"The problem is in me and not in the bottle"

 

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During my years in college at holiday times my Dad often picked me up to drive the couple of hundred miles home. On the way we usually stopped in Austin or San Antonio for Dad to go to an A. A. meeting. Often he was asked to speak, and usually he would say among other things, "The problem is not in the bottle, but in me."

How often do we hear people blaming their problems on externals? On their heredity – "I was born that way and there isn’t anything I can do about it." Or how they were raised. Or people blame their work setting or their manager. Some blame their problems on their marriage. If you read the op-ed page, certain writers usually blame the liberals and others the conservatives. In reality the problem is often not in any of these "bottles", but is within us. These outside things can be obstacles, and a few become so overwhelming that they control our lives – such as being paid a minimum wage instead of a living wage. Often our problem is in us — individually and our groups.

A church-related college advertised that it was 20 miles from the nearest sin. We can never be 20 miles or 20 mm. from sin, which is within us. Sin is in our feelings and attitudes and desires.

Why do we do these acts we call sins? We do them because of passions within – because we are angry or jealous or afraid or hate. We do them because we fear tomorrow or the past or unknowns. To get at the root of the acts we call sins, we must focus on sin itself — the motivating feelings and beliefs. Sin is the motivation for our acts. Sin is coveting before one steals, sin is anger or hatred before one strikes, sin is lust before one acts out sexually. Sin is the motivating feelings; sins are the actions. "The problem is not in the bottle, but in me."

 What is at the core of these feelings of anger and lust, of fear and anxiety? To understand the core cause of sins, focus on the self — mine, gimme.

Consider children. who are by nature selfish — feed me, change me, hold me, love me — but that is so they can survive. As they mature they learn to share, they learn that playing together they can do more than alone and have more fun. They learn to respect others, listen to others. They join school teams or sports leagues, experiencing the joy of interdependence, being team members. But some grow up self-centered, my way, my speed, with little respect for others.

How many managers and bosses say you will do it my way, or you are out of here? Most of us know as part of our American heritage that we all have a voice and when our opinions are taken into account, the resulting decision and actions are usually better, and because we are stakeholders in the decision, we work harder. Yet some managers' self-centeredness is like the boy calling himself king of the board. The result is the same.

Self-centeredness is really dangerous. White supremacists try to force their narrow views on as many people as possible. Religious right extremists are so sure they are right that they force their beliefs on others. Their way is not discussion and persuasion, but force, and even death threats. They want power; they are control freaks. Gimme!

Nations, ethnic or racial groups, religious groups become self-assured and self-centered in their beliefs and think they are right — the only ones that are right. Once they feel this way they easily become Nazis or fundamentalist Islamic terrorists or American religious right fanatics. Results are catastrophic: the holocaust by the Nazis or the World Trade Centers or killing physicians who deliver babies, do cancer screenings and life-saving surgery, and perform abortions. They fight Planned Parenthood despite hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings and gyn. exams for poor women. Or claiming that homosexual acts are sin. And the root of this is the self-centered inward looking assurance that they alone are right; they force their way on others. Like a young child they say my way or no way. They do not respect others.

Where the devil is the devil in all this? Some believe the devil is the cause of sin, while many of us see self-centeredness as the cause as shown in the Bible and in psychotherapy and in A A.

The way out of this quagmire of self-centeredness is to search within your private thoughts for the causes and sources of your sins. Those causes often come down to

  • jealousy – personal or professional or from fear,
  • anger,
  • resentments.

If we list our sins – the acts or surface feelings – then for each one probe for the deeper causes and feelings, and be specific, we may often find the root is self-centeredness — what churches called original sin.

So far as the problem is in me and not in the bottle or other external things, by probing our feelings privately and patiently, we can become much healthier, happier, and more effective. We can find the healthiest balance of independence and inter-dependence.

An excellent and practical guide we can use is step 4, the moral inventory of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is explained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. List your resentments and jealousies, then list the cause of each and how it affects you.

Heed the wise teacher who said, "…understand there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.…Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart … For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:…avarice, envy…." (from Mark 7.14–23)

The Apostle Paul wrote about sin in his Letter to the Romans chapters 5 through 8; try reading these and substitute "ego" for the word sin and "self" for flesh or body. Compare and reflect on your own experience from the framework of Paul's thinking.

Copyright © 2002 John F. Yeaman