The Fundamental Principle of AA’s 7th Step [Humility]

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”


That’s a hell of a meaty quote, is it not?

Humility is a necessary aid to our survival, really Bill!??

So, you’re telling me it’s basically food, water, shelter, sex, and humility?

Well, if you’re anything like me you’re in trouble – because you have no idea what the hell humility is!

I remember early in my recovery thinking to myself, “Timbo, you need to practice your humility.”

I didn’t know, however, what it meant – like, not even the slightest clue, and ironically was too embarrassed and proud to ask! 

Let’s start with the barebones explanation of humility. The following is an excerpt from my article titled “The Folly Of Father Martin & The Power Of Connection,” and I believe it adequately lays the foundation for humility upon which to construct a more thorough definition.

Humility Is A Socially Loaded Term

We must first begin by identifying the problem.

And that problem is sobriety.

We cannot stand being sober.

Sandy B tells of a time he banged his fist on the bar table demanding the bartender do something about the sobriety issue he was having.

Phew, I can identify with that. Can you?

Why is this though? 

What the hell has happened? 

It’s easy to wax psychological or neuro-biological as we sift through solutions, but in doing so simply look past the obvious. 

We are social creatures through and through. 

It’s undeniable. 

Any attempt to refute it with words is immediately self-defeating. What purpose could language serve if we were designed to live outside the herd in isolation? 

All-day long we rely on community and never even consider the contrary. For example, when it comes to household items such as shampoo, razors, cleaning supplies, furniture, and various decorations we usually rely on someone else to provide these items. 

Furthermore, we have the funds to purchase them by either relying on employment or by providing some service to others. This give and take exists on every level. Sure, greed corrupts this process exponentially but this doesn’t nullify the very fact that at our core we are social. It’s not just how we survive but how we thrive.

If it weren’t for others I would probably be living in a shoddy makeshift dilapidated teepee with the most uncomfortable furniture imaginable. Furthermore, I’d probably smell like onions wrapped in sewage. 

Yeah, not good. 

Luckily, I rely on the community to provide these commodities while I do my utmost to give back via my niche. 

This is where it can get odd. We rely all day on the tools and resources of others but then, when it comes to our emotional health, we “got this.” 

What better way to satisfy one’s emotional nature than in total isolation? What better vehicle for emotional fulfillment than selfishness? 

Of course, that works about as good as a cheese grater used as a skin moisturizer. Let’s not go down that road… 

Emotional Fulfillment In Isolation

As the cheese grater analogy implies, this emotional fulfillment in isolation doesn’t work. Try as we might, but shopping, gossiping, gambling, drinking, or drugging will not create emotional fulfillment. 

It may hold the restless, irritable, and discontented dogs at bay, but that wall will eventually come crashing down. Bearing that in mind, we usually gravitate towards the one thing that worked the best and still allowed us to come out and play. Until even that is taken away.

Therefore, first and foremost, humility is the acknowledgment that “other people” are necessary for emotional fulfillment. That without authentic human bonds and connections, we will invariably find something artificial to bond and connect with.

A bottle can never stand in for community.

Sex will never satisfy true loneliness.

Heroin can’t comfort like another human being.

Drop The Rock

Seems there was this group of Twelve Step members taking a boat ride to this island called Serenity, and it was truly a happy bunch of people. As the boat pulled away from the dock, a few on board noticed Mary running down the street trying to catch up with the boat. One member said, “Darn, she’s missed the boat.” Another said, “Maybe not. Come on, Mary! Jump in the water! Swim! Swim! You can make it! You can catch up with us!”

So Mary jumped into the water and started to swim for all she was worth. She swam for quite a while and then started to sink. The members on board, now all aware that Mary was struggling, shouted, “Come on, Mary! Don’t give up! Drop the rock!” With that encouragement, Mary started swimming again, only to start sinking again shortly afterward. She was going under when she heard all those voices shouting to her, “Mary, drop the rock! Let go and drop the rock.”

