12-Step Program for America: Step 3

By Jim Selman | Bio

I have been making the case that our country is trapped in a vicious cycle, analogous to alcoholism or any addictive spiral that inevitably leads to ‘hitting bottom’, and that we need a rigorous ‘recovery’ program. Our Constitutional Democracy cannot work if our founding principles, the Constitution itself , and the institutions responsible for sustaining it are not aligned and functioning as a whole. In the ‘recovery’ literature and all 12-Step programs, the first and primary question to resolve is “Where is the bottom?”  Have we had enough of having enough? Are we ready to acknowledge that the system is broken and we are powerless to fix it? If we are, then we can begin the real journey to recovery.

Many would agree that we are ‘out of control’ (Step 1 of the 12-Step Recovery Program for America). And I propose that we—the people—are the ‘higher power’ that can see what is happening and begin to restore us to sanity (Step 2). The third step might be summarized as ‘surrender’ or ‘faith’. It is about “turning our will and our lives over to the care of a higher power” (as we understand it). If an individual, an institution or an entire society becomes trapped in a self-referential structure and has become blind to any other view, then there is no way out—unless there is something outside the structure that can allow one to observe the structure itself. For a nation, usually a crisis or external threat can galvanize and align the population against a common ‘enemy’. For a brief moment, this is what happened after 9/11. One would think that climate change or the state of the world’s financial systems might also provide such a context, but clearly many of our leaders are more committed to partisan posturing than resolving life-threatening problems or developing a global system that can serve all nations without creating undue burdens or further inequities and shortages.

“Only a miracle can save us” is an apt phrase when we consider the current gridlock and the incredibly high stakes we are playing for today. Whether idealistic or cynical, we are all adrift in a situation where “we can’t get seem to get there from here”. Politics, traditionally the ‘art of compromise’, is bogged down in a marketplace of self-interests—leaving us between the proverbial rock and the hard place. We declare “In God we Trust” on our money. Our Bill of Rights guarantees religious freedom. Yet daily we witness religious hypocrisy, intolerance and violence. In all the games we are playing, our ideological addictions are drowning us in an ocean of “I am right” versus “You’re wrong” positions that can never be resolved. We need to create a context that is larger and more important than winning an argument and trying to impose our views on others. Wasn’t our nation founded on the idea of embracing diversity? Why do we even attempt to homogenize our culture into some sort of ‘same think’ or common view of the world, when it is the richness of multiple perspectives that has created who we are and allowed us to flourish and progress?

We must let go of our fear, our egos, our need for dominance and control. We must put our faith in a ‘higher power’, a personal vision of God, a secular ‘Universe’, or the collective consciousness of our people. Surrendering in this way doesn’t mean succumbing to the will of others or giving up our personal responsibility as citizens in a democracy. Surrendering means trusting in our political processes or changing them so that we can trust them. It means putting principles above personalities and engaging in committed conversations for our collective future. It means exercising ‘rigorous honesty’ in our daily affairs.

We all need to confront that, regardless of our political or ideological views, we are all in the same boat. And the boat is sinking. We need to take Steps to save ourselves.

The road to recovery for any addict—whether we are speaking of an individual or a nation—happens one day at a time. We can begin now with one vote, one letter, one phone call or email. Saving the ship from sinking requires that, one citizen at a time, we start taking a stand for the future—a future with no one left out.

That is what America offered the world in 1776. And that is what a ‘sober’ America can offer the world today.

© 2010 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.