Take the Cotton out of Your Ears – Is this good advice for Newcomers?

Anyone who has been around AA for awhile had heard a grumpy old timer share about the glory days when newcomers were told to, “take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” Or, they have heard the other, harsher version of this cliché, “Sit down, shut up, and hold on!”

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Both of these phrases have been repeated so many times, they are taken as a “part of the program.”

But are they?

Well, yes and no!

The Good

Yes, it is an excellent idea for newcomers to AA to see a bit of what is going on before jumping in. This is true throughout life. Gaining context through observation first can be super helpful. Paying attention can increase the chances of success for whatever group you may be joining.

In the group I got sober with, it was recommended that newcomers be quiet (not share) for at least 30 days. It was also suggested that maybe as long as 90 days before talking in meetings would be an ideal matriculation period before regular sharing.

Two advantages to this approach.

  1. Unburdened with having to come up with something to say all during the meeting, a person can listen better.
  2. Concurrent with attending meetings,  a newcomer can read the Big Book and get a basic understanding of what the program is.

It was also suggested to me that the newbie lock into the same meetings week after week. Regular attendance can help you and get to know sober people (before and after the meeting). This way you’ll get to see who really “walks like they talk.”

More Good

A final good idea for the newly sober person is to attend speaker meetings. Attending speaker meetings can eliminate the need to share at all (at long-form speaker meetings). Plus, because most speakers have time and worked the steps. Great qualities of a potential sponsor. For reference, I was told 3-6 months was the right timing to get a sponsor.

As you can see the emphasis for the newcomer in these early days was on paying attention and learning. It wasn’t for sharing at meetings. So sitting down and shutting up, and taking the cotton out of your ears and into your mouth – is a pretty solid concept.

The Bad

No. The issue for me is both phrases are super harsh and, perhaps, needlessly so.

In full disclosure, I’ve repeated those clichés many times in meetings.

Last week, however, I read this passage in the Big Book that got me thinking:

The very practical approach to his problems, the absence of intolerance of any kind, the informality, the genuine democracy, the uncanny understanding which these people has were irresistible. Big Book, p. 160.

That doesn’t exactly say, to me – “shut up and sit down.” Or, “take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” The spirit I read is something different.

So, maybe going forward I can find a better way of encouraging newcomers to see and learn first before diving in!


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