AA Meeting, Part 2

Support group small.jpg


Last week when we left, Jason rose to speak, “William is right. I do have something I want to share with you. This is new to me. And it is scary for me. I am trusting all of you. I want to share something that no one except Andy knows. And even though we are best friends, he didn’t know this secret until this afternoon.”  Choosing to believe all William had said, I continued. “For over 5 years I have been involved in an innocent activity that has become a destructive behavior. I thought I could control it, but I can’t. Now it has spilled over into almost every area of my life and is gradually ruining me.”  I surveyed each face. There were nods of understanding. Smiles of encouragement. Looks of compassion and reassurance. This was the moment. I decided now was the time and this was place to “come clean.”  To be continued 

I collected my thoughts, took a deep breath and began. “Five years ago, I joined an organization that was legit, mainstream, offered economic benefits, and safe. Even with that impeccable reputation I performed my due diligence and scrutinized the group. Everything checked out. The group had 25,000,000 paying members and they appeared delighted with their experience. Virtually every online review of the group was a 5-star rating. The most frequent criticism people posted was, ‘I regret not becoming a member sooner.’  So, I made the decision to become an Amazon Prime (AP) member.”  

At this point I paused and took a second to study the 9 pairs of eyes that were fixated on me.  They seemed disappointed or perhaps confused by my confession. In retrospect I now understand their reaction. They anticipated something more notorious, more shocking, more scandalous. For the first time in my life I wished I was involved in a criminal activity, sexual promiscuity, stealing, gambling, drinking or some other ‘sin;’ compared to that list, my transgression was petty. At that moment I wanted to be able to ‘confess’ any bad behavior that was out of control.  William Brawley, “Wild Bill,” who I assumed got that name by participating in an activity more disgraceful than AP membership, came to my rescue.  “Jason, I think my friends are surprised by your confession.  I am not sure what they anticipated, but I am guessing it was something a bit darker than being an Amazon Prime ‘cardholder.’  Let me suggest you take the time you need to explain yourself to us.” 

“Thank you for that and for your patience,” I gratefully replied. Addressing the group I continued, “I recognize this iniquity of mine appears trivial, rather mild--even harmless to you; but I stand here pleading with you to please understand that AP is threatening not only my life but also the lives of millions of people across the country. And that although the threat is seemingly innocent, it is real.  Consequently, many of the 100,000,000 current AP members do not even begin to comprehend the danger they are in.” As I did a visional survey of my “audience” I detected that something in that statement connected with them and caused then to reengage. That, in turn, caused me to feel reinforced.  

“So, what is this risk? It is obvious, at least in my case, AP membership does mean I will buy more items and therefore spend more money than I might otherwise.  That is the economic disadvantage. But I am referring to two far greater dangers posed by AP.

The first is the, ‘Buy now with 1-click.’ feature. Amazon is the uncontested leader in making transactions fast, easy, simple and hassle free. It is literally 1-click. Identify the item(s) you want and click. You proceed to checkout and click. Within 10 seconds, the confirmation of the order hits your email inbox.  Then just sit back and wait. The package will be in your hands by 8:00 pm in a day or two.  

Here’s a comparison: Yesterday I found a show that I thought Beth, my wife, would enjoy. It seemed like a wonderful idea for a surprise ‘date night’.  So, I logged on to the theater’s website to place my order. I explored the seating chart posted for the event.  I found the perfect seats and they were designated ‘available’.  I clicked purchasewhich began the excruciating process of answering a long but necessary series of questions. With the questions completed I pressed SUBMIT. What appeared next on the screen was a return to the first page of questions. The information requested was entirely blank requiring me to again complete 3 pages of data requests. I understand this an essential step, so I was frustrated but determined to be patient.  With the questions answered a second time I pressed SUBMIT.  This submission produced the same result, back to the first page. Given my level of technical expertise, I assumed ‘operator error’ was the cause of this situation, but that didn’t reduce the tension I felt. My frustration was quickly rising. I decided that was enough aggravation for me.  I decided to arrange a different ‘date night.’ Interestingly, the previous week the exact same thing happened to me when I struggled to purchase a shirt from a NAS (Non-Amazon Site). Here’s my point. It is not that AP has made ordering easy, though they have. The main idea is that the technical process of online ordering is complicated, but AP has succeeded in making the complex simple. Bravo to them and good news for me. I enjoy the service and use it frequently. Here’s the hazard: Because of this ease of ordering I have developed unrealistic expectations not only when I attempt an online order, but elsewhere. Over time I began to assume my life will become 1-click simple. I gradually began to expect these same easy, simple, hassle free solutions in my relational contacts as well. If I have a problem with my boss, there must be a 1-click solution.  When life with my spouse becomes difficult, 1-click solution.  The excruciatingly slow checkout line at the grocery store? 1-click solution.  Difficulties in relations with my kids, my neighbors, my coworkers, the people at work, the people at the gym, or the people at church…...no problem 1-click solution.

