“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.” (Page 66 of the Big Book.)
Are justice and compassion mutually exclusive? I have been thinking about this for days. I believe they may be for those of us in 12 Step Programs if we are to have any peace.
Here’s what I mean. When I see something I consider unjust, I feel myself getting all riled up. Adrenaline begins to flow and self-righteous indignation is the result. I spout off (often loudly) about the injustice of it all. I can get myself utterly worked up. And that is not good for my recovery (or my health).
In trying to live a life of peace, when I am wronged I am told in the Big Book to show “tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend.” (page 67) I am assuming that this extends out to harms perpetrated on anyone. Otherwise, the Big Book would say that it is OK to be enraged at the court system if you disagree with a verdict or the government if they don’t behave as you would like. Instead, the Big Book says on page 66:
But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintence and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.
That means I cannot afford to get worked up over anything. That means that I have to find a way to meet injustice with compassion. Or I will eventually relapse into compulsive debting.
From Addict Thinking to Recovery Thinking
That is a tall task. Especially for addicts who have perfected the art of blaming others for their problems. Even in recovery, I may take responsibility for what happens in my own life, but I have often used the excuse of bigger injustice as a way to get high on adrenline and self-righteous indignation.
But here’s the thing. I cannot un-know what I know. And I know that my body feels beat up after a bout of spewing out poison even if it feels justified.
From people who don’t pick up their dog’s poop in the dog park to trials where I feel justice is not served to lawmakers with whom I don’t agree to bosses who are inept to whatever else may bug the heck out of me, let’s face it, there is more injustice to fight than any one person can handle.
Living in the Solution
And the Big Book tells me I don’t have to do so. So how do I meet injustice with compassion? How do I view somebody who leaves their dog’s poop in the dog park just waiting for me to step in it with equanimity?
The Big Book tells us on page 67:
When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. They will be done.’ We avoid retaliaion or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.
So we can do a mini 4th step if the feelings persist. We can pray for the person or people. In the moment, when I feel my blood boiling up, I can start by staying quiet. By not releasing the poisonous thought into the universe. In a way, it’s practicing the opposite of the defect of gossip.
The Dalai Lama spoke about a senior monk who had been imprisoned in a Chinese prison for 18 years. He said, ” Once, when we were chatting about his experiences he told me that there had been dangerous moments during his imprisonment. I thought he meant threats to his life, but he said, ‘No, there were times when there was a danger of my losing compassion for my Chinese captors.’ ” This proves that it is possible, even in the most heinous of circumstances to meet poison with peace.
What Really Matters?
I sometimes think, when I am enmeshed in self-righteous anger, that in the end, we are all dead. In the end, we are all equal. In the end, what matters?
And I remember that for me, what matters is that I stay in recovery and live a life of integrity with as much peace and meaning as I can. The only way for me to do this is to increase my conscious contact with my Higher Power and to do my best to practice love and compassion even when it is not easy. To do my best to counter injustice with compassion in my world, doing service and living in the light rather than in the darkness.