On letting go of fear and embracing rigorous honesty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 27, 2011

Last week’s column on letting go and letting God drew one of the largest reader responses I’ve ever received. Many of the responses had special relevance for the current social upheaval among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation west of Cochrane and for Canada’s May 2 federal elections.

They also gave me a deeper appreciation for a core teaching of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and for one of my favourite authors.

An Ontario coffee companion, whose name I’ll withhold, wrote of a life-and-death decision involving the birth of her fourth child. She had been diagnosed with a brain disease that, she was informed, required she terminate her pregnancy to save her own life.

She chose for the life of her baby, turned the consequence over to God, and later learned that the original diagnosis and recommendation were wrong. The baby was born as a Christmas gift, and mother and child are doing just fine. “Letting go and letting God brought our family new life in a very tangible and real way,” she told me.

In her case, she believed the only wise thing she could do was to entrust God with the whole matter. One Cochrane reader, however, raised the very valid question of whether “letting go and letting God” might result in dangerous indifference and passivity when situations call for effective action.

I agree, and sometimes letting go has more to do with abandoning the self-destructive attitudes that keep us from taking necessary action – attitudes such as fear, indifference, dishonesty, greed, bitterness, resentfulness, and thirst for unwarranted power and privileges.

In this regard, Tina Fox, a highly respected Stoney elder from Morley, shared some of her thoughts on changes needed in her community, currently facing a crisis surrounding political transparency and accountability and attempts to muzzle dissent. She said:

“Letting go and letting God, in my opinion, is letting go of our fears, indifference, etc., and allowing God to guide us to do whatever needs to be done to change or help change something that is not right in our lives or, in this case, our community. We can't sit on top of our roofs waiting for God to come and rescue us while refusing help from all the people He sent to help.”

I mentioned the attitude of dishonesty. According to some of our readers who are associated with AA, dishonesty is the first thing alcoholics must let go of in their journey toward recovery.

As an AA member told me, there is only one demand that is made of all members: rigorous honesty.

About this, the Big Book of AA says:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

But yes, in life there are some situations that are, from time to time, totally beyond the control of any of us – the attitudes and behaviours of others, for instance. How can we know when to take action ourselves, or to totally “let go and let God”? This is where a saying popularized by AA has meaning for all of us:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

All of which brings me around to Canada’s upcoming federal election and a principle that all of us, voters and candidates alike, must never let go of, if we expect our democracy to be just and fair for everyone, safeguarded from the corruption and abuse of power that have plagued so many other nations.

The Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn expressed this principle powerfully in his 1970 Nobel Lecture One Word of Truth. Addressing writers and artists on the abuse of political power, he said:

“The simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let that enter the world, let it even reign in the world – but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can conquer falsehood!”

He concluded his lecture with a well-loved Russian proverb: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”

So, what are we to do about our nation, our community, our current election, my coffee companions? We may not all be writers and artists, but we all have the freedom to discern and speak the truth. We can choose to let go of falsehood and all the false securities allegiance to falsehood entails.

We can choose neither to bully nor be bullied by deceptive words and actions. We can rise above fear in this, leaving any personal consequences that may befall us in the hands of God.

We can muster our courage and choose to be people of rigorous honesty and truth.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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