Mary was vaguely aware of something around her neck, but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Once more, she gathered her strength and started swimming. She was doing quite well, even gaining a little on the boat, but then she felt this heaviness pulling her under again. She saw all those people on the boat holding out their hands and hollering for her to keep swimming and shouting, “Don’t be an idiot, Mary! Drop the rock!”

Then she understood when she was going down for the third time: This thing around her neck, this was why she kept sinking when she really wanted to catch the boat. This thing was the “rock” they were all shouting about: resentments, fear, dishonesty, self-pity, intolerance, and anger were just some of the things her “rock” was made of. “God help me get rid of the rock,” she prayed. “Now! Get rid of it!”

Mary managed to stay afloat long enough to untangle a few of the strings holding that rock around her neck, realizing as she did that her load was easing up. Then, with another burst of energy, she let go. She tore the other strings off and dropped the rock.

Once free of the rock, she was amazed how easy it was to swim, and she soon caught up with the boat. Those on board were cheering for her and applauding and telling her how great she was, and how it was so good having her with them again, and how now they could get on with the boat ride and have a nice time.

Mary felt great and was just about to indulge in a little rest and relaxation when she glanced back to shore. There, a ways back, she thought she saw something bobbing in the water so she pointed it out to some others. Sure enough, someone was trying to catch the boat, swimming for dear life but not making much headway. In fact, it looked like the person was going under.

Mary looked around and saw the concern on the faces of the other members. She was the first to lean over the rail and shout, “Hey, friend! Drop the Rock!”


THIS STORY WAS TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM BILL P’S CLASSIC – DROP THE ROCK: REMOVING CHARACTER DEFECTS- STEP SIX AND SEVEN.


As this story beautifully demonstrates, without humility – which I have identified as the mental assent to the necessity of having healthy relationships in our lives – we have a life rife with resentments, fear, dishonesty, self-pity, intolerance, and anger.

Of consequence, we can’t keep our head above the water.

Sure, you probably thought as I did that you were drowning in the booze not a bunch of unhealthy character traits that separated you from other people.

But no!

Booze was a temporary life raft actually keeping you afloat!

We used booze to cope and connect but now this is no longer an option (see my article on surrender).

You need to admit that the rum raft deflated and sank long ago. 

7 step aa

A Deeper Dive Into Humility

“Humility Is Not Thinking Less Of Yourself, It’s Thinking Of Yourself Less.”
– Rick Warren

If you’re anything like me you assumed humility meant humiliation. But now, after digesting the definition above, you’re most likely assuming it means one who is apathetic or indifferent towards his life.

At least that’s the way I initially interpreted it. 

Yet, both perspectives are glossed over with self-absorption.

And that, my friends, is the total opposite of humility. 

It’s important to note that the word has strict intent, to capture an idea that is above all things selfless. Recall, in the prior steps, I noted that a Higher Power is conceptual (though not limited to that), and just like the concept of selflessness – which is the core of humility – is an idea we seek to embody with our actions and experiences.


For a quick review check out:


To illustrate, consider a child playing mommy with her baby doll. She’s not simply trying to mimic what she sees her actual mother doing. Instead, the process is far more sophisticated.

The child has an idea, that is, a concept of what a mother is. She then seeks to embody that concept in her actions. It’s extraordinary to observe. 

How does this relate?

If humility is the complete opposite of self-centeredness, then it logically follows that it is better understood as people-centeredness. 

This is the concept we will commit to and seek to embody in our actions. When we “humble ask God to remove our shortcomings” we are applying the same principle of Step One to every other area of our life. 

Namely, if a Higher Power can remove our obsession to use, He could certainly remove our defects of character that created the obsession in the first place. So, one of the first places we start our “reconnection process” is connecting with God (Steps 1-3) than with true selves (Step 4-7), and finally with others (Steps 8-9). Of course, Steps 10-12 are the daily applications for sustained connection.

