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June 1994

Three Frogs on a Log

Leading a discussion meeting one day, a member of my home group used a vivid example to clarify Step Three. Mike explained that he had had trouble with that Step until his sponsor gave him a simple illustration:

"Three frogs are sitting on a log. One of them makes a decision to jump into the water. How many are left?"

"Two," Mike responded.

"No," his sponsor explained. "The frog didn't jump; it only made a decision to do so. The actual jumping, if any, took place later. So there are still three frogs on the log."

Mike then explained how his sponsor tied this to Step Three. When an alcoholic makes a decision to turn his will and his life over to the care of God, this isn't accomplished immediately. It's by working the remainder of the Steps, Four through Twelve, that alcoholics make good on that decision. The process of applying the rest of the Steps rids us of the bondage of self and brings us more and more under God's will and care.

One reason I like to hear Mike give the frog analogy is that he accepted it far more sensibly and practically than I did when I first heard it.

It was thirty years ago in Los Angeles, and I was newly sober. The speaker at my home group had been sober twenty years. That meant he was among the first alcoholics in that city to stay sober in AA when there were very few successfully sober men and women.

When he told the frog example, I could hardly wait until the meeting was over so I could explain to him that his story was unscientific. (I am more embarrassed to admit this than to admit some of my drinking behavior.)

"You were wrong about three frogs being left on the log," I began. "In all probability, there would be no frogs left."

The speaker's eyes widened. At the time I thought it was in astonishment at my knowledge of frog psychology.

"Here's why," I continued. "A frog's brain is not complex enough to make a tentative decision. Its primitive brain is unable to hold alternative courses of action in store for future use the way human beings can. Frogs act on instinct and impulse. If a shadow passes overhead, it may well be a hawk. So the frog jumps. If something in the water looks good to eat the frog jumps. And the other frogs reflexively jump to be safe or to get in on the meal. Result, zero frogs on the log!"

The veteran AA looked at me, then turned and walked off, shaking his head.

What I didn't realize until several years later was this: while it's true that analytical frogs won't survive, the same thing is true of analytical alcoholics.

Like most newly sober alcoholics, I made the mistake of analyzing the wrong things. The old-timer was too polite to tell me that if I kept up that kind of pseudo-analytical thinking I could drink again. That I stayed sober wasn't due to my efforts but to my Higher Power and the patient, dedicated men and women of my home group.

Back in ancient Greece, when Aesop was telling his fables, there was probably an over-informed, literal-minded egotist in the crowd. I can hear him explain to Aesop that a cow couldn't talk to the dog in the manger, and if a cow did speak it would do so in cow language which the dog couldn't understand. The dog, therefore, wouldn't be morally enhanced by the cow's sermon.

In my mind's eye, I can see Aesop listening, then turning away speechless from the man who was too bloated with facts to absorb wisdom.

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