I love paradoxes— at one level it is a puzzle at another level wisdom, it may be a truth where I cannot see it, or it may appear to be false. In AA, the Big Book has many paradoxes which if explained proves these to be true. Some of these are listed below.
In the story of The Professor And The Paradox from the second edition of the Big Book, we can see them explained:
- We SURRENDER TO WIN. On the face of it, surrendering certainly does not seem like winning. But it is in A.A. Only after we have come to the end of our rope, hit a stone wall in some aspect of our lives beyond which we can go no further; only when we hit “bottom” in despair and surrender, can we accomplish sobriety which we could never accomplish before. We must, and we do, surrender in order to win.
- We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. That seems absurd and untrue. How can you keep anything if you give it away? But in order to keep whatever it is we get in A.A., we must go about giving it away to others, for no fees or rewards of any kind. When we cannot afford to give away what we have received so freely in A.A., we had better get ready for our next “drunk.” It will happen every time. We’ve got to continue to give it away in order to keep it.
- We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape the terrible suffering of remorse and regret and shame and embarrassment which starts us on the road to getting well from our affliction. There is no new way to shake out a hangover. It’s painful. And for us, necessarily so. I told this to a friend of mine as he sat weaving to and fro on the side of the bed, in terrible shape, about to die for some paraldehyde. I said, “Lost John”—that’s his nickname—”Lost John, you know you’re going to have to do a certain amount of shaking sooner or later.” “Well,” he said, “for God’s sake let’s make it later!” We suffer to get well.
- We DIE TO LIVE. That is a beautiful paradox straight out of the Biblical idea of being “born again” or “in losing one’s life to find it.” When we work at our Twelve Steps, the old life of guzzling and fuzzy thinking, and all that goes with it, gradually dies, and we acquire a different and a better way of life. As our shortcomings are removed, one life of us dies, and another life of us lives. We in A.A. die to live.
To solve a paradox a few tools are required, an open-mindedness to the possibility it is true, and we look at the problem from different perspectives or viewpoints.
To illustrate this, I will use a simple statement. When are a circle and triangle the same shape? You may answer as it is the AA’s Recovery, Unity, and Service symbol. Yes, thank you, my friend Abbey for showing me that.
Take the shape of a cone. Move it around in your mind or hold it in your hand such as an ice cream cone. Hold it out to see the side, and you see the triangle, hold it out and turn it to see the top, it is a circle. So something like a cone can solve a simple paradox of two shapes being the same object. Plus you load it up with a few scoops, and you give a taste of a little heaven here on earth (another paradox).