I know what you’re thinking, “so we are admitting defeat again!” 

But I would challenge that word defeat. 

If you’re driving to Utah but your GPS brings you to Northern California, it’s time for a new GPS. Sure, you could pity yourself for being the operator of a malfunctioning GPS, or you can humbly recognize it’s a malfunction and pick up a tried, tested, and proven GPS to get you to your destination. 

It’s your call.

What Humility Is Not

Individuals often equate humility with weakness and groveling. This is why that concept of “the admission of defeat” tends to cause demoralization.

But it’s absolute nonsense.

Who can find wisdom without first seeking to acquire it?

Who can become knowledgeable without first admitting they do not know?

Growth demands some form of assistance or help (think of a parent, mentor, teacher, etc.) but who can get help without first realizing they need it?

The minute your lips start the stagnant “I know” mantra you cease to know any more information.

Call it complacency; call it what you will. But you have, for all intents and purposes, become a finished story. Fresh off the lot already depreciating in value.

What Humility Is

We are a social species and thrive in an interdependent state.

Thrive being that keyword!

I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it as many times as necessary. Repetition makes the master, right? Interdependence is the necessary condition for emotional fulfillment. You overlook this state of consciousness at your peril.

Interdependence Defined

I defined interdependence as having two focal points: involvement and contribution. 

If you’re contributing but do not get involved you’re attempting independence. 

If you’re involved but not contributing you’re demonstrating dependence. 

Interdependence, however, requires both. 

Imperfect people – an adequate description of every human being on the planet, require interdependence to thrive (emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually). 

Sure, dependence and independence may allow you to survive. But they’ll never permit you to thrive. You’ll never be able to spring from that restless, irritable, and discontented trap.


The Survive/Thrive Dynamic I borrowed from the book Mindsight by Dan Siegel. This is an excellent resource to have in your corner. The ideas this gentleman comes up with are radical. His model is called Interpersonal Neurobiology and studies the implications of healthy relationships fostering healthy brains.


How To Thrive 

When we living predominately self-centered lives (dependent and independent), like ravenous wolves we seek resources to consume.

It’s obvious why, particularly when you observe that in this state we are “driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.”

Life starts closing in on us – it’s survival mode.

Bill W. argues this is due to self-centered fear, which is the fear of losing what you have or not getting what you need. 

This type of fear generates a very competitive attitude. It pushes the need to out-think, out-perform, and out-maneuver everyone, or else… 

You know, the early bird gets the worm and the second mouse gets the cheese, you always have to be vigilant and play the cards right or all hell will break loose. 

At least this is how it feels emotionally.

The interdependent person seeks to contribute resources within the confines of a relationship. See that shift? Rather than consume resources, we contribute them.

The scarcity worldview (there isn’t enough to go around) simply will not work for us – this is emotional fulfillment in isolation, we are back to the cheese grater again!

We we live interdependently it’s largely from an abundance worldview. 

The difference is vast.

The reason the abundance is possible is due to the give and take enterprise of interdependence. Collectively we aim to meet each other’s needs by giving. Therefore in giving we receive. 

“In order to keep it, you have to give it away.”
-Anonymous

Don’t forget, keep it simple and straightforward. 

Our culture as a way of complicating, contorting, and twisting things up into knots. Let’s not make this more than it is.

For example, in western society, we often define contribution in unattainable terms, as if you need to be a philanthropist donating billions to the underprivileged, but it can be as simple as contributing an attentive ear to truly listen to another.

A rare resource indeed!

Consequently, interdependence is a mutually reliant system; that is, WE ALL RELY ON EACH OTHER.

Humility is simply surrendering to this fact. Make sense, no?  


I took this concept of Interdependence directly from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
==>I also wrote a summary of it here with my own little spin on it.


To illustrate, consider the Four Greek Temperaments of Hippocrates.

