Monday, April 5, 2010
Clearing the Decks
I think Step Four is going to take me a hundred years to finish. For now my sponsor and I have settled on completing it in ten year chunks. And I seem to be arranging my, um, "fearless and thorough moral inventory" by persons with whom I've had conflicts. My Sponsifer (I call her that because she used to be a cop) says we'll tackle ten years, talk it out, clear the decks, then go back ten more years, etc etc. until I'm done. And then, I think, in Hawaii we'll make a bonfire on the beach and burn the whole thing.
Burn Round One, anyway. I expect as I discover more and more about my ways of dealing with things and have "aha!" moments, I'll continually have to revisit episodes and view them with a newer, more mature perspective.
So far it's been a huge breakthrough for me just to accept that I've done some crappy things, and yet I'm not an evil person. I (so far) haven't found anything I've done out of malicious intent to harm someone. Yet the fact remains that I've hurt people. It's been freeing to be able to acknowledge that and recognize the poor patterns of thinking that led me to commit the actions (and rationalizations for them) that I did. And it's been freeing to understand that I can do that without feeling like I have to judge myself negatively. I am, after all, only human.
I blogged about lying a while back. It's funny, but I used to think, in comparison to the average Joe Blow on the street, I wasn't a big liar. I would concede I'd fib just as much as the next person, but I really didn't lie about the big stuff. One of my exes used to drive me nuts because she'd say flatly, "If you say something you don't mean, don't say it. It will wind up being a lie." Well, duh! But she'd apply that rule to every damn little thing. I'd find myself saying, "Well, I meant it when I said it! But when I said it, I didn't know that [insert whatever reason here] would happen, and that changes the picture." She'd shake her head and insist, "Nope. If something possibly would come along that would shake you from your word, then don't give your word to begin with."
I thought she was living in a fantasy land. Good lord. We used to have these discussions when I was taking ethics in college. Didn't Auden say something along the lines of, how can I ever honestly tell someone I love them? What if she ages horribly and grows a mustache? Shall I not ever say I love you because one day something could conceivably change? (Of course, Auden was gay, so his example was hypothetical.)
So I had this idea that you speak your truth as it's so in the moment. But the door is always open that circumstances can change, and those circumstances can then change the rules.
And that's fine, with a caveat. The caveat needs to be, I'm thinking, that the person with whom you have the agreement understands this in the same way as you, and that you also extend the same "wiggle room" to the other person. If that isn't the case, then don't make the damn promise.
For me, the problem was always that it was okay for me to change the agreement if circumstances changed, but not so much if the other person changed the agreement. I was of the mind that it was better to seek forgiveness than permission, and if I changed the agreement, it was okay to do so because I said so, and if the other person had a problem with that, well, come on! Be realistic. Things change.
There was always some reason that could be found to change the agreement. I promised I wouldn't drink on a weeknight? I meant it--until that surprise royalty check arrived in the mail so I could afford to buy some fresh cracked crab and an expensive bottle of an old style, oaky-buttery chardonnay. Look, honey! Isn't this a great surprise? I'm bending the rules because I wanted to treat you!
But that's how my mind worked. And I just didn't get it why she wasn't equally delighted. And why, in heaven's name, was this little thing worth getting upset over?
So lying is one of my "defects of character." That's okay. I see that now. The key thing is, I don't have to work on my lying. The key thing I have to work on is honesty. It's being scrupulous with my word. It's refusing to take part in deceptions. It's not looking the other way. It's not allowing myself to be someone else's beard. It's the pursuit of truth. It's speaking honestly whenever I realize I may have inadvertently been a part of a lie, so retracting a statement with an apology is part of the deal. It's removing myself from any situation that calls for a lie. It's accepting the challenge of examining my conscience and praying for guidance whenever a lie presents itself as the best option (like, would I lie to the Nazis if they came banging on my door asking if the Frank family was hiding upstairs in the annex? Saving a life trumps a lie, but I'd better be willing to accept the consequences of the lie). And it's not becoming a pain in the ass by feeling it's my business to blurt out others' business to the world. Truth-telling ought never be used as a weapon.
I guess the moral of the story is keep it simple, stupid. That's all I've got for now.