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The Guidance of A.A.s World Affairs
Bill W., General Service Conference, 1965
on behalf of A.A.'s Board of Trustees, our devoted friend
and chairman, Dr. Jack Norris, has called upon us to face
a far reaching responsibility. Future A.A. historians will
no doubt record this occasion as a major turning-point in
the unfoldment of our well-loved Fellowship. This is because
we are now to reconsider, and perhaps to recast, the whole
nature and composition of A.A.s future world leadership.
As we meditate upon this long unresolved problem, it would
be well to recall that in the affairs of new societies and
of nations, the determination of their ultimate leadership
has ever been a matter of crucial importance. This is the
teaching of all human history.
Jack has specifically requested us of Alcoholics Anonymous-at
the level of our Board of Trustees-to assume the primary
role in the conduct of A.A.'s world affairs. He has presented
a detailed program for achieving this, a plan almost unanimously
recommended by his fellow Trustees. Should we adopt this
new concept in 1966, the chief responsibility for the guidance
of our world affairs would then be shifted from the nonalcoholics
of our present Board to the alcoholics of the new Board.
recast Board would then be composed of 14 A.A. Trustees
and 7 nonalcoholic trustees. Seven of the A.A. members would
be chosen from suitable areas of the U.S. and Canada on
the basis of their A.A. leadership qualifications. The remaining
7 A.A.s would be selected on the basis of their several
high standards of business, professional and administrative
skills. This would add up to a balanced board of 21 members,
in which the A.A.s would function in a majority of
2 to 1. That would compare with our present Board of 10
nonalcoholics and 9 A.A.s. The chief posts of the
new Board would be open to its A.A. members at any time
such a change might be desirable. For practical reasons
alone, the improved balance between the three classes of
Trustees should commend itself to us all.
the Trustees plan, as outlined by Dr. Jack, has far
greater implications than mere practicality: it carries
deep spiritual values, it is a call to the highest of A.A.s
responsibilities. In effect, it is also a declaration that
A.A. has now evolved to such a point of stability and competence
that it should no longer need to function under what has
been, since 1938, the symbol of protective custody by nonalcoholic
friends. As you know, the present structure was created
long ago-in a time when A.A. had but three Groups and only
is worth pausing here to recall why our General Service
Board was originally so constituted. For us of A.A., the
year 1938 was one of anguished uncertainty. There was no
proof that alcoholics could stay sober indefinitely. Nor
was there convincing evidence that we had the emotional
stability to look after ourselves, even though sober. Besides,
we had no public standing; people did not even know that
we existed. Then, too, how many distant A.A. Groups would
think of sending their money contributions to a board of
trustees composed wholly of New York alcoholics? This was
the climate of fear and indecision that darkly overcast
us in that early time.
it had already become clear that our infant society would
have to head up somewhere. At the top of our growing pyramid
of membership, there would need to be erected a beacon light
whose illumination might carry A.A.s message to those
who still suffered from alcoholism. Lest one day its radiance
be snuffed out by drinking relapses and irresponsibility,
we felt sure that we dare not tend this lighthouse all by
kind of certain protection we must have- but what protection?
The answer that we proposed in 1938 is now history. We requested
carefully chosen nonalcoholic friends to become a majority
of our projected trusteeship, and we agreed to make this
status legal. We further stipulated that, traditionally,
there should always be a nonalcoholic Chairman and likewise
a nonalcoholic Treasurer. Frankly admitting that A.A. would
absolutely have to have such a protectorate, we somberly
estimated that, should all the A.A. Trustees get drunk,
our Board could nevertheless continue to function by reason
of its nonalcoholic guardianship!
we can now smile at all these excessive fears and elaborate
precautions. During the past 27 years, only two A.A. Trustees
have been waylaid by alcohol. Meanwhile, our message has
been carried worldwide, and most effectively indeed. It
is probably no exaggeration to estimate that onehalf
of our present membership and much of our remarkable unity
has been due, in large measure, to the efforts of A.A. world
servants, both on the Board of Trustees, and in the General
course we have sometimes witnessed emotional storms; but
none more serious than those which afflict most other societies.
