty would
seem to be the toughest of our four absolutes and at the
same time, the most exciting challenge. Our sobriety is
a gift, but honesty is a grace that we must earn and constantly
fight to protect and enlarge. "Is it true or false?"
Let us make that a ceaseless question that we try to answer
with all the sober strength and intelligence we have.
first blush, unselfishness would seem to be the simplest
of all to understand, define and accomplish. But we have
a long road to travel because ours was a real mastery of
the exact opposite during our drinking days.
A little careful thought will
show that unselfishness in its finest sense, the kind for
which we must strive in our way of life is not easy to reach
or describe in detail. In the final analysis, it must gain
for us the selflessness, which is our spiritual cornerstone,
the real significance of our anonymity.
Proceeding with the question
method of digesting the absolute, we suggest you ask yourself
over and over again in judging what you are about to do,
say think or decide, "How will this affect the other
Our unselfishness must include
not merely that we do for others, but that which we do for
ourselves. I once heard an old-timer say that this was a
100% selfish program in one respect, namely that we had
to maintain our own sobriety and its quality before we could
possibly help others in a maximum degree. Yet we know that
we must give of ourselves to others in order to maintain
our own sobriety, in a spirit of complete selflessness with
no thought of reward. How do we put these two things together?
Well, for one thing, it points
up that we shall gain in direct proportion to the real help
we give others. How many of us make hospital calls simply
because we think that we need to do it to stay sober? Those
who think only of their own need and who reflect little
on the question of doing the fellows at the hospital some
genuine good are missing the boat. We know, for we used
to make hospital calls in much the same way that we took
Then one day in our early sobriety,
we were asked to call on a female patient. There weren't
enough gals to go around in those days and the men were
called in to help. Never will we forget the anxiety on the
way to that nursing home. And after nearly two hours of
earnest talk we left one of the noblest women we will ever
meet, worried about whether we had helped, or hurt, or perhaps
had accomplished nothing at all. Some of her questions stayed
with us. We thought of better answers later on, and returned
to see her several times.
We are helped on our long journey
to unselfishness by our great mission of understanding that
sometimes seems as precious as the gift of sobriety itself.
But the quality cannot be confined alone to that which we
do for others. We must be unselfish even in our pursuits
of self-preservation. Not the least of our aid to others
comes from the examples of our own lives.
Is there any protection against
that first drink which equals our thought of what it may
do to others, those whose unselfish love guided us in the
beginning, and those whom we in turn guided later on? We
are again reminded of the later verse of an anonymous poem:
"I must remember as I go, through
sober days, both high and low, what I must always seem
to be for him who always follows me."
often learn more by questions, than by answers. Did you
ever hear a question that caused you to think for days or
even weeks? The questions, which have no easy answer, are
often the key to the truth. However, in this series on the
four Absolutes, we are concerned with the questions we should
be asking ourselves over and over again in life. The integrity
of our answers to these questions will determine the quality
of our life, may even determine the continuance of our sobriety.
A good question to ask ourselves
on love might be, "Is it ugly or is it beautiful?"
We are experts on ugliness. We have really been there. We
are not experts on beauty but we have tasted a little, and
we are hungry for more. Love is beauty. Coming from the
depths of fear, physical agony, mental torture and spiritual
starvation, we feel completely unloved, impregnated with
self-pity, poisoned by resentment, and devoured by a prideful
ego, which with alcohol has brought complete blindness.
We receive understanding and love from strangers and we
make progress as we in turn give it to new strangers. It's
as simple as that. Fortunately for us love is inspiring
from the very beginning, even in kindergarten, which is
where many of us still are.
The old song tells us that love
is a many-splendored thing. In giving it we receive it.
But the joy of receiving can never match the real thrill
of giving. Consider that the non-alcoholic seldom experiences
this great mission of love, which is ours and you have a
new reason for gratitude. Few are privileged to save lives.
Fewer have the rich experience of being God's helper in
the gift of a second life. Love is a poor man's beginning
toward God. We reach our twelfth step when we give love
to the new man who is poor today, as we were poor yesterday.
A man too proud to know he is poor has turned away from
God with or without alcohol. We have been there too. But
if he has a drinking problem, we can show him the way through
love, understanding and our own experience.
When we live for our own sobriety,
we again become beggars in spiritual rags, blind once again
with the dust of pride and self. Soon we shall be starving
with the hunger of devouring ourselves, perhaps even lose
sobriety, Love is "giving of yourself" and unless
we do, our progress will be lost. Each one owes the gift
of this second life of sobriety to every other human being
he meets in the ceaseless presence of God, and especially
to other alcoholics who still suffer. Not to give of himself
brings the desolation of a new poverty to the sober alcoholic.
When we offer love, we offer
our life; are we prepared to give it? When another offers
us love, he offers his life; have we the grace to receive
it? When love is offered, God is there; have we received
Him. The will to love is God's will; have we taken the Third
Step? Ask yourself, "Is this ugly or is it beautiful?"
