May 2, 2018 | Brian Gong, LMHC
As I watch the news these days I continue to become disheartened at what I see from various politicians on both sides of the aisle. Their behavior is often disgraceful and certainly not good role modeling for the youth of today. I reflect on what it takes for an addict to be successful in recovery, what principles they need to incorporate into every fiber of their lives in order to maintain abstinence from whatever compulsive behavior they used to engage in, and I truly believe that these politicians can learn a lot from the recovery community.
Taking personal responsibility. Recovery is all about taking responsibility for one’s actions. It is a common occurrence for those in active addiction to avoid recognizing their part in things and to blame others for their problems in life. If you cannot own your failures, you will not be able to own your successes. The externalization of blame comes at a cost for the individual addict in that he or she is deprived of this valuable lesson and opportunity for growth. Living with the victim mentality is a curse unbeknownst to many people prior to recovery, and they find that to become clean and sober they will need to change this dynamic significantly. In the 4th step of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups, individuals must take a personal inventory and examine their role in things. All too often politicians will avoid simply saying that they messed up or that they made a mistake, all the while finding some outside reason for their follies. Perhaps the finger pointing is designed to avoid a juicy soundbite for their political opponents or to prevent some form of legal liability, or simply because their fragile egos cannot tolerate the fact that they screwed up somehow. It reminds me of Donald Trump constantly blaming the previous administration for current problems, or his microphone failing during a poor debate performance, and so on (democrats are not immune to this problem either). How refreshing would it be for politicians to show some humility and just take some basic responsibility for the choices they make?
Honesty. People in the program will refer to the term “rigorous honesty” when characterizing the level of their need to be honest with themselves and others. As an addict’s life is inherently fraught with dishonesty toward others in order to hide their problem, and with themselves through minimization and denial, entering into successful recovery naturally requires a major change in this department. Yet in the political world there seems to be a normalization of lying as a means to avoid scrutiny or accountability, or to garner further support for one’s political goals. I am not naïve to believe that dishonesty only recently entered into the world of politics, yet it seems to be much more prevalent these days. Would the world be a better place if politicians were more honest?
Tolerance of others. There seems to be so much nasty conflict and personal attacking of opponents when disagreeing on various policy points. The closed-mindedness and lack of consideration for others’ perspectives continues to polarize the political world and deteriorate the ability for things to actually get done in Washington. “Love and tolerance of others is our code” in Alcoholics Anonymous. The recovery community is extremely diverse in demographics. Go to any meeting and you’ll see people of various ages, genders, races, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, etc. But they all focus on the fact that they have a common problem and common solution. If politicians were to focus more on commonalities and things shared as equal citizens of the same country, could they perhaps work better together with more compromise and effectiveness?
Being Others-Centered. The final concept I’ll mention of selfishness and self-centeredness is important for recovering addicts and alcoholics, as survival and success depend upon changing this old ego-centric way of seeing the world and devoting their lives to service and helping others. Addiction is a disease of selfishness, and the individual in active addiction often has tremendous difficulty putting others’ needs ahead of their own. What they are desiring or feeling in the moment often becomes most important in the world, and major changes subsequently need to happen when engaging in the recovery process. Politicians are elected to serve their constituents and government employees tasked with spending taxpayer dollars appropriately. It is quite unfortunate when elected officials seem in it for their own personal gain or when corrupt government agency heads spend Americans’ money on lavish personal expenses. Wouldn’t it be nice for those working in the public sector to be working for the people instead of themselves?
Clearly no one in the recovery community is perfect or a saint, and not all politicians are corrupt and problematic. But generally-speaking, I believe that the principles practiced every day by members of the recovery community could really help those running the government to be more effective leaders, better role models for our kids, and overall more decent human beings.