Opinion and Experience in AA

Opinion and Experience in AA

The Significance of Distinguishing Opinion from Experience

A critical insight I gained during my initial year of sobriety was the discernment of opinion from experience. This subtle but essential difference between contemplating a situation and actively experiencing it can easily be overlooked if one is not mindful.

The Value of Experience

Experience, particularly in relation to specific issues or situations, often provides a deeper understanding than mere contemplation. Repetitive experiences with positive outcomes can ultimately cultivate expertise, which differs significantly from opinion.

Certainly, there are individuals who, despite their lack of direct experience with certain matters, have an innate understanding that enables them to offer helpful advice. These are the wise few we value due to their rarity.

The Risk of Inexperience

What’s more commonplace is encountering individuals lacking adequate knowledge. Their lack of experience does not deter them from dispensing advice. These individuals often believe in their perspective, regardless of their lack of direct experience or consistent accuracy. Their appealing personality and confidence may even lead others to trust their advice.

Usually, the advice offered on trivial matters causes no harm. However, in AA, where the advice can mean the difference between sobriety and relapse—life and death—poor advice can lead to dire consequences.

Implementing Two Simple Practices

To differentiate between experience and opinion, I suggest two straightforward practices. Regular application of these can lead to more reliable guidance when seeking advice.

  1. Inquiry: If you’re soliciting advice from an AA member, ask them directly about their experience regarding the matter in question. Further, inquire about the outcome and what they learned from it. These additional data points can help evaluate the advice’s potential value.
  2. Referral: If you’re an AA member asked for advice on a matter you lack experience with, choose the difficult path and excuse yourself from the conversation. Instead, refer the individual to someone in the program who has relevant experience.

Such practices require self-awareness, connections within the program, and genuine humility. This approach was adopted with me as a newcomer—it’s old-school AA. I often heard, “I don’t know, but let’s ask Bob, he has experience with that!” I learned invaluable lessons this way, which helped turn my life around.

A Caution Against ‘Know-it-all-ism’

What concerns me is when individuals fall into the trap of “know-it-all-ism”, offering opinions as facts on sensitive topics like prescription medication, bankruptcy, relationships, depression, and other issues requiring professional guidance. Being sober for thirty years does not equate to possessing a medical degree or a counseling certificate.

Admitting one’s limitations without ego or apology is a true sign of spiritual growth.

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