In every single instance these disturbances have been successfully
overcome by the immense spirit of dedication that has always
characterized every level of our worldwide effort. The record
speaks for itself. Today we know that we need not fear alcoholism,
nor excessive emotional instability.
let us inquire into what has been the value of our nonalcoholic
Trustees over all these years. Without hesitation, I can
tell you that their value has been quite beyond reckoning.
Only God could add their score. Therefore I deeply hope
that a sizable contingent of these friends will continue
to remain with us, just as our new plan provides.
the days when A.A. was unknown, it was the nonalcoholic
Trustees who held up our hands before the general public.
They supplied us with the ideas that are now a part of the
working structure of our headquarters. They voluntarily
spent hours on end, working side by side with us and among
the grubbiest of details. They gave freely of their professional
and financial wisdom. Now and then they helpfully mediated
the early years especially, their very presence on our Board
was quite able to command full confidence and respect of
many faraway Groups. Meanwhile, they assured the world around
us of A.A.s worth. These are the usual services which
indeed they still render. Then, too, these are the men who
stood fast during that exciting but perilous time between
1940 and 1950 when A.A.s unity and its collective
responsibility were put to the acid test, a time when our
Twelve Traditions were being forged out of the lessons of
myself been a constant resident of A.A.s house of
world service for over a quarter of a century, no one could
better understand what these devoted friends have meant
to us. To gratefully set my testimony of their magnificent
contributions on the record of these meeting is something
for the deepest and most enduring of satisfactions. Nor
could any expression of our gratitude be complete unless
I were to tell you of the indispensable contribution that
was made to A.A.s welfare by a nonalcoholic friend
and Trustee. I speak of a man that many of you know-our
onetime Chairman, Mr. Bernard Smith. During the most serious
crisis that this Fellowship has ever experienced, it was
Bern who persuaded us to meet and to shoulder our clear
and rightful obligations.
individuals, it must be confessed that we A. A.s have
never been over-anxious to meet heavy responsibilities.
All of us were at first driven to A.A. under the lash of
alcohol. Arriving in the midst of the new-found life, we
were soon confronted with the Twelve Steps and the Twelve
Traditions. More often than not, we proceeded to adopt these
principles in a rather piecemeal fashion. However, as time
went by, the quality of our conformity began to improve.
We commenced to practice A.A. principles because we knew
them to be right for us, even though many were still difficult.
Nonetheless, it was a very long time before many of us could
come to the point where we would accept our heavier obligations
with that full and joyful willingness which finally grants
to us a consistent spiritual effectiveness.
is also observable that, like other people, we A.A.s
are apt to resist any proposal for great change, especially
when all seems to go well. Often enough, these reluctancies
have been based upon our fears. But sometimes they have
represented a genuine prudence. This latter quality of conservation
has occasionally prevented ill-considered or hasty decisions
upon important matters.
has been true of us as individuals has necessarily been
true of A.A. as a whole. I can vividly remember the heavy
opposition to the creation of our world trusteeship in 1938,
to the publication of our text book "Alcoholics Anonymous"
in 1939; and I still tremble when I recall the truly fierce
resistance that arose when, in 1946, the General Service
Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous was first projected.
In those times it was seriously believed by a majority of
A.A. s that the temptations and risks of such complex
ventures as these would be far too much for us. However,
we can now thank God that we finally did face and accept
those vital and clear-cut responsibilities.
we found on each of those occasions that we had to be strongly
persuaded of the absolute need for change. There had to
be manifest a solid core of constructive and convincing
is exactly what our remarkable friend, Bern Smith, gave
to us when in 1950, after great heat but little light, we
had failed to arrive at a decision to form A.A.s General
Service Conference. It was his personal leadership that
saved the day.
me now background this statement. By 1946, certain facts
of A.A. life were becoming visible. Our trusteeship- then
called the Alcoholic Foundationwas becoming more and
more isolated as our Groups fanned out over the globe. Indeed,
the only linkage between our Board and all these thousands
of members consisted of a few tireless A.A. gals at the
General Service Office and Dr. Bob and myself. The Trustees
themselves were virtually unknown. Dr. Bob had fallen ill,
perhaps fatally. Our linkage was perishable and far too
thin. Hence some of us felt it imperative that our Board
of Trustees should be directly related without delay to
A.A. as a whole.
was still another reason: a majority of our Groups had declared
that they would no longer live under the protection and
management of the local founders and oldtimer-no matter
how wellloved these were. For better or worse, our
Groups were taking the decision to look after themselves.
