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"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions,
ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."
THE spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice. Because
A.A.'s Twelve Traditions repeatedly ask us to give up personal
desires for the common good, we realize that the sacrificial
spirit--well symbolized by anonymity--is the foundation
of them all. It is A.A.'s proved willingness to make these
sacrifices that gives people their high confidence in our
in the beginning, anonymity was not born of confidence;
it was the child of our early fears. Our first nameless
groups of alcoholics were secret societies. New prospects
could find us only through a few trusted friends. The bare
hint of publicity, even for our work, shocked us. Though
ex-drinkers, we still thought we had to hide from public
distrust and contempt.
the Big Book appeared in 1939, we called it "Alcoholics
Anonymous." Its foreword mad this revealing statement:
"It is important that we remain anonymous because are
too few, at present, to handle the overwhelming number of
personal appeals which may result from this publication.
Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not
well carry on our occupations in such an event." Between
these lines, it is easy to read our fear that large numbers
of incoming people might break our anonymity wide open.
the A.A. groups multiplied, so did anonymity problems. Enthusiastic
over the spectacular recovery of a brother alcoholic, we'd
sometimes discuss those intimate and harrowing aspects of
his case meant for his sponsor's ear alone. The aggrieved
victim would then rightly declare that his trust had been
broken. When such stories got into circulation outside of
A.A., the loss of confidence in our anonymity promise was
sever. It frequently turned people from us. Clearly, every
A.A. member's name--and story, too---had to be confidential,
if he wished. This was our first lesson in the practical
application of anonymity.
characteristic intemperance, however, some of our newcomers
cared not at all for secrecy. They wanted to shout A.A.
from the housetops, and did. Alcoholics barely dry rushed
about bright-eyed, buttonholing anyone who would listen
tot heir stories. Others hurried to place themselves before
microphones and cameras. Sometimes, they got distressingly
drunk and let their groups down with a bang. They had changed
from A.A. members into A.A. show-offs.
phenomenon of contrast really set us thinking. Squarely
before us was the question "How anonymous should an
A.A. member be?" Our growth made it plain that we couldn't
be a secret society, but it was equally plain that we couldn't
be a vaudeville circuit, either. The charting of a safe
path between these extremes took a long time.
a rule, the average newcomer wanted his family to know immediately
what he was trying to do. He also wanted to tell others
who had tried to help him--his doctor, his minister, and
close friends. As he gained confidence, he felt it right
to explain his new way of life to his employer and business
associates. When opportunities to be helpful came along,
he found he could talk easily about A.A. to almost anyone.
These quiet disclosures helped him to lose his fear of the
alcoholic stigma, and spread the news of A.A.'s existence
in his community. Many a new man and woman came to A.A.
because of such conversations. Though not in the strict
letter of anonymity, such communications were well within
it became apparent that the word-of-mouth method was too
limited. Our work, as such, needed to be publicized. The
A.A. groups would have to reach quickly as many despairing
alcoholics as they could. Consequently, many groups began
to hold meetings which were open to interested friends and
the public, so that the average citizen could see for himself
just what A.A. was all about. The response to these meetings
was warmly sympathetic. Soon, groups began to receive requests
for A.A. speakers to appear before civic organizations,
church groups, and medical societies. Provided anonymity
was maintained on these platforms, and reporters present
were cautioned against the use of names or pictures, the
result was fine.
came our first few excursions into major publicity, which
were breathtaking. Cleveland's Plain Dealer articles about
us ran that town's membership from a few into hundreds overnight.
The news stories of Mr. Rockefeller's dinner for Alcoholics
Anonymous helped double our total membership in a year's
time. Jack Alexander's famous Saturday Evening Post piece
made A.A. a national institution. Such tributes as these
brought opportunities for still more recognition. Other
newspapers and magazines wanted A.A. stories. Film companies
wanted to photograph us. Radio, and finally television,
besieged us with requests for appearances. What should we
this tide offering top public approval swept in, we realized
that it could do us incalculable good or great harm. Everything
would depend upon how it was channeled. We simply couldn't
afford to take the chance of letting self-appointed members
present themselves as messiahs representing A.A. before
the whole public. The promoter instinct in us might be our
undoing. If even one publicly got drunk, or was lured into
using A.A.'s name for his own purposes, the damage might
be irreparable. At this altitude (press, radio, films, and
television), anonymity--100 percent anonymity--was the only
possible answer. Here, principles would have to come before
personalities, without exception.
experiences taught us that anonymity is real humility at
work. It is an all-pervading spiritual quality which today
keynotes A.A. life everywhere. Moved by the spirit of anonymity,
we try to give up our natural desires for personal distinction
as A.A. members both among fellow alcoholics and before
the general public. As we lay aside these very human aspirations,
we believe that each of us takes part in the weaving of
a protective mantle which covers our whole Society and under
which we may grown and work in unity.
are sure that humility, expressed by anonymity, is the greatest
safeguard that Alcoholics Anonymous can ever have.
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