Understanding "Social Wellness"

As seen through the lens of Step Seven in Eight Wisdom Traditions

What is social wellness? As I often do when confronted with a puzzling enigma; I first researched the definition—and was surprised by what I found. The adjective social means, "of or relating to society or its organization." While the meaning here is clear, it was the example given that grabbed my attention: "Alcoholism is recognized as a major social problem."

Even though I come from a family affected by alcoholism, it is not something that would quickly come to mind as a typical example of "social." Organizationally, however, it could lead me to think about Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Step groups as communities or groups of people who come together with and for a common purpose.

Next, I researched wellness, which is defined as, "the state or condition of being in good physical or mental health." So, if one were to tie these two words together, social wellness, it could, in fact, be described as an organization committed to maintaining a state of mental and physical health—which leads us right through the doors of a Twelve Step meeting.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to reframe social wellness as individual wellness. If we, as individuals, are living with healthy, well, emotional psyches then we can only contribute wellness to the "social" organizations in which we relate to others: families, workplaces, places of worship, communities, clubs and social organizations, etc.

So what is the yardstick that measures how well we are doing; how well is our being? Those of us who rely on the Twelve Steps as a guide for daily living know that inventories are invaluable tools by which we can assess how we're doing and what we need to do next to get back on track when we lose our balance. In the seventh month of the year, it's a good time to reflect on Step Seven.

Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

  • Principle: Humility
    This step is a humble recognition of one's own shortcomings and limitations and a firm commitment to change them in order to increase one's sense of worthiness as an individual.
  • Definition:
    Freedom from pride and arrogance; a modest estimate of one's own self-worth; an act of submission

When we look closely at this Step, its underlying principle, and definition we learn that in order to work the Step we need to humble ourselves by examining our shortcomings and character defects, and paradoxically, in doing so we will grow and strengthen through the honest, humble assessment of ourselves. This process creates openness for us to scrutinize our beliefs, attitudes, and values, which is the first step in the process of transformation.

Mandala of Religious beliefs and principles

My Twelve Step work began almost 20 years ago at Hazelden Springbrook in Newberg, Oregon, where I was a counselor and supervisor of the men's treatment program. My experience there was grounded in the Minnesota Model of Twelve Step treatment where I experienced the transformative power of the Steps. This led me to an interfaith seminary in New York where I studied the major faith traditions. Upon ordination I began doctoral work to discover the underlying principles of the steps in each of the eight major faith/wisdom traditions and created an interactive website that provides a way to interactively work the Twelve Steps in each of the major wisdom traditions.

What I am sharing with you today is embedded in the research of the faith traditions, which provide the wisdom and proof, if you will, of why these universally-grounded steps yield proven personal transformation time and time again throughout the world for those who seek their truth and follow their practices.

Humility is the underlying principle of Step Seven. Humility and humus, share the same root derivation—ground, soil or earth. We turn to Islam to help us understand humility in its spiritual context. The word "Islam" means surrender which is at the heart of this tradition—surrender to Allah. Muslims are called to prayer five times daily. They bow prostrate facing Mecca and chant the Dhikr, a long invocation of the names of God. The reason for bowing and prostrating is to surrender the ego—to lower it to the plane of the earth (the ground), which is an externalized act acknowledging the supremacy of Allah and the resultant humility or humbleness of humans in his Presence. Cosmology reminds us that we are one with Earth; we plant, harvest and eat the products of Earth and when we die, we compost into Earth again.

In Native American spirituality, humility is defined as an attitude required in making a fresh start. It helps us face life with a beginner's mind, which is also a characteristic valued in Buddhism. Buddhism and Taoism emphasize the value of having balance in one's life and being balanced in our lifestyle. The law of karma reveals that when there is an excessive force it will be counterbalanced by its opposite. Hence, a prideful ego sets us up for a fall, which prevents others and us from benefiting from appreciation and gratitude for what we have.


This Step relates to Right View. Right view develops in stages. Our habitual views are challenged. We come to appreciate that some of our views are wrong and we modify our actions (karma) accordingly. More wholesome actions bring stability of mind, which inclines us toward reflection and meditation, which in turn deepens our understanding and clarity.


This step is based on humility, because at the core of this practice, is the realization that we can't do it alone. We need the support of others who understand. We need a path of practices like the Twelve Steps or the Ten Commandments, and we need to know that the strength we require comes from the indwelling Presence of God. Our personal transformation will only happen if we learn to ask for help: from others, and from God through the words and intentions of our prayers. Through prayer we ask for our needs, for the highest and best good for all concerned, and we express gratitude for these and all the gifts we have received from His bounty and grace.


People need to hear revealed truth and be taught the meaning of the truth by a guru so they can gain understanding in order to reach Enlightenment. A compassionate wise teacher must remove the blindfolds of delusion that keep a person imprisoned in the body.


The body of Islamic law as a whole is known as Shari' a, which means path. According to Islam this is a divinely appointed path explicitly laid out for humanity to follow in order to reach salvation. It has two primary sources, the Qur'an and the Sunna. The Sunna is significant because it teaches Muslims how Muhammad acted during his life. The Sunna addresses ways of life dealing with friends, family, and government.


Humility is one of Judaism's precepts. How can we not be humbled by God's awesome presence? Jews cover their heads to constantly remind themselves there is a greater Power. We bow the head and bend the knee in prayer to remind ourselves that we are not in control. To be humble is to speak from the strength of one's limitations.

Native American Spirituality

Self-knowledge comes from the inventories and lists made while facing south. Our allies are the sobriety Elders and the Red Road brothers and sisters we've been sitting with in sobriety and healing circles. And, we are also walking each day with our Creator. Humility is an attitude that will help us start fresh in everything we do. It helps us face life with a beginner's or learner's mind. One of the tools to help us is writing and repeating affirmations.


The verses of the Tao Te Ching help us view our lives through the filter of balance, which is a fundamental principle of the Tao. It helps us understand when enough is sufficient and that within the natural order there is enough. Excess upsets the balance. Our own excesses upset the balance in our lives. A prideful ego sets us up for a fall, which is the natural consequence of this excessive behavior when it pushes out the appreciation and acclamation of others and their efforts and contributions. If we live our lives humbly, we know how much is enough, when to stop and when to let go. In living our lives mindfully, we can find joy in any moment.

In surveying this step through the lens of the wisdom traditions we learn it is so much more than asking to have our shortcomings removed. It explains what is ours to do. It involves developing Right View (or thinking), following a chosen path, remembering our connection to Earth, seeking the Truth, being faithful to spiritual practices that cultivate humility, and seeking balance as a design for living.

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