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Bill W., General Service Conference, 1953
are standing on the threshold of maturity, although no one
can say in truth that we are really mature yet. This process
of maturing will of course go on as long as we last.
have been asked to speak on "The Milestones Ahead."
I dislike the role of a prophet, for I certainly am not
that; I have been mistaken too often. But I think that we
can take a look ahead to some extent. For example, we can
look at problems that occupy our immediate foreground. It
is plain to all of us that unless this society can develop
enough brotherhood and partnership amongst its members,
we shall someday fall into disunity and the basis of partnership
and brotherhood leads to greatly improved personal relations.
is true that the love of one drunk for another is wonderful
to behold. When the stranger is on the doorstep and we carry
our message to him, we dont think of personal reward
in any ordinary sense. He isnt going to pay us; he
may not even love us. We dont expect a thing except
the inner glow which one gets from having love in our hearts,
and from offering the right kind of love to a fellow human
being -- in our case, another drunk.
he turns us down, we say, well, there are plenty more drunks.
If he accepts our offer and carries it on, and we see no
more of him, we say, "Isnt that wonderful?"
If he returns to become our bosom friend, then we really
are joyful. But we realize that that joy, that gladness,
that satisfaction, are extra dividends of A.A. life. The
really sustaining thing is that we receive Gods love
just in proportion as we have love for others and try to
give that away. Thus in our Twelve Steps, there is an expression
of almost pure love, the kind of love that has no price
tag on it.
what happens, though, when we move away from the Twelfth
Step, and our relations with people became closer, including
the whole subject of domestic relations.
many of us are there now who can go home with the same kind
of love for a long-suffering wife that we have had down
at the club house for our alcoholic brother? Lots of us
can, but lots of us cant - not yet - because there
has been a profound distortion of family life due to our
drinking. There is a whole area of personal relationships,
which has not only to do with sobriety, but with emotional
sobriety. It has to do with the joy of living, and that
is an area in which there is a vast amount to be learned
and a vast amount to be done. Are we able "to carry
these principles into all our affairs?"
sometimes quarrel a great deal, not often about things that
matter too much, but there is a great deal of unnecessary
anger, ambition, pride, a tendency to dominate people, or
a tendency to cling to people. All the problems of personal
relationships, which have to do with an emotional sobriety,
a happy sobriety, are yet far from solution. When we have
moved on and made a great dent in those problems, we shall
have passed another milestone.
there is the problem of the complacent A.A. He comes in,
he does good work, his family is united, his family is happy,
his income is good, and he "assumes" that he is
"cured." He thinks hes done his bit for
A.A. Most of us know that this blissful state cant
last too long. At some point life is going to present him
with a great lump hes not prepared to swallow. So
he, and those who are coasting with him, might take another
look at our Twelve Steps - not just the First and the Twelfth,
but all those in between, and try hard to apply them in
all their affairs, and try harder to be more realistic about
also this matter of sponsoring new people. Since we have
grown large in numbers, the careful attention that we used
to give is perhaps sometimes denied new people. They come
into our larger meetings. They wander about. Our sponsorship
is still occasionally defective. We can do much about improving
it. We can remember the kind of chance that somebody gave
us, and the desire can again burn in us to give that next
fellow his chance, and not leave the job to somebody else.
be prudent is not necessarily to be fearful. Curiously enough,
this Society as a whole has never had a problem, which has
cut clear across it. The individual has been beset with
problems, and he has survived. So have Groups. So have areas.
But, A.A. as a whole has never been cut across by a great
problem or a great calamity. We are living in a world which
sometimes seems largely filled with nothing but problems
and calamities, and for all of these last seventeen or eighteen
years God has spared our fellowship anything that looks
like a big problem. This has permitted our reputation to
be made secure in the public mind. We are now prepared to
meet serious problems as they come, and it is not fearful
to say that such problems will undoubtedly come someday
to A.A. as a whole.
take one problem - not too serious - and let us try to think
how we would behave if it occurred. I know of an author
who is a humorist on the sarcastic side. Two or three years
ago he got material together for a funny book about A.A.
which would have roundly ridiculed us. The book was never
published, because he found too many of his old writing
cronies in A.A., and they discouraged him. But supposed
that he had published this book?
know what your first reaction would have been. It would
have been a reaction of great rage. "He cant
do this to us!" But, does that necessarily have to
be our reaction? When we are unfairly criticized, loudly
criticized at some time in the future, or actually attacked,
are we prepared to take such attacks in silence, and in
dignity, with no thought of retaliation? And if there is
any truth in such an attack, can we humbly say, "That
is so, this Society stands corrected."
the world is full of political divisions, warring philosophies,
warring nations. Supposing that those divisions cut deep
in this country sometimes, and our Society as such starts
to quarrel. Shall we find the wisdom and grace at such a
time to say, "No Traditionally, these are matters on
which A.A. s can never quarrel within the confines
of this Society. This is the sort of quarrel that can destroy
us, and the chance for sobriety and a new way of life for
all who might come."
we might one day have a religious division. I dont
believe we will, but we might. Much will depend on how we
shall act then. Much will depend on what this body, the
conscience of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole, says and
does at such a critical juncture.
- and this may seem strange - I think we are ready to meet
these problems. I think we can manage them, and I think
so because of what I see here before me. I see God, speaking
through the group conscience, in this room. I feel that
our guidance will be true and that the voice of Alcoholics
Anonymous will remain clear, that its conscience is now
so experienced and so well related to a Higher Power that
it can apprehend the right thing to do at the right time.
Despite all the perils of the road ahead, I know that you
share with me an utter confidence about our future.
is more temptation to which this movement may be subjected.
All around us men are commencing to say, "Why, this
A.A. thing is a lot more than a cure for drunks. Its
a way of life that could save civilization." Mr. Herbert
Hoover, several years ago, paused in the middle of a policy
talk and pointed to this Society as one whose spirit ought
to animate the whole world. A fellow from the United Nations
told me the other day that ideas he had drawn from the A.A.
tradition had transformed the whole status of relief work
in Greece. The week before, a man came in who is a very
noted philosopher in this country. He said to me, "Bill,
I began to sense that A.A. has a deeper destiny than just
sobering up drunks. It may be a spearhead of a new religious
first that sort of thing made me feel good. It made me feel
ambitious! I thought, well, now that were on the way
to sobering up all the drunks in the world, why not sober
up all the people in the world, emotionally speaking?
prudence intervened and said to me, as I know it must have
said to you, "These are things we should never say
about ourselves. The more we mind our own business, the
more we offer with success what we have to the next alcoholic,
the longer we shall last and the larger will be our usefulness,
even to the world outside."
you of this third General Service Conference, I say welcome,
and may God speak in your conscience. May your voice be
clear and true, and may the great service heart of Alcoholics
Anonymous, which beats in the center of this gathering continue
to beat for so long as God shall need us.