Step Six

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.


Reb Zusya of Hanipoli, one of the early Hassidic rabbis, is best remembered for one quote:

"In the world to come they will not ask me, 'Zusya, why were you not Moses?' They will ask me, 'Zusya, why were you not Zusya?'"

To thine own self be true. Before we start into the treatment of Step Six in the OA and AA literature, let's talk some about what a defect is. And is not. There is no shortage of self-appointed hall monitors out there - we will meet some of them in this section -- who are eager to tell us what is defective about our character and behavior. They may not be doing us a favor. When I first got sober in AA, one of my close female relatives said something like, "Now that God has your attention, let us tell you what he wants you to do." Something's wrong with this picture and at the same time very familiar, I thought. Some of these close people had me running till I was out of breath in those early days, and I thought my defect was that I was not trying hard enough to do what they wanted. They LIKED to see me out of breath and apologizing. One day the light came on, I remember where I was standing in the AA club at Pier 12, and a little voice said "Learn to say NO, THAT's what you need to change." Trying to please them had put me in conflict, and the peace came from following the little voice. And some people left my circle angrily and others joined it and were happy just with my company, and I'd made one of many steps toward comfortability. It was a good lesson for me.

Story. Five or six years ago I sponsored this guy James. He was on parole, HIV-positive, never stayed sober for long though one incident would put him back in prison, and got involved with women without telling them about his HIV, little stuff like that. I was in serious conflict about keeping that confidence. I blew up and fired him after one relapse when he tried to swear me to secrecy about his drinking. Sleazy bastard. Well, a month later I ran into David, good member of a South Tyler group. David suggested I come back to that group and ".just not use the F-word." [Doesn't know me very well] He told me, "I'm sponsoring James now." [He knew I'd been his sponsor] I said generously, "I'm glad to know he's got a good sponsor." David said, "Yeah, we're working on his language." Working on his WHAT? LANGUAGE?

You may have figured out that profanity is high on David's list of character defects, a view shared by many in South Tyler. Now if you come to my home group in North Tyler, there are men and women with decades of good sobriety blasting out the F-word and the MF-word through the haze of smoke - which brings up yet another questionable candidate for character defect - with tender children running through the room, and have not had a thought of working on their language in their entire lives. I'm going somewhere with this I promise.

The whole notion of defects of character is analogous to the idea of cultural diversity. It's a continuum. In cultural diversity, well the universalists are right when they say murder and robbery are pretty widely considered to be wrong. And the relativists are right when they say there's a mighty wide range of who is permitted to have sex with whom, and in what manner and beginning at what age, across world cultures. And wide disagreement about it across Western culture (say, Amsterdam and Bountiful Utah) and even across the same town. Not to mention dietary laws/customs in Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. And there is the strong human tendency to think the rules one was raised with are universal and everyone who acts differently is a willful transgressor. A sinner if you will. Relativity, like Scotch whiskey, is a hard-learned taste.

And on the question of character defects, there is also a continuum. The early AAs were talking about the biggest one, drinking [overeating for us]. On that, and on resentments, fear, selfishness, dishonesty the AAs were clear in saying that we must be ready to have these things removed. But if you had gone to the New York group in the late 1930s and proposed that smoking and profanity be put into the AA book as defects, they would have laughed you out of the room.

And speaking of those early AAs, the section on sex in Chapter Five is a wonderful example of their way of thinking about this defect question. It was the 1930s. The anthropologist Margaret Mead was writing about societies where sex was handled in vastly different (read "better") ways from the West, and Dr. Freud was blaming all the troubles of civilization on repressed sexuality. And the family car had made intimate meetings possible that one only dreamed of a generation earlier. Judge Ben Lindsay's ideas about trial marriage for teenagers were still hotly debated. Sex was happening, and it was being TALKED about. And the church and the conservative society in general saw the world going to hell in a handbasket and did their best to put a wet blanket on sex. If you could propose a motto for them, it would be "Sex is a wonderful God-given thing and we should discourage all specific instances of it." Bumper sticker anybody?

The Big Book says simply, "We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone's sex conduct." And then it turns back to defects all can agree on: "Where had we been selfish, dishonest or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt?" And it goes out of the way to say "Counsel with others is desirable, but we let God be the final judge." It all adds up to their saying, AA is not going to have a policy on sex, and furthermore, even though the advice of others may help, finding our OWN way with it needs to be a private matter. I believe the Twelve Step programs would not exist today if early AA had imposed doctrinal ideas of God and/or a policy on sexual behavior.

