My life reflects a growing sense of respect and compassion for myself and others.
The following audio is a commentary on Step Twelve for the 5th edition of the Proactive 12 Steps. See written transcript immediately below the audio player.
Transcript (edited for clarity):
What does it mean to have compassion for yourself? Essentially, this is what you’ve been doing throughout these steps, instead of harshly judging yourself.
Instead of forcing yourself to do something against the sense of fear or hurt that you experience, you have been trying to understand what it is that made you do what you did. This has helped you realize the difference between understanding and condoning.
Understanding does not mean condoning
As you have seen through this process, understanding does not mean justifying, rationalizing something that is not something you want to happen. It’s not giving up. Knowing yourself gives you a better way to change than forcing change without understanding. So that is the exact opposite of condoning. We are talking here about finding a way to make changes that work, that last, that are sustainable. That is changes that you are happy with, as opposed to changes that you force on yourself through some abstract idea of what you should be doing.
Throughout this process, you have learned to be aware, to respect, and to understand different parts of yourself that may conflict. You started Step One with a sense of noticing the difference between who you think you are (or who you want to be) and what you do. You have been finding ways to get unstuck based on a better understanding of the forces in conflict.
As you stay with this process, you realize that it is not just you; it is human nature. So that adventure, that journey you had in understanding yourself better, is not just about understanding the specifics of the situation. It is also about understanding the way it affects all of us human beings. You now see your experiences as part of the human condition. Your struggle is simply the form that it takes for you. Every human being experiences some form of suffering or another.
Kinship with others
Through your experience of suffering, you may be drawn especially to those people whose kind of struggle is closest to yours. For instance, it makes sense for alcoholics to gather together, as it fosters a sense of kinship. They feel they understand each other better because they’ve been going through some very similar challenges, and this unites them. The same thing goes for other Twelve Steps programs for various forms of addiction.
The Proactive 12 Steps are not just for people who are dealing with addiction. They are for all human beings who are dealing with the pressures and fears and difficulties of the human condition. And so, at first, get close to people who are more like you. Progressively, you also get to understand that the kind of suffering you have does not set you apart from the rest of humanity. It is the specific way in which you are experiencing the human condition. And so your heart opens up to better understanding other people in the world, as you feel a kinship with them.
Feeling a kinship with others does not necessarily mean that you understand the specifics of what happens to them. On the contrary, it might be dangerous to think that you fully understand anybody. If you felt that way, you might get more closed, as opposed to wanting to hear about their experiences because you’d feel like you already know. So we are not talking about having a sense that you get it, that you know how everybody functions.
Through your suffering, you come to appreciate the value of becoming closer to people by being compassionate with their plight. And you become more aware of the possibility of finding some common ground if you dig deep enough.
A deeper understanding
Through the process of these steps, you come to understand your experience in a way that is very different from the way you did when you started. You’re freer from polarized thinking that sees the world in terms of good and evil. You have a more complex, more nuanced understanding of the fears and pressure that led you to adopt coping behaviors. You become more comfortable staying with the excruciating difficulty of feeling vulnerable. And you also know that you have not entirely resolved these things. You are far from perfect, and that’s okay.
The more you know about yourself, the more you are aware of how much there is that is still unknown. You know that you have gained some degree of comfort in some situations, but that you are still feeling stress in others. So it is not you have reached a level of some superhuman understanding of life that makes you impervious to all the challenges and fears and pressures of life. On the contrary, you know how vulnerable you are. You know a lot about your limitations, but you can live with that or certainly can live with it more than you used to. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.
And so it is that a greater understanding of your vulnerabilities makes it possible actually to connect more with other people. This kind of connection is very different from what preaching would be.
Preaching involves a sense that you have achieved a connection to transcendent truth that you want to force-feed it to other people. You are sure that, if only people listened to you, their life would be better.
A gentler attitude
The kind of truth that you have come into touch with is much softer. These are not absolute truths about: “Do this!” or “If you believe this, your life will be better!” They are very nuanced. They are more about the presence (and even, omnipresence) of moments of vulnerability and the fleeting quality of the moment-by-moment experience. They are also about the possibility of finding a sense of having more space, of expanding, having more satisfaction in life, and staying with that.
These are not things that you were able to get by forcing yourself. You were able to get to that by having a gentler attitude, and progressively expanding your comfort zone by dealing with vulnerability. So this is the attitude that you bring in connecting with others.
Conversely, you are not doing this just out of the goodness of your heart. It is not that you are such a fantastic person, helping others who are in dire need of your words of wisdom to get better. You are seeking connection because you have experienced how connecting with others who are willing to face their vulnerabilities helps you. So now you know that being helpful to others helps you as well.