was the A.A. revolution which led to the writing of Tradition
Two, whose principles of A.A. function provide that the
group conscience shall be the final authority for all active
services and that trusted servants named by the Groups shall
act in their behalf.
our long isolated Board members were trusted servants. But
it was nonetheless true that these Trustees had no direct
connection to the Group conscience of our Society, nor were
they directly accountable to it. It was therefore becoming
evident that we here at New York were still operating as
a protectorate, something that had by then become obsolete
and quite inconsistent with the provisions and spirit of
A.A. s second Tradition.
it was proposed to assemble a general service conference
of delegates who could squarely meet these deficiencies.
As news of this project got into circulation, resistance
began to mount. The more the conference was urged, the more
the opposition dug in. Many A.A.s were deeply frightened.
They imagined themselves engulfed in a wave of prestige-seeking,
shabby politics, financial troubles and all the rest of
it. Under such conditions, many good members were unable
to see the urgent need for radical change. Observing their
protests, our Board naturally concluded that A.A.s most
emphatically did not want a general service conference.
Im afraid, too, that the growing impasse was made
still worse by my incessant bull-dozing of the conference
Bern Smith came upon the scene. With matchless diplomacy
and tact he began to point out that the actual risk of the
conference venture was, in his belief far less than the
risk of doing nothing at all a policy which
he thought would in the future result in a collapse, or
certainly a grievous impairment of A.A. at its very heart
of service. He deeply felt that we must not risk such a
debacle at our headquarters, a calamity from which we might
also continued to remind us that selfdirection was
the very first responsibility of every democratic society,
which as ours had in Tradition two, said it was. As we know,
these views of Berns were finally accepted, and I
shall never forget that wonderful day in his office when
the Trustees Committee on Structures recommended immediate
creation of the General Service Conference of A.A. To our
friend Bern we therefore owe it that we sit in this gathering
his story has a deep and clear relevance to this all important
matter of A.A. s future leadership; the question that
is again before us and one which has been ten years under
is ever so evident that Dr. Jack has been performing for
us a similar service of unique importance. To him and to
his fellow Trustees, we therefore owe a similar tribute.
It is greatly due to Dr. Jacks wise and patient leadership
in this time of change that we have the Trustees Plan
before us this afternoona plan, which if adopted,
would mark the last basic step in the evolution of A.A.
S world service structure.
assuredly, I hardly need say that I do endorse the Trustees
Plan: its unfoldment in this meeting is one of the most
inspiring and heartwarming events of my entire A.A. life.
let us reflect together upon the high spiritual content
of this all-important plan.
we know, all A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just
two words: humility and responsibility. Our whole spiritual
development can be accurately measured by our degree of
adherence to these magnificent standards. Ever deepening
humility, accompanied by an ever greater willingness to
accept and to act upon clearcut obligations
these are truly are touchstones for all growth in the life
of the spirit. They hold up to us the very essence of right
being and right doing. It is by them that we are enabled
to find and to do Gods will.
us therefore consider the spiritual gifts which our friends
have today offered for A.A.s welfare. They have offered
to reduce their numbers by three. Being still a Board majority,
and still holding its chief posts, our nonalcoholics have
all these years been cast in the role of guardianship, a
responsibility that they have never been called upon to
meet. Therefore this oldtime symbol of protection
has long since become meaningless. Recognizing this, the
new Trustees Plan provides that our friends would
in the future act in a minority, thus becoming our associates.
In making this humble offer, they have called upon us to
assume the highest of responsibilitiesthe guidance,
under God, of our own life as a fellowship.
this, then, is their demonstration of humility, what is
going to be our demonstration of responsibility? As to a
family just coming of age, they have in substance told us
"The world of the future stretches before you, and
you are well prepared. Go out into it, fearing nothing.
Our faith in you is confident and strong. As you move onward
toward your destiny, may you always remember that God in
His wisdom has granted you three precious Graces: freedom
from a deadly affliction, a life experience that enables
you to carry that priceless freedom to others, and a vision,
ever widening, of Gods reality and of His love."
we of Alcoholics Anonymous remain ever worthy of these three
gifts of Grace and of the supreme responsibilities that
are now ours, for so long as a bountiful God may wish A.A.