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FELLOWSHIP IS THE FOUNDATION of Good Public Conversation

I left the practice of law to end my addiction to winning. Being part of AA's fellowship taught me how to stand up for what's right without making the other person wrong, and to love someone who truly hates. My breakthrough the other day has again shown me the need for this practice in our public/political dialog.


I was volunteering at the TriCounty AA Center coffee bar when I heard one regular say "Gays will burn in hell." After grappling with our creed of acceptance and tolerance, I eventually asked him to refrain from saying "Gays will burn in hell" because it harms our ability to create a welcoming space for everyone.


He was mildly irritated when he said it's a free country and that I was just a woke CNN junkie. I explained that I wasn't trying to persuade him of anything, that he was free to have his own opinions, and that I knew many people were uncomfortable with homosexuality. Then I asked ...


"How do you think a gay person would feel if he heard you say he would burn in hell? Would he ever come back?"


"I hope he doesn't ever come back." (Voice rising.)


"Aren't we all as AA members committed to helping fellow alcoholics? If we chase away gay people, aren't we denying them the gift of this community and program?"


"I don't care -- they should burn in hell!" (Now angry.)


We mutually agreed to stop the debate after a few minutes. When he left 20 minutes later, he approached the counter, offered his hand and said it was great to have me around. I smiled, took his hand, and agreed that no matter the disagreement we needed to amicably stay together in AA.


For any of you who know me, it's a miracle I never got on my angry high horse. This was possible only because I had previously been in humble fellowship with this person before we ever had a debate or disagreement. I knew what he'd been through; that he, like me, suffered a lot of self-inflicted pain because he WAS a real jerk in the past. Based on how I used to live my life, I know that his hateful words are just a wounded part of himself that has yet to heal. I also know he is now fully committed to spiritual progress and serving others.


The AA Fellowship fosters empathy because everyone goes through a process of self-reflection amid connection. The acceptance and empathy of other AAs allows deeply flawed people to become truly honest with themselves and deeply vulnerable with others.


Because I was able to stay soft toward my fellow, he came back to me with openness and warmth. In the future, he might think twice before gay bashing in public (which is a better than anything I got from self-righteousness).


Imagine if we could be that way in our public debates: understand each other's pain, trust that everyone is doing their best, and still stay committed to something bigger than any of us.






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Randy Oppenheimer
Randy Oppenheimer
27 dic 2023

You are a much better person than me, to have responded with such restraint and generosity of spirit.

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