Spelled 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 be scuttled.
The 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 life.
Because 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.
There could be unanimity on the proposition that living our
way of life must include not only an awareness but a constant
striving toward greater achievement in the qualities which the
Absolutes 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.
We 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 which said "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 which said, "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,
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 it.
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, perhaps help him to achieve
serenity and balance. So he reviewed an impressive collection
of tool catalogues with friends already addicted to the woodworking
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.
Over and over we must ask
ourselves, "Is it true or is it false?" For honesty is the eternal
search for truth. I 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 car 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 stab the health of not only the doer but
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
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.
At 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
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 fellow?"
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. Ho do we put these two
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 vitamin pills.
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
We are helped on our long
journey to unselfishness by our great mission of understanding
which 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 last verse of an anonymous poem:
"I must remember
as I go
Though sober days, both high and low,
What I must always seem to be
For him who always follows me."
We 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
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 this great mission of love which is ours
is seldom experienced by the non-alcoholic, 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
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 Him.
Purity 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 lies. We can all answer the question
quoted above to the best of our ability and get the correct
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
more true 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."
- A Summary
Our 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 ourselves, but it is our medium
of communication to others.
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 care.
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