And I believe Bill Wilson, left to his own devices, would have done both things. His treatment of Step Six in the AA 12 & 12, written with too little editorial oversight (he was bigger than life by now) and after Dr. Bob's death, is one of the worst pieces in the AA canon. He seems to want us to be New England Protestant ministers, even using the word "sins," which sure gets MY hackles up. Working hard so one can retire and go fishing is a defect. Having lustful thoughts is a defect. Procrastination is a defect. Bullshit. Neither Dr. Bob nor the New York group back in the 1930s would have sat still for such narrowmindedness. Bill always did have a streak of "one size fits all," though his many editors in the Big Book days pulled him away from it over and over.

Speaking of "one size fits all," I heard a woman tell a story about being in an alcoholism treatment center. As was their custom, she took a turn in the "hot seat" in a chair in the middle of the room and everybody asked her questions. At one point she lost her cool, picked up her chair and THREW it. The whole room burst into applause. It was the first honest thing she' d done so far. Some people need to START throwing chairs, and some need to STOP throwing chairs. Some people need to stop cussing and others would do well to START cussing. Some people let romantic affairs undermine their program and they need to back off for a while when new in recovery, and others have been afraid and lonely and need to go roll around with somebody nice and feel warm hands on their body. And some people are in the middle on all those things and don't need to change any of it. Mature sponsorship takes account of what THIS person is like, while immature sponsorship tries to impose a list of rules.

Where is all this adrenaline coming from? Why did I take several pages to carry on about relativity? Same thing that put a lot of us on the barricades and in the love-ins in the 1960s. An upbringing where mixing with black people was sinful, sleeping late was sinful, God loved work and hated sex, God liked slacks and golf and pianos and organs and he didn't like jeans and guitars and hotrods. And I hit Berkeley in 1962 and threw the good rules out with the bad ones for a while. And of course we're also dealing with native rebellion - don't tell ME what to do. I'm sure I was born with that.

So, to sum up so far, Step Six is NOT about me being willing to be shaped according to somebody else's norms, give up what are defects in their book and not in mine. That's how you get to the place where they'll ask, "Zusya, why were you not Zusya?"

**************************************************************************** **

Now having gone all around the mulberry bush talking about what Step Six is NOT, what is it and what do we want to accomplish here? Can I keep my rebellion where society's rules are concerned and still surrender to what I come to see as truths for me, even if I don't like them?

It seems to me that a good place to start is the insights we got in Steps Four and Five. Resentments and fears are at the top of the list. Selfishness and dishonesty show up there too. In our program worldview, these are universally acknowledged as defects. And some, like specific "justified" resentments, cling to us pretty hard when we think of letting them go. Others, like fears that keep us from stepping out into life, we'd give up in a minute but doubt they'll ever go away. What if you work in a job that requires you to lie on a regular basis? Can you face the consequences of refusing to lie any more?

Looking back at Step Four -- What went wrong with this friendship or relationship and what was my part in making it go wrong? My need to control or be right? Oh, I see that happened a number of times. We've got a defect here that's caused me to hurt other people and put myself in a bad position. I would like not to do that any more. OR, suppose I've got a spouse who doesn't believe in free love and I've got a girlfriend/boyfriend who's all over me. If I keep getting romantically involved with other people, either I'll have a secret that tortures me, or I 'll be open about it and all hell will break loose at home. And if I STOP getting romantically involved with other people, well sex at home happens about once a month and I have to beg for it even then. I ask my sponsor about that, and he/she, being a Big Book person, puts it back on me. You and God are gonna have to figure that one out. Pray for the right answer and it will come if you want it, like the book says. It may be a tall order to look for one's ideal of sex conduct and be willing to live by it, but it ain't nothin' compared with trying to live by somebody else's and being in conflict about it.

It's commonplace to see two people making the same rounds sexually, same behavior, same situations they get into, and one is eaten up with guilt and conflict while the other is comfortably on center. That's why the early AAs pointedly said we needed to find our own ideals about sex, knowing that we would differ endlessly. And resentment has children and grandchildren. The first defect I was completely aware of not wanting to give up was sarcasm. It has caused me to hurt other people and caused me to be embarrassed and to have to apologize to people I don't like, I hate that, and it has caused me sleepless nights wishing I hadn't said something. But I'm smarter than the average bear and have a way with words, and sarcasm is like an artistic medium, something I do pretty well. Dry sarcasm that they don't even know has cut them till they get home and think about it. Had to chew on that one for a while, hard to let go of.

Gossip is another one. I feel a rush when I gossip about somebody, feel superior of course, and then that night I feel guilt, fear that they will be told what I said and I'll have to apologize (it happened not too long ago - I gossiped and got confronted by the person who I really like dammit). Am I willing to give up the rush of adrenaline and superiority so I don't have to deal with the aftermath?

You can see by now that I'm not trying to become a NICE person, or meet society's standards, but rather I'm trying to become a comfortable person, useful to myself and others and free of conflict. If I'm honest in my inventory about things that have gone wrong, habits, mannerisms, ways of dealing with people, that cost me or hurt others, I will have a pretty good idea of the things I would like to have changed about myself.

