The Truth about Service by Jim Anders

Service step 12 magazine

Philosophers speak about several different theories of truth. However there are three very common ways of looking at the idea of truth. First, the Correspondence Theory of truth states that something is true if it corresponds to reality. Second the Coherence Theory claims a system is true if it holds together rationally. Finally the Pragmatic Theory states that a thing is true if and only if it works.

Without engaging in the esoteric debates of philosophy, it is important for those of us in recovery to note that AA founder Bill Wilson was a thoroughgoing pragmatist. We can be sure of this since Wilson wrote, “First of all, we had to quit playing God” and then he gives the reason because “It didn’t work.” (Big Book p62). He did not claim that it was not true (of course it is not) and he did not claim that it was incoherent (of course it is) instead he focused on utility. Was it useful to play God? No. Then that is reason enough to stop doing so!

Sobriety becomes far simpler when it is looked at in utilitarian terms. If something works for us use it and if not discard it. There is no need to over complicate things. Do not waste precious time and opportunity trying to force utility on an unworkable strategy when there is already a proven practice.

Of all the practices Twelve Step communities teach among the most useful is that service toward others will not only benefit the served but it also strengthens the sobriety of servers. As early as page 15 of The Big Book, Wilson writes how “waves of self pity and resentment” nearly sent him back to his addiction. However, when in the grip of those recalcitrant emotions he “soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day.” He was focused on service for his own well being as well as for more altruistic reasons.

In my early sobriety, my sponsor insisted I make a commitment in the Twelve Step communities. So I made coffee for a few months at a meeting. Then I began to offer rides to and from meetings for addicts who had no means of transportation. Next, I began to be featured at speaker meetings which led some newly sober men to ask me to sponsor them.

It was then that I encountered an unpleasant truth in recovery that subsequently gave rise to a small but real crisis of faith in both recovery and in myself. Not everyone who asked for my help succeeded in staying sober.

So, with a sense of failure, I turned to my sponsor with the complaint that many of my sponsees were not succeeding. It was then he taught me several truths about service. The first truth is that a simple kindness such as emptying the trash or making coffee is never really lost. Someone will notice, someone will be touched and someone will be inspired to take up an act of service. The next truth about service is that once something is learned it cannot be unlearned. Those men who faltered on the way might have a shorter road back to sobriety because of the time I spent with them. However, he asserted that the most important truth about service is that I had stayed sober the entire time that I was working with others; and in large measure because I was working with others.

Of course, he was right. Kindness never fails to uplift and encourage someone, somewhere. Marking a trail for others to follow insures that they know the way when they are ready. Perhaps most importantly, caring about others expands our understanding and strengthens our own sobriety. So let us get out and serve others not only for the greater good but for ourselves as well.