Spelled out as such, the Four Absolutes are not a formal part of our AA philosophy of life. Since this is true, many claim the Absolutes should be ignored. This premise is approximately as sound as it would be to suggest that the Holy Bible should be scuttled.
The Absolutes were borrowed from the Oxford Group Movement back in the days when our society was in its humble beginning. In those days our founders and their early colleagues were earnestly seeking for any and all sources of help to define and formulate suggestions that might guide us in the pursuit of a useful, happy and significant sober life.
Because the Absolutes are not specifically repeated in our Steps or Traditions, some of us are inclined to forget them. Yet in many old time groups where the solid spirit of our fellowship is so strongly explified, the Absolutes receive frequent mention. Indeed, you often find a set of old placards, carefully preserved, which are trotted out for prominent display each meeting night.
There could be unanimity on the proposition that living our way of life must include not only an awareness but a constant striving toward greater achievement in the qualities which the Absolutes represent. Many who have lost the precious gift of sobriety would ascribe it to carelessness in seeking these objectives. If you will revisit the Twelve Steps with care, you will find the Four Absolutes form a thread which is discernible in a sober life of quality, every step of the glorius journey.
We walked into this large group of which we had heard so much, but had never attended. From the vestibule we saw a placard on the corner of the far wall which said “Easy Does It”. We turned left to park our coat. We turned back and there on the other corner of the same wall was a twin placard which said, “First Things First.” Then facing to the front of the room, high above the platform we saw in the largest letters of all, “But for the Grace of God.” Then as our eyes descended, there directly on the front of the podium was another with four words, “Honesty, Unselfishness, Purity and Love.”
In the next ten minutes, as we sat unnoticed in the last row waiting for the meeting to start, many thoughts tumbled through a mind that was really startled by this first face to face meeting with the four Absolutes for a very long time.
We started to grade ourselves fearlessly on our own progress toward these Absolutes through long years of sobriety. The score was a pitiful, lonely little score. We thought of a fine lead recently heard in which a patient humble brother had told his story, and had mentioned his overwhelming sense of gratitude as an important ingredient of his fifteen years of sobriety.
And in listing things for which he was so grateful, he mentioned how comfortable it was to be completely honest. Certainly he meant nothing prideful. He simply meant that he told his wife and friends the truth as best he could, had no fishy stories to reconcile, was honest with money and material things, etc.
This was a truly grateful, humble fellow. Certainly he did not resemble the man pictured in the cartoon, speaking to a large audience, pounding on the table and with a jutting chin proclaiming in a loud voice that he had more humility than anyone there and could prove it.
But just think of “complete honesty.” Is it not the eternal search for truth which is endless, and in which none achieve perfection?
What do the four Absolutes mean to most of us? Words are tools. Like any other tools they get rusty and corroded when not used. More importantly, we must familiarize ourselves with the tools, understand them, and ever improve our skill in their use. Else the end product, if any, is pathetically poor.
We thought of a dear friend in the fellowship, prone like other alcoholics to move quickly from one hobby or interest to another, without really doing much with any one of them. (Does that sound like someone you know?) Once this friend decided that working with his hands would solve some problems, quiet his nerves, perhaps help him to achieve serenity and balance. So he reviewed an impressive collection of tool catalogues with friends already addicted to the woodworking hobby.
He bought a large expensive collection of tools, and a lot of equipment. He hired a carpentor to build a shop in his basement, install the equipment, and make custom-built racks to house the tools. But in the end, not one shaving and not one tiny bit of sawdust graced its floor. The idle tools serve just as well to keep our friend occupied while he doesn't go to meetings, do Twelth Step work or engage in other happy activity in AA.
How many of you will be completely honest and admit that you have put the four Absolutes in the attic, a little rusty from non-use perhaps, but none the worse for wear? Give or take a little, how many of us still maintain the workshop for the Absolutes, will admit that not too many shavings or much sawdust from our activity have ever graced it floor? Or even assuming that the activity has persisted, how many will admit that the end product did not win a prize for its quality.
Such lack of quality can only mean lack of objectives or lack of all-out effort toward such objectives. We must recognize the Absolutes as guideposts to the finest and highest objectives to mortal man. But recognition is not enough. We must use the tools.