If it's truly beautiful then it is the way of love, it is
the way of A.A., and it is the will of God, as we understand
is simple to understand. Purity is flawless quality. Gerard
Groot in his famous fourteenth century book of meditation,
has an essay entitled, "Of Pure Mind and Simple Intention",
in which he says, "By two wings a man is lifted up
from things earthly, namely by Simplicity and Purity. Simplicity
doth tend towards God; Purity doth apprehend and taste Him."
Purity is a quality of both the
mind and the heart, or perhaps we should say the soul of
a man. As far as the mind is concerned, it is a simple case
of answering the question, "Is right, or is it wrong?"
That should be easy for us. There is no twilight zone between
right and wrong. Even in our drinking days we knew the difference.
With most of us, knowing the difference was the cause or
part of the cause of our drinking. We did not want to face
the reality of doing wrong. It isn't in the realm of the
mental aspects of purity that our problem lays. We can all
answer the question quoted above to the best of our ability
and get the correct answer.
It's in the realm of the heart
and spirit that we face difficulty. We know which is right,
but do we have the dedicated will to do it? Just as a real
desire to stop drinking must exist to make our way of life
effective for us, so we must have a determined desire to
do that which we know is right, if we are to achieve any
measurable degree of purity. It has been well said that
intelligence is discipline. In other words knowledge means
little until it goes into action. We knew we should not
take the first drink, remember? Until we translate our knowledge
into the action of our own lives, the value of it is non-existent.
We are not intelligent under such circumstances. So it is
with the decency of our lives. We know what is right, but
unless we do it, the knowledge is a haunting vacuum.
In discussing unselfishness we
mentioned that it includes more than just doing for others.
We repeat that it includes all that we do, since much of
our help to others comes through our own example. Nowhere
is this truer than in the decency and rightness of our life.
Were we to contemplate the peace and contentment that a
pure conscience would bring to us, and the joy and help
that it would bring to others, we would be more determined
about our spiritual progress. If our surrender under the
Third Step has not been absolute, perhaps we should give
the Eleventh Step more attention. If you have turned your
will and your life over to God, as you understand Him, purity
will come to you in due course because God is Good. Let
us not just tend toward God, let us taste of him.
In Purity as in Honesty the virtue
lies in our striving. And like seeking the truth, giving
our all in its constant pursuit, will make us free even
though we may never quite catch up to it. Such pursuit is
a thrilling and challenging journey. The journey is just
as important as the destination, however slow it may seem.
As Goethe says, "In living as in knowing be intent
upon the purest way."
Absolutes - A Summary
consideration of the absolutes individually leads to a few
conclusions. The Twelve Steps represent our philosophy.
The Absolutes represent our objectives in self-help, and
the means to attain them. Honesty, being the ceaseless search
for truth, is our most difficult and yet most challenging
objective. It is a long road for anyone, but a longer road
for us to find the truth. Purity is easy to determine. We
know what is right and wrong. Our problem here is the unrelenting
desire to do that which is right. Unselfishness is the stream
in which our sober life must flow, the boulevard down which
we march triumphantly by the grace of God, ever alert against
being sidetracked into a dark obscure alley along the way.
Our unselfishness must penetrate our whole life, not just
our deeds for others, for the greatest gift we bestow on
others is the example of our own life as a whole. Love is
the medium, the blood of the good life, which circulates
and keeps alive its worth and beauty. It is not only our
circulatory system within us, but it is our medium of communication
The real virtue is in our striving
for these Absolutes. It is a never-ending journey, and our
joy and happiness must come each step of the way, not at
the end because it is endless. Cicero said, "if you
pursue good with labor, the labor passes and the good remains,
but if you court evil through pleasure, the pleasure passes
and the evil remains." Our life is a diary in which
we mean to write one story, and usually write quite another.
It is when we compare the two that we have our humblest
hour. But let's compare through our self-inventory and make
today a new day. Men, who know themselves, have at least
ceased to be fools. Remember if you follow the Golden Rule,
it's always your move too. To love what is true and right
and not to do it is in reality not to love it, and we are
trying to face reality, remember? The art of living in truth
and right is the finest of fine arts, and like any fine
art, must be learned slowly and practiced with incessant
We must approach this objective
of the Absolutes humbly. We pray for these things and sometimes
forget that these virtues must be earned. The gates of wisdom
and truth are closed to those wise in their conceit, but
ever open to the humble and the teachable. To discover what
is true and to practice what is good are the two highest
aims in life. If we would be humble, we should not stoop,
but rather we should stand to our fullest height, close
to our Higher Power that shows us what the smallness of
our greatness is.
Remember our four questions:
"Is it true or false?", "Is it right or wrong?",
"How will this affect the other fellow?", and
"Is it ugly or beautiful?" Answering these queries
every day with absolute integrity, and following the dictates
of those answers one day at a time, will surely lead us
well on our journey toward absorbing and applying the Absolutes.