But, lasting genuine 1-click answers are rare. Most situations don’t lend themselves to 1-click solutions.”  I quickly became self-conscience. I paused, fearing I had spoken too long or shared too much so I said, “That’s enough for now.  Perhaps I will have the opportunity to share more with you another time.”  With real gusto William jumped to his feet almost shouting, “No Jason! I think I speak for the group when I urge you to continue.” For guidance I turned and looked to the one familiar face in the room. Somebody I knew and trusted, Andy. He nodded, effectively seconding “Wild Bill’s” comment. Others also bobbed their heads up and down in agreement. I determined the group agreed I should continue.  

“Ok then just a little bit more. Here is the second way Amazon Prime is ruining my life and threatening the well-being of its members. Again, it seems harmless, even helpful, but it is alarming.  The ‘The Jason’s Amazon’ tool which appears each time I visit the Amazon site.  Each Amazon Prime member is offered daily updated recommendations for their consideration. At first, I found this to be a valuable, efficient, and effective tool. I was amazed the suggestions provided to me were right on the target.  I was astounded how often AP’s proposed titles were books I already owned. These suggestions are based on my past searches and purchases. Checking my customized list became a daily routine. I found myself irresistibly drawn to what AP thought I should be reading. One day it occurred to me that my thoughts and attitudes on issues were not being shaped or challenged but were instead simply being continually confirmed. I have since learned there is a technical term for this.  Experts call this ‘confirmation bias.’ Sorry if I am turning this into a lecture. I realize none of you want a dry, or worse yet, pointless academic homily.  Bear with me; this is important. There is a payoff here so hang with me. The text book definition of confirmation biasis ‘the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexistingbeliefs or hypotheses.’ All the supposedly new information we think we are gathering isn’t new at all. The collected data is screaming “Amen” to the thoughts and ideas we already hold. The result is we never encounter or interact with differing views. This all plays into our normal tendencies which are to believe we are right and to be drawn to those who agree with us.  My friends and I pass around the same books, we listen to the same speakers, we end up spending time with like-minded, no – identicallyminded people.  People who often look and sound like us. Republicans with Republicans, Fox News people with Fox News people, middle class with middle class, evangelicals with evangelicals and so on. We stay within the safety of our ‘tribe.’” Sensing I am “on a roll” I asked, “Should I keep going?” I heard the group in chorus cry. “Yes, keep going!”

So on I went. “This too becomes a slippery slope. Since my thinking is never seriously tested, I become convinced I must be right. Therefore, I am steadfast, unyielding and inflexible; certain that these opinions are true and absolute. Consequently, if I ever am pressed to explain or defend my positions my ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in. If you disagree with me there must be something wrong with you, not just your ideas, but you the person.  I dig in. I attack. This produces a setting that makes dialogue and communication nearly impossible. We never engaged in conversation. Instead we conduct sequential monologues, never bothering to understand or listen to one another. As you speak I am preparing my next profound utterance. The result is a culture like the one we are living in today. A hostile, combative, environment that is closed to any reasonable argument that might contest my infallible stance. Is this an overreaction? I don’t think so. Words are exchanged but ideas are never exchanged.  Todays accepted norm for behavior is, ‘He who shouts the loudest and longest wins.’ I’m sorry.  That is enough.  Thank you for indulging me.  If I’m still welcomed I will join you for the meeting next week.” 

William thanked me, complimented my candor and extend me an invitation to “the meeting a week from tonight.”  That completed, he declared the meeting adjourned. 

Everyone was subdued. Little discussion was traded; just pleasant goodbyes.  I followed Andy to the car.  “I will take you back and you can get your car.” It was then I remembered that in our determination to be on time I had left my car at the coffee shop.  Much like our drive to the Brawley’s home, the return trip had little chat.  Andy pulled up next to my car and he said, “I know that wasn’t what you had planned for the night, but I appreciate your vulnerability.  Jason, that was a lot for me too. You gave us all something to think about.  See you next week.” 

“Talk” again soon. 

Kyle Aulerich