Letting Go Of Our Willfulness: Intolerance


Dr. Bob, one of the cofounders of AA, is reported to have said “It’s honesty that gets us sober, but tolerance that keeps us that way.”

Anyone in recovery from addictions knows how learning from total strangers can make them tolerant of others. In recovery groups they rub shoulders with people they would never have met beforehand. And they discover that everyone can make a contribution simply by sharing their struggles.

Intolerance, on the other hand, keeps us locked in a solitary world of denial. It closes our mind to anything that might challenge our addictive solutions. It makes us suspicious of anyone who wants to help us, it gives us doubts about their motives. All we are left with is our adamant refusal to entertain the suggestions of others.

Intolerance also has a corrupting influence on society at large. It segregates people from one another by intensifying their scorn for anyone different from them.

If we want to attain lasting sobriety and health, then we need to tolerate people who are different from us. We can begin to do this by listening for the voice of wisdom as it speaks through them. As we get on the same wavelength, as we enter into harmony with the healing forces in them, then gradually we will be able to detect the loving Source that inspires us all.


We have explored various kinds of willfulness to gain some insight into its power over us. In general, we can conclude that willfulness describes the way our egos attempt to perpetuate themselves. As much as we may try to impose our will upon the world around us, our efforts are bound to fail because they are based on the erroneous belief that we are separate from one another and from the world. Our egotistic, conceptual identity is artificial and willfully selfish. We need to shed the imaginary confinement of this mistaken identity and identify with the Source we all share in common.

It is willfulness that keeps us confined in a small identity with a narrow outlook. It contributes to our sense of separation from other people and especially from the Source of our awareness. For those of us who have struggled with addictions, willfulness is an obstacle to our recovery because it makes us think we can achieve sobriety on our own.

We cannot overcome willfulness by ourselves, we need help. This help can come to us through other people, but ultimately it comes from the Source within us all, the Source that gives us life and the ability to be of genuine service to others. When we set aside our imaginary egos and identify with the Source, then we will be healed by its love for us and able to convey its love to everyone open and willing to receive it.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.

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