My stumbling block in early life was that I didn’t like living with questions. Not at all. In my world answers were the thing. Whether they were right or not was, to me, not the most important thing. What counted was that I had an answer to every question.
All that changed one night in 1985 while sharing a bowl of kung pao chicken with my sponsor, Gary.
I was in the early days of sobriety, working through a thousand loose ends in my life. On this particular night I was explaining my problems with a real estate deal that was spinning out of control. The project had turned into an ugly three ring circus: finishing construction on a half built three-story building, managing a restaurant that was laden with excess cost, finding tenants for the unfinished building.
I laid out all the problems as Gary sat and took notes on the back of an envelope. When I finished my hope was that he’d have answers, lots of answers. Alas, he had nothing but questions. For the next two and a half hours I was grilled with hard, detailed questions, covering all aspects of this complicated project.
questions ? questions ? questions ?
One line of questioning led to another, each more complicated than the last — direct, probing, pushy, on-point questions, delving into a level of detail unknown to me. My modus operandum was to push off hard questions to an advisor, an expert, a professional. I resisted researching answers for myself.
I was unnerved. I told Gary he sounded like a prosecuting attorney. Gary then observed the obvious. “Pat,” he said, “It appears to me you’re not used to asking yourself hard questions. Let me offer some friendly advice. You’d better get used to questions because much of recovery is discovering what you don’t know, not confirming all that you think you do know. You learn about humility in your questions, or humiliation in your ‘answers.’ It’s your choice.”
This was an eye opener. My project had gotten out of control because I was unwilling to ask myself hard questions. The truth was that I had always been afraid of questions. I was not curious about what I did not know; I was afraid of discovering what I did not know. Pretending to know what I did not know kept my fear at arm’s length. But pretending was like a slow-growth cancer that was eating me alive. Alcohol, of course, was the perfect foil to my fear for it made the pretending so much easier.
- I feared not knowing.
- I was prideful about being wrong.
- I was shy of appearing stupid.
- I was reluctant to be challenged.
Pretending had always been my answer to … knowing.
“There are no foolish questions and no man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions. ~ Charles Steinmetz
Gary ended with a huge insight about the Serenity Prayer.
He said, “Too often people focus on accepting the things in life they cannot change. The truth is there is a lot about our lives we can change, but we don’t because we’re afraid of asking ourselves hard questions that might lead to hard answers, which isn’t what we were looking for. We would prefer an easier, softer way, so we beseech our Higher Power to do for us what we must do for ourselves. If there is heavy lifting required, better that it happen through a miracle than my hard work.”
Gary’s words penetrated my defenses. For the next two years I steered into every question rather than away. I discovered when I faced questions in their early stage they were easier to solve, and I could use what I learned when a similar question arose later. I learned that wisdom is nothing but the cumulative experience of finding answers to questions, and that the riddle to living the good life begins with working through the details and doing the hard work.
And that is what leads to serenity.
Just a thought…
Copyright © 2017 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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