In recovery we are often examining ourselves and that is a good thing. It is not unlike going to confession and starting anew with a clean slate. One of the concomitant effects of such an exercise should be “tolerance”. Tolerance for my own mistakes and behaviors as well as tolerance of others. Certainly connected with working on tolerance is the virtue of patience. We learn this slowly! And the results may sometimes surprise even us.
I believe that working on tolerance and patience is part of our twelfth step. If I am sincere in my efforts for self-correction, I am rather naturally drawn to help others if for no other reason to show my sincerity to “get better”. What happens may be startling.
It was the German philosopher von Goethe who said “treat people the way they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of being.” Consider a moving example of this story:
“Joseph Lahey was an 11-year-old boy with a deformed back. It didn’t look so bad when his shirt was on. But when he took off his shirt, it looked ugly. Joe hated his back.
Now Joe stood in line in a boarding school waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He dreaded the moment when he’d step into the examination room and the doctor would say, ‘take off your robe.’ Finally, the time came.
As he tried to untie his bathrobe, Joe’s hands trembled uncontrollably.
Finishing some notes at his desk, the doctor saw this. He put his pencil down, walked around the desk, cupped Joe’s face in his big hands and said to him, ‘Son, do you believe in God? Yes, sir, said Joe. Good said the doctor. If you believe in God and focus on the best in yourself, nothing can defeat you. Northing! Do you believe that? Yes, Sir, said Joe. Good said the doctor, putting his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
Then the doctor returned to the other side of the desk, sat down, and wrote a brief note on a printed form. When he finished, he put his pencil down and said to Joe, Son, I’ve got to leave for a minute. Put on your robe and I’ll be back shortly.
As Joe waited for the doctor to return, he eyed the chart, wondering what the doctor wrote down about his ugly back. Bracing himself for the worst, he edged up to the desk to peek at the chart.
Under a space entitled ‘Outstanding physical characteristics,’ the doctor had written just five words: “Has an unusually well-shaped head.’ Joe could not believe his eyes. The doctor had not written a single word about his back.
When the doctor returned, he smiled knowingly at Joe, finished the exam, said with a warm smile: “Okay, son, you’re in good health. Send in the next boy—and don’t forget what I told you.’
Years later, Joe said of that episode,
‘I never forgot the lesson that doctor taught me that day. He was so right. If you believe in God and focus on the best in yourself, nothing can defeat you.”
– Retold from “The Day I Stopped Feeling Ashamed” by Joseph Lahey
And so we too can learn how to treat others.
Dick Hittle, SJ