A little while ago, AnnaZed turned me on to Mr. Sponsorpants, and we’ve been following him with some measured indulgence and ambivalence. Charmed, I guess. He is charming. And holycannoli can he write. Yeah, OK, I have a little bloggish crush on Mr. Sponsorpants. He breaks my fucking heart is what he does.

 He breaks my heart because he has the kind of moral sensibility (in John Gardner’s sense of the term) that allows him to really home in on human complexity, and gets it so well that he can make it funny and brilliant. And then, you know what he does with that? He reels it in, slays it, guts it, and leaves you with a nice clean slogan. It’s a crime.

 Mostly what breaks my heart is that, within the small scope that AA allows him, he can use this gift of moral observation only to run circles around those less gifted (here’s part two and part three of this story) of his fellow members. With great power comes great responsibility, and he is squandering it to play head games with himself and others.

 So, AZ reached her threshold with Mr. Sponsorpants when she read this recent post, and I agree with her: enough’s enough. He responds to a question from someone who is genuinely trying to get it right:

Dear Mr Sponsor Pants: 

I am writing you to ask for help in clearing up the difference between Accept and Tolerate. There are so many “extensions” of each, plus they seem so similar yet very different, I am not sure where to start. 

Accept vs Tolerate 
Acceptance vs Tolerance 
Acceptable vs Tolerable 
Unacceptable vs Intolerable 

Then I start to get into:

Accepting Intolerable Behavior 

or even

Tolerating Unacceptable Behavior 

Beyond this I am kind of stuck. It feels something like one is much healthier then [sic] the other. But I am not sure why or which is cleaner, or if both can be equally clean depending on how they are used. 




Well, this is just not something a person would fuss over, unless they were inhabiting an artificial sphere in which one is required to let go and let God. She clearly feels that her sobriety, and therefore her survival, depends upon how she parses these concepts of tolerance and acceptance. She wants to be healthy, and you have to “get it” to be healthy. This conundrum did not come flying out of her ass. She’s working with what she’s learned in AA.

If she’d asked this question in a meeting, of course the response would be exactly what the one commenter posted, “KEEP IT SIMPLE,” (yes, all caps) which, in this instance means, “Shut it!” Mr. Sponsorpants tells her the same thing, but with his own rhetorical flourish. Well, the beginning of his response is all about the rhetorical flourish, but we get to the heart of his answer at the end, when he says,

Finally, your pair of little triplets there, about “accepting intolerable behavior” and “tolerating unacceptable behavior” — for me, that’s just a word trick — logically the phrases are fine, but the larger meaning is moving away from the spiritual principle behind the ideas of acceptance and tolerance.  I’m not supposed to accept or tolerate abuse — and doing so, using the language of the Program to rationalize it, is about fear of confrontation, and has nothing to do with actual acceptance or tolerance in the spirit AA intends me to practice them (in my humble opinion).

Clearly you have an agile mind, and I salute your interest in learning more about how to better apply these ideas in your recovery.

But M, I think you think too much.  For me, when I’ve been able to practice sitting quietly and listening, I can hear the “still small voice” inside which is the best authority on what and when to accept and tolerate — or when not to.

Now, there’s no word trick involved in the difference between the “pair of little triplets,” as he dismisses them. They do mean very different things. “Accepting intolerable behavior” means acknowledging the fact that people do horrible things, but that does not preclude defiance. However, “tolerating unacceptable behavior” means the opposite. If you’re tolerating something, you’re not going to do anything about it. You’re living with it. Of course, you could say “accepting unacceptable behavior” or “tolerating intolerable behavior,” but the fact is that accepting and tolerating are not interchangeable.

Further, this goes into the heart of what it means to be an AA member who is subject to abuse from his or her group or sponsor or some 13th-stepping stalker. Do you accept that happens and “try another meeting” or do you tolerate it? Where exactly does “your part” end and someone else’s part start? In other words, how do you navigate the abuse while remaining true to the principles? What are they? Do you just suck it up when some AA predator follows you to your car after a meeting? Or do you move on? Say something at the next meeting? Or leave it, and look at your part? Is the coherence of the group more important than the sobriety and wellbeing of the individual member?

Mr. Sponsorpants is smart enough to know the difference, and to know the implications of the questions, but won’t acknowledge that the difference is more that a “word trick.” He denigrates his reader by giving her his version of “some of us are too smart,” (meaning that she’s pretty clever, but definitely no spiritual genius) and his version of “Let go and let God.”

He is correct in pointing out that, no matter how you understand these concepts, abuse is bad. But he also utterly dismisses M. out of hand, and does not acknowledge the validity of her question (compares it to WWF, tells her she thinks too much); he blows this off.

The reason it sucks so much to see an AA (and if calling yourself Mr. Sponsorpants isn’t billing yourself as an authority on AA, what is?) blow off a serious and valid question about AA from an AA, is that his writing in general makes it clear that he knows better, and that what he sees as his calling is nothing more than his using his enormous gift to undermine this very gift, and to use it undermine others.