The Intimidation of a Guru Mentality

By Ken Wells - 06/26/2020


“We are the leaders we have been looking and waiting for”— Grace Lee Boggs-Detroit

Grace Lee wrote this in the last book of her life, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century when she was 98. The content of her book expressed challenge, conviction and an implemented visionary action plan that brought forth a phoenix of hope from the ashes of industrialized ruins in her Detroit community. She was a brilliant mind who lived a simple life with a philosophical approach to inspire those who were intimidated by the bourgeoisie of her community. She refused to be idolized. As an intellectual leader, guiding light and tutor, she was a guru. From the perspective of an idealized sacrosanct luminary she was not. She was not one to put others on a pedestal. There is a common mentality today to pedestalize anyone who is an inspired teacher, leader or achiever. Today we like to say he/she is the “greatest on the planet” regarding whatever the expertise we are wanting to laud. Such an odd thing to say. Most people cannot even identify all the countries on our planet, let alone what experts are doing in those countries to ever come close to validate such a far reaching statement. Yet, we like to lionize personalities and embellish accomplishments.

I remember when one of my sons who played college baseball would tell me all the trash and intimidation talk that was engaged in the dugout during practice. It was all about sexual exploits that often never happened, how much alcohol so and so could drink and then how fast an opposing pitcher could throw a baseball. There would be this talk about how some pitcher they played against would dominate everyone they faced. There seems to be a human need for fable and folklore in the presence of frailty and failure.

This certainly is true in recovery circles. When you go to twelve step meetings there is often the lore about one of the old timers who attends the group who knows all the recovery shibboleths and black and white answers that everyone looks to and references as the perceived “guru” of the group. At the coffee pot you might hear things like “I wonder what old so and so would say if he heard that crock of shit”. The recovery guru is made up to be the standard bearer that in time no one can really emulate because he/she becomes idolized and put on a pedestal.

I am now old enough to be one of those old geezers in recovery. I have been working the 12 steps for 30 years now. So I have long term sobriety. I know professionals like me in the recovery field and others who are not professionals but who have been attending 12 step meetings as long as I have. I have never met a “guru” in the world of recovery or any other aspect of life that deserves to be put on a pedestal. I would assure you that if you knew the weaknesses in my life, that at some point I would disappoint you and you would figure out that I would not belong on a pedestal. This will be true of any “guru” you have ever heard about.

To some degree, I believe that there is a tendency for many to make a kind of guru out of people in life in order to escape the responsibility of fulfilling one’s own destiny, whether that be sobriety or any other achievement. It can be easier to look to others and embellish who they are or what they have achieved than to lean into our own insecurity and doubt and create what we need to do to experience sobriety and deepen serenity in life.

When people are dominated by their own fears and insecurity there is a tendency to strike out with judgments and categorizations that are not accurate. Certainly, prejudice, xenophobia and biases come from this place in our hearts. We also idealize others and surrender to intimidation from this place.

I have attended countless 12 step meetings. There are times that I have observed “newbies” with a gazed look in meetings signaling “there is no way in hell I could possibly live a sober life”. They look and act intimidated. This is par for the course. Intimidation is a feeling. In recovery and in other aspects of life, you learn to feel intimidated and do what’s necessary to remain sober anyway. People get stuck with intimidation when they need to designate a group guru. It has been my experience that “there ain’t no guru”— you’re it!

As a therapist, at times I have heard a client remark that they have gone to many support groups and different therapists and that they were willing to pay “boo-coo” bucks for the very best therapist in the world. This has always puzzled me as if somehow we know who the best therapist in the world is or if we pay more for therapy, we always get better. I respond with “why do you need the best therapist in the world, you’re not the best client— why not just go back and do what you wouldn’t do that the last person told you to do to become sober?”

Sometimes around me I hear other addicts complain that what they need is a “kick-ass” sponsor or a “kick-ass” therapist. There can be truth in this remark when we talk about building strong accountability. However, I have learned the value of being my own “kick ass” whatever, when needing to hold my feet to the fire of sobriety or any other desired behavior or accomplishment.

Guru is a beautiful word when referencing the concept of teaching. I learn from you and you learn from me. Even though I have been in recovery for 30 years, I gain important wisdom from “newbies”. When that stops, personal growth becomes stymied.

Sobriety is not rocket science. If you only knew my academic history, you would join me in saying thank God for that! What it does require is that each of us courageously face that which is intimidating and take the next right step no matter what. Folks who do this become their own guru. For me Grace Lee Boggs has always been right- we are the leaders we have been looking and waiting for.

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