The Right Side of the Page

by John Barleycorn
Waynedale News, August 7, 2007

John Barleycorn, columnist for the Waynedale News

The dark side vs. the good side

I have come to believe all human souls have a dark and good side. We can call those polar opposites good and evil, negative and positive, in-harmony vs. out-of-harmony, and so on, but no matter what we call them, they are a fact of our human nature. Although these polar opposites wish their counterparts would vanish they cannot, because if they did, both sides would perish. Both sides of our personality are just as necessary as the opposite poles of a bar magnet.

This ugly fact does however have a bright side, and that is, each new day we can choose which side of our personality we project to the world. In my humble opinion, Bill Wilson was correct in his belief that the world is like a mirror, and what we project is indeed reflected back at us (that is part of what is being said in Alcoholics Anonymous pages 61-62). Thus, it's wise to project our good side instead of foolishly projecting our dark side.

On page 48 of the Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions book, Bill Wilson listed the seven deadly sins or character defects that all human beings are afflicted with. When working the fourth step with a sponsee, I begin the process by having them fold a standard sheet of paper lengthwise, and on the left side they begin with seven numbers and list each of the seven defects (plus any other problems that don't seem to fit smoothly into one of those seven). After the left side of their list is complete, I have them go to the right side of the sheet and number the same seven or more numbers that are on the left side, and then write the opposite of each character defect on the right side of the sheet.

1. Pride . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Humility

2. Greed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Altruism

3. Lust . . . . . . . . . . 3. Consensual sharing

4. Anger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Serenity

5. Gluttony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Discipline

6. Envy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. Tolerance

7. Sloth . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Industriousness

8. Cocaine use . . . . . . . . . 8. Abstinence

When the list is completed, a clear picture has been formed of both our good and dark sides. After sharing these defects with our Higher Power and another human being it is then a simple matter each morning of asking our Higher Power (humbly on our knees), for the wisdom, power and perseverance, to be like the man or woman on the right side of our ledger. We will not be immediately perfect or white as snow overnight, but if we are diligent and persistent in our efforts, eventually spiritual progress will follow.

Of course, other inventories listing resentments, fears and sex relations should immediately follow this list, and we should also be practicing the daily actions listed on pages 86 and 87 of the Big Book, but the Seven Deadly Sins is a very good starting point for Steps 4 and 5.

Action is the magic word

After Barleycorn wrote the above account of the methodology he currently uses to remove character defects and it was put up on this website, an additional piece of information concerning this crucial process fell into his possession. Rodney M. from Columbia, South Carolina, sent me one of Father Ralph Pfau's Golden Books, the pamphlet from 1950 called Action, and Jerry S. from Leo, Indiana, gave me a book entitled Sobriety and Beyond, in which Father Ralph had reprinted that same material five years later (on pages 157-194).

I discovered that my description had left out one of the most important parts of the process. I suddenly realized that even after I had done the above, I had still not carried out the complete fourth and fifth step process like the early A.A. people did. The sponsors who taught me this process either forgot part of it, or that part was lost in time, or maybe they were not taught the entire process by their sponsors. Once again Barleycorn has been served a large slice of humble pie and reminded that we never quite arrive in A.A. nor can we ever know all there is to know about it; it's a life-time endeavor and never-ending learning process.

Father Ralph clearly stated that recovering alcoholics who want to rid themselves of character defects can gradually gain remarkable control over these defects. But they cannot do this by simply praying, hoping or wishing them away. Words without deeds are empty -- it also takes ACTION! Character defects can only be controlled by actually practicing the opposite virtue, that is, by putting behavior of that virtue into concrete ACTION over and over until it has become ingrained in our habitual actions.

Suppose that we are people who are by nature extremely angry and irascible. Father Ralph points us at a very famous saint who had that problem:

St. Francis of Assisi, by nature, was one of the most irascible characters in history -- but by practice and the grace of God he habitually controlled this tendency and outwardly was known as one of the most gentle of men. He ACTED on the opposite -- he consistently and constantly PRACTICED gentleness. This continued ACTION kept his irascible nature completely subjugated. Perhaps we may not hope to achieve such perfection -- but ACTION in this regard will take us far ACTION IS THE MAGIC WORD.
People who want to overcome their character defects have to take action. And they also do not hold-them-in-secret, which can only lead to future emotional explosions of even greater magnitude. During our drinking days we were always unhappy, and so full of conflicts. We were doing things secretly and trying not to do them publicly. But this cannot be done because the human soul is indivisible.

