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"A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may
create service boards or committees directly responsible
to those they serve."
WHEN Tradition Nine was first written, it said that "Alcoholics
Anonymous needs that least possible organization."
In years since then, we have changed our minds about that.
Today, we are able to say with assurance that Alcoholics
Anonymous--A.A. as a whole--should never be organized at
all. Then, in seeming contradiction, we proceed to create
special service boards and committees which in themselves
are organized. How, then, can we have an unorganized movement
which can and does create a service organization for itself?
Scanning this puzzler, people say, "What do they mean,
let's see. Did anyone ever hear of a nation, a church, a
political party, even a benevolent association that had
no membership rules? Did anyone ever hear of a society which
couldn't somehow discipline its members and enforce obedience
to necessary rules and regulations? Doesn't nearly every
society on earth give authority to some of its members to
impose obedience upon the rest and to punish or expel offenders?
Therefore, every nation, in fact every form of society,
has to be a government administered by human beings. Power
to direct or govern is the essence of organization everywhere.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an exception. It does not conform
to this pattern. Neither is General Service Conference,
its Foundation Board,* nor the humblest group committee
can issue a single directive to an A.A. member and make
it stick, let alone mete out any punishment. We've tried
it lots of times, but utter failure is always the result.
Groups have tried to expel members, but the banished have
come back to sit in the meeting place, saying "This
is life for us; you can't keep us out." Committees
have instructed many an A.A. to stop working on a chronic
backslider, only to be told: "How I do my Twelfth Step
work is my business. Who are you to judge?" This doesn't
mean an A.A. won't take advice or suggestions from more
experienced members, but he surely won't take orders. Who
is more unpopular than the old-time A.A., full of wisdom,
who moves to another area and tries to tell the group there
how to run its business? He and all like him who "view
with alarm for the good of A.A." meet the most stubborn
resistance or, worse still, laughter.
might think A.A.'s headquarters in New York would be an
exception. Surely, the people there would have to have some
authority. But long ago, trustees and staff members alike
found they could do no more than make suggestions, and very
mild ones at that. They even had to coin a couple of sentences
which still go into half the letters they write: "Of
course, you are at perfect liberty to handle this matter
any way you please. But the majority experience in A.A.
does seem to suggest . . . " Now, that attitude is
far removed from central government, isn't it? We recognize
that alcoholics can't be dictated to--individually or collectively.
this juncture, we can hear a churchman exclaim, "They
are making disobedience a virtue!" He is joined by
a psychiatrist who says, "Defiant brats! They won't
grow up and conform to social usage!" The man in the
street say, "I don't understand it. They must be nuts!"
But all these observers have overlooked something unique
in Alcoholics Anonymous. Unless each A.A. member follows
to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to
recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant.
His drunkenness and dissolution are not penalties inflicted
by people in authority; they result from his personal disobedience
to spiritual principles.
same stern threat applies to the group itself. Unless there
is approximate conformity to A.A.'s Twelve Traditions, the
group, too, can deteriorate and die. So we of A.A. do obey
spiritual principles, first because we must, and ultimately
because we love the kind of life such obedience brings.
Great suffering and great love are A.A.'s disciplinarians;
we need no others.
is clear now that we ought never to name boards to govern
us, but it is equally clear that we shall always need to
authorize workers to serve us. It is the difference between
the spirit of vested authority and the spirit of service,
two concepts which are sometimes poles apart. It is in this
spirit of service that we elect the A.A. group's informal
rotating committee, the intergroup association for the area,
and the General Service Conferences of Alcoholics Anonymous
for A.A. as a whole. Even our Foundation, once an independent
board, is today directly accountable to our Fellowship.
Its trustees are the caretakers and expediters of our world
as the aim of each A.A. member is personal sobriety, the
aim of our services is to bring sobriety within reach of
all who want it. If nobody does the group's chores, if the
area's telephone rings unanswered, if we do not reply to
our mail, then A.A. as we know it would stop. Our communications
lines with those who need our help would be broken.
has to function, but at the same time it must avoid those
dangers of great wealth, prestige, and entrenched power
which necessarily tempt other societies. Though Tradition
Nine at first sight seems to deal with a purely practical
matter, in its actual operation it discloses a society without
organization, animated only by the spirit of service--a
true fellowship. *In 1954, the name of the Alcoholic Foundation,
Inc., was changed to the General Service Board of Alcoholics
Anonymous, Inc., and the Foundation office is now the General
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