  • The Choleric
  • The Sanguine
  • The Phlegmatic
  • The Melancholic

The Choleric is the leader; he’ll build the city but left to his own devices will drive it to tatters and ruin.

The Phlegmatic is orderly, routine-oriented and analytic, he is able to curb the Choleric chaos. As you can imagine, the relationship between the two is filled with strife and animosity.

Thus enter stage left: the Sanguine. This is the social aristocrat. His social event planning and never failing amiability is able to reduce the Choleric-Phlegmatic division and create a productive level of cohesion.

The Melancholic is the artist; the administrator of passion, without who life would be listless.


This particular understanding of Four Temperaments was taken directly from Tim LaHaye’s book Spirit Controlled Temperament.


See how this demonstrates that each individual is a necessary component to the whole? 

We all have strengths and weaknesses and community is how those differences synergize to produce flourishing.

Though the above description is extraordinarily limited and brief, it nonetheless gets the point across that each temperament is indispensable to a functioning civilization (be it a kingdom, small community, or family).

With this in mind, here is my definition of humility: the realistic assessment of one’s strengths and shortcomings and the realization that another will compensate for the lack and vice versa.

Total self-sufficiency therefore an illusion and humility is the application of this truth. Indeed, the only way to invest in yourself is by investing in others.

I’m not arguing for some form of communism, so let’s clear that up. Step 7 is not about the economic state of affairs. 

It’s about an individual state of consciousness. 

Just because we live interdependently does not mean others will. It’s a mindset, a level of a conscious, and a lifestyle. 

However, it’s that lifestyle that will enable you to stop simply surviving and start thriving.

Small wonder our predecessors called this virtue “humus.” A Latin word which defines the rich, compost soil – the best for producing and sustaining life; and without a shadow of a doubt the best for cultivating prosperity.

Character Building

Character: moral excellence and firmness.

Moving beyond our individual appetites to considering others within the community is a shocking change from active addiction. It’s an alien lifestyle and breaking free from that “survival mode” may feel like imminent death. 

Don’t worry. You’ll survive. 

That doesn’t mean it isn’t inconvenient. Uncomfortable. Awkward. Terrifying. Amongst other things. 

But this is the process of character building.

You’re not going to be perfectly interdependent overnight, putting others’ needs before your own will likely feel like suicide rather than a virtue (I apologize that I’m not very encouraging but I want to be real with you.)

Bill Wilson wasn’t shy on this matter, we must start moving in this direction. 

He wrote,

“We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living. Quite characteristically, we had gone all out in confusing the ends with the means. Instead of regarding the satisfaction of our material desires as the means by which we could live and function as human beings, we had taken these satisfactions to be the final end and aim of life.

True, most of us thought good character was desirable,but obviously good character was something one needed to get on with the business of being self-satisfied. With a proper display of honesty and morality, we’d stand a better chance of getting what we really wanted. But whenever we had to choose between character and comfort, the character-building was lost in the dust of our chase after what we thought was happiness. Seldom did we look at character-building as something desirable in itself, something we would like to strive for whether our instinctual needs were met or not. We never thought of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.

So it is that we first see humility as a necessity. But this is the barest beginning. To get completely away from our aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit, to be willing to work for humility as something to be desired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time. A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once. Rebellion dogs our every step at first.


The above quotations were taken directly from The Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions. You can read my summary here


With this in mind, the Big Book provides a prayer to solidify the deal, to ignite that which we are trying to accomplish. Observe how the prayer encapsulates the concept of interdependence. 

7th Step Prayer

If this was spoken not just from the lips but from the heart you’re ready for Step 8. 

What better place to start building an interdependent lifestyle than by amending relationships dissolved and strained by the self-centered quagmire. 

Let’s do it!

aa step five

A good portion of this article was taken from a previous article I had written titled, Signs Of Humility: Temperament & The Social Machine

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