We can use this simple truth -- that the human soul is an indivisible whole -- to great advantage in fighting against our character defects. If we select our biggest and most frequent fault, failing or shortcoming, and then work on that Big One, the rest will improve too. Therefore, if we combine daily prayer and meditation with ACTION, then with God's grace and help we will be able to control our character defects.

Virtue chips

I decided to do something even more concrete than writing my list of character defects and opposing virtues on a sheet of paper. I went into my shop and cut seven circles out of maple wood, about the size of poker chips. From page 48 of Bill Wilson's Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, I took the list of the seven deadly sins with which all human souls are afflicted: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Using a wood burning needle, I wrote one of these on one side of a wooden chip, and then on the other side of that chip, I wrote the virtue that is the opposite of that character defect. I ended up with a chip for each matched pair.

Your character defects may be different. Father Ralph gave a list of six common faults, along with their opposite virtues, which could be written on a set of poker chips:

resentment . . . . . . . kindness

pride . . . . . . . . . . . . humility

greed . . . . . . . . . . generosity

dishonesty . . . . . truthfulness

laziness . . . . . . . . . . . . work

criticism . . . . . speaking-well

"Then," Father Ralph said, "we place these chips in a box on our dresser or in some handy place. And each morning we take one -- without selection -- from that box. That is the virtue we are going to strive for that day. At evening we replace the chip in the box, mix them up again, and the next morning we take one again without selection."

Doing it this way allows us to take action on one virtue at a time. As Abe Lincoln said, "One war at a time!"

Well, as I said, after reading what Father Pfau said, to satisfy my curiosity I made a set of wooden virtue chips and passed them around at my Tuesday A.A. meeting. We agreed to carry that chip for a week and then exchange chips at our next regular Tuesday meeting. It was amusing what happened, as people began to realize what was actually required of them, if they were going to seriously practice virtue.

The very next day one man returned his chip, and wanted a different one. It had the character defect of being "Self-centered" burned on one side, and the virtue of "Altruism" on its other. When I asked him why he wanted a different one, he said, "My girlfriend is a self-centered slut, and whenever I put her wants and needs before mine, she just takes advantage of me!" Hmmm. He was starting to make some genuine self-discoveries about who he really was, and how deep-set his character defects actually were, and how much work it was going to take to start turning himself into a better person.

Soon after the first man left, another man showed up, and he too wanted another chip. His chip had "Anger" burned on one side and "Serenity" on the other. I asked him why and he said, "I like honking my horn at other drivers and making rude gestures at them, and it's just too uncomfortable having that chip in my pocket. It's just unnatural!" Hmmm. He also was making some genuine self-discoveries about how deeply the defect of Anger was burned, not just into his poker chip, but also into his character.

I too fell victim to chip discomfort. The chip I had chosen for myself had "Judgmental" burned on one side and "Judge not" on the other. Just as I was about to call a Christian woman at my church a "nosey old bag," I remembered the chip and had to bite my tongue!

The more I reflected on Father Ralph's virtue chips, and the experiences which I and my sponsees had trying to use them, the more obvious it became that ACTION is in fact the key. For the past twenty-two years, I had foolishly believed that all I needed to do was list my character defects in step four, share them with God and another human in step five, become entirely ready for God to remove them in step six and humbly ask him to remove them in step seven after saying the Seventh Step Prayer!

Empty words and empty thoughts. I had neglected the DAILY ACTION required in this crucial process for it to be completely effective. Alcoholics Anonymous is a program of action, and it's exactly as the James Club declared in the earliest days of A.A., "faith without works is dead."

John Barleycorn

CLICK HERE  return to Essays page

CLICK HERE  return to Hindsfoot Foundation home page