Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Well, I’m going to be iconoclastic. I don’t think that the things we do that hurt others are necessarily defects of character. So, I might be parting ways with the terminology here–but not with the spirit. Let’s begin by defining defect of character as distinct from defective behavior. The difference between character and behavior is the total unwillingness to change. In fact, it goes deeper. It is the total unwillingness to recognize the need for change. So if John beats his wife, does it only when he’s drunk, and doesn’t feel bad the next day when he’s sober, that would be a defect of character. If he feels bad but blames her for getting him upset, that’s bad. But I still see hope for him because he is capable of a little compassion.

Perpetrators in jail for violence can learn to feel compassion.

What Is A Defect Of Character?

Of course, I will admit, the job is easier because they are in jail so they have some motivation to work on themselves and get out sooner. But then again, jail does have some tough customers. I work with tough customers all the time myself and I really believe that once they begin to be in touch with their own pain, they are capable of feeling the pain of others. Therefore, I’m not convinced that even the diehards have character defects. Sure, there is a small minority of serial killers out there. I would agree that they have some serious defects of character. Yes, anyone who coldbloodedly and intentionally murders someone has a defect of character. Yet, there are cases even of such people who come to their senses in prison, repent in their hearts and turn around their lives while remaining locked up. So I’m really, really hesitant to label anyone with a character defect. That is strong and abusive language to use. I’ll go out on a limb here: I think using it is a mistake.

There’s an added feature to the problem, a little complexity which explains why the original writers used that terminology. Remember, the point of the entire set of steps is to stop trying to control what is uncontrolable. Drinking, drugging, etc. remains out of control. So if we turn over the job to God, then, although it is out of control, by His grace, the problem is removed. This is truly a beautiful and loving position to take, vis-a-vis God and humanity. By admitting that we can’t control everything, it humanizes us; it makes us so much more approachable, so much nicer. Place it in God’s hands, and He will cure us. However, there is a big problem for me here because I am Jewish and this is not the Jewish way.

Saying It’s A Defect Of Character Lets People Off The Hook Too Easily

The Jewish part is–contrary to all those jokes about Jewish guilt–not to make us feel defective. We agree that we should not be arrogant; we should be humble before God. That is a good attitude to have. In fact, the Jewish position goes further. It would rather have people take responsibility for their bad behavior than attribute that bad behavior to being “sick” or defective. In fact, by saying the cause of one’s problem is “defective character,” the Step is both letting people off the hook too easily and disempowering them. On the one hand, it is lovely to tell people, in effect, “Don’t feel bad; God will heal you.” And it is also morally correct to tell people, “Don’t be arrogant; you can’t do everything.” And I understand that when people don’t get on top of their drinking and continue to drink, it is soothing to tell them to let go and let God.

Nevertheless, we are going beyond the drinking itself to “defects of character.” Maybe that includes lying, insensitivity, not turning over food money to the spouse, not paying attention to the children, saying abusive and hurtful things and so on. Why should God have to remove these things? God didn’t lie or fail to give his wife food money. It is the drinker who may have disappointed and hurt his or her family. The addict should be responsible for this, not God. By saying that God will remove it for us, it takes away our responsibility for the bad behavior. By calling it a character flaw, it makes it impossible for us to reach it. Character is inside, deep inside, and doesn’t change (presumably). By calling it behavior, it puts the responsibility right back where it should be–on the one who does the bad deed.

Call It Bad Behavior — And Then Take Responsibility For It

Now, there is a flip side to this that is elating. That is: As soon as the problem becomes one that you can handle, you are empowered. If only God can deal with it, it’s disempowering. If you are considered to be able to handle it, it’s empowering. So, if it is inside your character, it is disempowering, but if it is just behavior, then you can take care of it; it’s empowering. Yes, this view is harder than just letting God do the work. And yes, this view is surely more painful because once you take responsibility for your actions, you know that it was you that hurt someone, not some indefinable “character trait” inside that you have no control over.

On the other hand, the knowledge that you are the one who behaved wrong and thereby hurt someone is another step in your recovery. Just recognizing that it was in your control all along is a deep, deep admission that really takes maturity, kindness, compassion, and love to be able to make. Just making that connection between all the awful forces in your life that led you there and the choices you made to deal with them–however necessary they were for your survival at the time–and the result that in doing so you hurt people, that is a huge step in the right direction.

And precisely because it takes a big person, a person of real character, to admit that he hurt others along the way, the very act of making that connection assures that healing will come. God, I believe, rewards character.

So let’s look at this Step a little differently. Again, Step 6 says: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Suppose we could keep the spirit of humility inherent in this way of putting it, and re-write it as follows: “Were entirely ready to work diligently on defects in behavior and have God remove all obstacles to doing so.” How about that?

This means that God would remove the following obstacles to cleaning up our act:

    fear of intimacy
    fear of failure
    wish for self-punishment

Wouldn’t that be nice? And if He could and would do that, wouldn’t it be worth taking responsibility for the hurt we dished out even though we did it out of necessity because that was all we knew how to do at the time?

What Do We Put In Place Of The Old Behaviors?

Of course, that raises some questions. What would it be like not to have this crutch? You know, the things we used to call “defects of character” which we are now taking responsibility to remove because they are only bad behaviors. Would we know how to cope without these bad behaviors? How would we deal with life? How would we deal with those close to us? See, it isn’t so easy to take away things, even bad things. What would we put in place of the old, bad behaviors that have gotten to fit comfortably like an old shoe? We don’t know. The future is as open for the person who does Step 6 as it is for a newborn baby. That’s scary, isn’t it? But, hey, it is nice, too, isn’t it? Everything new. Starting over. Wow.

There is of course, another question that always comes up: Why would God care? Why would He/She want to take away the obstacles to my taking away my own defects? After all, God abandoned me when I was being abused, neglected, abandoned, underdisciplined or whatever led me to my addictions. And I say to you: Your reasoning is just a matter of perspective. You can have your perspective or you can decide that perhaps your fate would have been worse had God not been there for you. You are alive now, after all. And you’ve been through so much. If you can just overcome this, just do this Step, just look where you will be! Thinking that there are possibilities, that there is a new future for you, that God does care, can be the first proof that He/She was always there for you and will see you through to the end. As with everything else in Life, this perspective, too, is a matter of choice.

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