And in pursuing this process some niceness may even creep in even though that sounds kinda Norman Rockwell / Hallmark Card-y to me. The Dogcatcher in my AA group says "Because of these steps, I'm a lot better person than I ever INTENDED to be."


So far I've pretty much left God, or whoever the higher power is, out of the discussion. That's because the talk so far has been dispassionate, as if we calmly made choices about letting go of character defects the way we would look at a menu and decide between the filet and the salmon. You hear people say "I'm working on X." Well maybe, maybe not. X may yield to your efforts and then again it may redouble ITS efforts when you challenge it and then you're doing it twice as much.

What happens if you've done the Fourth and Fifth Steps and have a clear look at things you're doing, ways you operate, that are making your life and the lives of others around you, miserable. But it's not CHANGING. And making a resolution to "stop doing that" is about as effective as going on a diet. The damn defect is up in your face and you are in despair about what it is costing you and others. It's the same feeling of having several guys down there with different agendas - you say, I will NOT do that again, and the voice from down below says, We'll see about that. At bottom, this situation is what we want changed.

You might have wondered why they even put Step Seven in there - I did at first. I said, These people are obsessed with the number twelve and so they stuck in one more step to round it out. The Big Book devotes only a couple of paragraphs to Six and Seven. Of course I want my defects removed, everybody knows that, why do we have to invent steps for it? And then I started seeing things wrong with myself that I couldn't change by myself. And I despaired of it ever changing, and I was pointed to Step Seven. They told me, It doesn't say anywhere that YOU remove the defect, or "work on it."

Well, I have a rule of thumb at this point: If you have a defect that's up in your face, running amok and trashing your life, and you're totally aware of the cost and you're in despair about its ever being removed, well six months from now it will not be there any more. That's the life cycle of these things when the program is in operation - they flare up and burn out. It's the defects that you DON'T see and everyone around you sees, that will be there for a LONG time.

**************************************************************************** ***

A popular philosopher in the sixties, Krishnamurti, was fielding questions from an audience. Somebody asked him, "How does the crude mind become refined?" Here is his answer (paraphrased from what I think I remember), and this is very much in the spirit of where we are in the steps:

The crude mind CAN'T become refined on its own volition. It's like pulling yourself out of the mud by your bootstraps. YOU can't do it. But what you CAN do is get honest. Look at yourself dealing with a superior, who can do something to or for you, how you flatter and agree with him. Look at how uncaring you are when you deal with a poor person who can't do anything to or for you, how thoughtless your language is. Look at yourself frantically digging for that cigarette and relaxing when you find it and light it. And with the awareness, the change will have begun to take place.

I don't understand the dynamics of this process, but inside I know it works like that.

And having said you can't solve it by working on it, I'll contradict myself and say it is good to work on defects sometimes, in some ways, if only as an exercise. The Dogcatcher says, "Think of the person you would like to be. And when you have a question about what to do in a situation, ask yourself what that person you want to be would do, and DO it. And you will become that person."

To close this discussion of Step Six, I'll return to Rabbi Zusya. He was expressing some sadness that he would end his life and pass over to the other side without becoming Zusya (Because of what? Defects). And you can also read what he said in a positive way, that his job in life was to become the best Zusya he could be, NOT to become Moses. Now Moses is a culture hero, an exemplary person, but Zusya was not sent here to be Moses. He is the only copy of Zusya the world will ever see.

That is the way we should be thinking about Step Six - Who is it that I was sent here to be, and how do I become that person? What stands in the way of it and am I willing to let go of the obstacles?


1. Do you have a list of character defects in mind that you are clear about wanting to be rid of them? (Does that sentence parse?)

2. Do you have some resentments that you are really not willing to give up?

3. Can you pray to be willing to be willing?

4. Do you have fears that keep you from becoming the person you want to become?

5. If you lost those fears and moved toward being yourself more, can you face the consequences from people around you as they react to your changes?

6. Are you living in conflict between sexual ideals that are really yours, and the different expectations of others?

7. Or are you still unclear about your sexual ideals?

8. Do you have some traits, or ways, that other people disapprove of, or that don't fit with the ideals/rules you were brought up with?

9. Can you distinguish between defects that are harming you and others, on the one hand, and pressures you feel from inside and from others to conform and meet their expectations?

10. In the same vein, do you have a sense of that person you would like to be and what stands in the way of becoming that person?

11. Moving toward Step Seven, what do you think of the idea of letting God as you understand him/her/it/them sort it all out, resolve these questions about what's a defect, point you toward becoming the person you were sent here to be?

Step Five

Step Seven

WTS Home
The Twelve Steps
Recovery Home

Copyright 2005 THE RECOVERY GROUP All rights reserved