Compassion v. Tone Deafness

Now is the time to show compassion at AA meetings.

Give Tough Love and Ego Smashing a Break

The euphemistically labeled “tough love and ego smashing good-old-days of AA” had its time. Today it has mostly been replaced by a more compassionate tone. Some like this change, others don’t.

Personally, the ribbing and jocularity I encountered at meetings were just what I needed when I got sober. In time, I developed a thicker skin and took myself a lot less seriously.  Good for me and my personality.

In recent years I have seen this approach lose favor to a softer, more compassionate one. “Shut up, sit down, and hold on” has been replaced by, “the newcomer is the most important person in the room!” This approach has been a sea change, and while it took a bit of effort getting used to it, today I like it.

Alcoholics are Wired Differently

This post is not to explore the efficacy of either approach. In my opinion, both have virtue. When synced with the right personality either approach can be the road to lifelong sobriety. People, including alcoholics, are wired differently.

Instead, this post aims to encourage AAs to be “extra” thoughtful and compassionate when sharing during these very odd days. I say this because I have heard some enthusiastic, good-intentioned pitches that might not convey that emotion.

Psychologically/Attitudinally Challenging Times

Irrespective of alcoholism, what is happening in the world today is unprecedented. As a result, today is one of the most psychologically challenging times ever. It’s a bit like a World War.

No one knows how this will play out or when it will be over. Nor does anyone know what the genuine financial ramifications will be for each of us.

I know some think this is just some overblown “fake news” designed to scare us. Respectfully, I don’t think so. Just check out what the highly respected Mayo Clinic is saying about COVID-19 and Mental Health.

Practice Empathy Before You Speak

AAs who have a strong program have an opportunity to be a bit more empathetic when sharing at AA meetings. Before we open our mouths, we should all take a moment, pause, and remember that in the meeting, perhaps more than ever, some people are genuinely struggling.

Having to rearrange a well-established routine, for one with little mobility and even less human contact, is a lot to ask for even the healthiest folks. Add to that authentic struggles with finances. New families to support. What is a person to feel?

As novel as Zoom AA meetings are for some, they aren’t for everyone. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing on camera to a screen of silent others. It’s weird. I say this as someone who has used video conferencing for years.

I believe people are feeling fear, loss, and depression, and because they are couped up, they can’t talk about it. All this is to say that for many alcoholics, this is a most trying time, and they may not even know how trying it is for them, yet. Now is time to be compassionate.

Tone Deafness

Over the years, I’ve let it rip a few times at meetings in the most insensitive ways. I regret this. I’ve shared from ego, selfishness, and denial and not from love, compassion, and wisdom. I had no idea I was doing this. That’s kind of the way self-centeredness works. I thought I was helping people (I wasn’t).

COVID-19 and the global response of shutting down the economy are like being in war.  We have little control, and what is going on is uncertain yet effects everyone. And, we all know, “War is Hell!”

So before you go into a pitch about “How great the epidemic is for your spiritual growth!” or how “I’ve never been happier,” or “I see nothing but Silver Linings, everywhere!” consider the people to whom you are talking. They may not be as lucky as you. And trust me here, this global marathon is far from over.

So, be sure to consider “kindness toward all” and sharing gratitude by displaying compassion, not tone-deafness, in your next pitch. Your empathy might be just what someone needs to stay sober another day.

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