Bill W. cofounder of AA I am currently reading Nell Wing’s book ‘Grateful to Have Been There; My 42 Years with Bill and Lois and the Evolution of Alcoholics Anonymous’. This is a revealing personality insight into Bill W.

One passage that caught my attention is;

“I’ve listened many time as Bill explained his own view of humility. According to him, we need to follow the Greek ‘middle way’ – to strike a balance. We should neither wear the Uriah Heep cloak of false humility, which Bill called ‘force-feeding of humble pie,’ nor stray the other way into pride of material achievements and admiration of one’s own importance. Bill’s definition of humility was willingness to seek God’s will in one’s life and then follow it. I’m reminded of a statement I once saw on the bulletin board of an alcoholic rehabilitation facility. It read:

  • ‘There is but one God, and today you are not him.’

That’s pretty much close to Bill’s view of humility.

I don’t thing of Bill as a saintly figure, looking down from some ethereal height, but as a practical, fallible figure, feet planted firmly on the ground, but looking up, seeking answers to his questions and actions.” (p74-75)

The Serenity Prayer

Further on in Nell’s book there is quite a discussion on finding the Serenity Prayer and how it applied to the AA program. To wit;

“The prayer entered unobtrusively into AA in 1941. It was discovered in the ‘In Memoriam’ obituary column of an early June edition of the New York Herald Times. The exact wording was:

…God grant me the serenity to accept

Things I cannot change, courage to change

Things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Goodbye.” (p167),

And:

“All the local members including Bill W. felt its relevance immediately. As Bill said in AA Comes of Age, ‘Never had we seen so much AA in so few words’” (p168)

Over time the Serenity prayer went through several version to arrive at the present form.

Nell, showing AA’s and her own sense of humor also report several other versions of the last line:

“…and the wisdom to keep my mouth shut when I don’t know the difference.’

…and the wisdom to keep my mouth shut even when I know I’m right!.” (p187)

One can see that Bill’s idea of humility being ‘the middle way’ coupled with the acceptance, courage and wisdom of the Serenity prayer make a good combination.

Uriah Heep is a fictional character created by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield. The character is notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and general insincerity. The characteristics of grasping manipulation and insincerity can lead to a person being labelled “a Uriah Heep”.

Related Reading:

Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
The Little Red Book of Wisdom
Seven Weeks to Sobriety: The Proven Program to Fight Alcoholism through Nutrition
Humility Of Heart