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"For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority
- a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience."
Where does A.A. get its direction? Who runs it? This, too,
is a puzzler for every friend and newcomer. When told that
our Society has no president having authority to govern
it, no treasurer who can compel the payment of any dues,
not board of directors who can cast an erring member into
outer darkness, when indeed no A.A. can give another a directive
and enforce obedience, our friends gasp and exclaim, "This
simply can't be. There must be an angle somewhere."
These practical folk then read Tradition Two, and learn
that the sole authority in A.A. is a loving God as He may
express Himself in the group conscience. They dubiously
ask an experienced A.A. member if this really works. The
member, sane to all appearances, immediately answers, "Yes!
It definitely does." The friends mutter that his looks
vague, nebulous, pretty naive to them. Then they commence
to watch us with speculative eyes, pick up a fragment of
A.A. history, and soon have the solid facts.
are these facts of A.A. life which brought us to this apparently
Doe, a good A.A. moves - let us say - to Middletown, U.S.A.
Alone now, he reflects that he may not be able to stay sober,
or even alive, unless he passes on to other alcoholics what
was so freely given him. He feels a spiritual and ethical
compulsion, because hundreds may be suffering within reach
of his help. Then, too, he misses his home group. He needs
other alcoholics as much as they need him. He visits preachers,
doctors, editors, policemen , and bartenders ... with the
result that Middletown now has a group, and he is the founder.
the founder, he is at first the boss. Who else could be?
Very soon, though, his assumed authority to run everything
begins to be shared with the first alcoholics he has helped.
At this moment, the benign dictator becomes the chairman
of a committee composed of his friends. These are the growing
group's hierarchy of service - self-appointed, of course,
because there is no other way. In a matter of months, A.A.
booms in Middletown.
founder and his friends channel spirituality to newcomers,
hire halls, make hospital arrangements, and entreat their
wives to brew gallons of coffee. Being on the human side,
the founder and his friends may bask a little in glory.
They say to one another, "Perhaps it would be a good
idea if we continue to keep a firm hand on A.A. in this
town. After all, we are experienced. Besides, look at all
the good we've done these drunks. They should be grateful!"
True, founders and their friends are sometimes wiser and
more humble than this. But more often at this stage they
pains now beset the group. Panhandlers panhandle. Lonely
hearts pine. Problems descend like an avalanche. Still more
important, murmurs are heard in the body politic, which
swell into a loud cry: "Do these old timers think they
can run this group forever? Let's have an election!"
The founder and his friends are hurt and depressed. They
rush from crisis to crisis and from member to member, pleading;
but it's no use, the revolution is on. The group conscience
is about to take over.
comes the election. If the founder and his friends have
served well, they may - to their surprise - be reinstated
for a time. If, however, they have heavily resisted the
rising tide of democracy, they may be summarily beached.
In either case, the group now has a so-called rotating committee,
very sharply limited in its authority. In no sense whatever
can its members govern or direct the group. They are servants.
Theirs is the sometimes thankless privilege of doing the
group's chores. Headed by the chairman, they look after
public relations and arrange meetings. Their treasurer,
strictly accountable, takes money from the hat that is passed,
banks it, pays the rent and other bills, and makes a regular
report at business meetings. The secretary sees that literature
is on the table, looks after the phone-answering service,
answers the mail, and sends out notices of meetings. Such
are the simple services that enable the group to function.
the committee gives no spiritual advice, judges no one's
conduct, issues no orders. Every one of them may be promptly
eliminated at the next election if they try this. And so
they make the belated discovery that they are really servants,
not senators. These are universal experiences. Thus throughout
A.A. does the group conscience decree the terms upon which
its leaders shall serve.
brings us straight to the question "Does A.A. have
a real leadership?" Most emphatically the answer is
"Yes, notwithstanding the apparent lack of it."
Let's turn again to the deposed founder and his friends.
What becomes of them? As their grief and anxiety wear away,
a subtle change begins. Ultimately, they divide into two
classes known in A.A. slang as "elder statesmen"
and "bleeding deacons." The elder statesman is
the one who sees the wisdom of the group's decision, who
holds no resentment over his reduced status, whose judgment,
fortified by considerable experience, is sound, and who
is willing to sit quietly on the sidelines patiently awaiting
developments. The bleeding deacon is one who is just as
surely convinced that the group cannot get along without
him, who constantly connives for reelection to office, and
who continues to be consumed with self-pity. A few hemorrhage
so badly that - drained of all A.A. spirit and principal
- they get drunk. At times the A.A. landscape seems to be
littered with bleeding forms. Nearly every oldtimer in our
Society has gone through this process in some degree. Happily,
most of them survive and live to become elder statesmen.
They become the real and permanent leadership of A.A. Theirs
is the quiet opinion, the sure knowledge and humble example
that resolve a crisis. When sorely perplexed, the group
inevitably turns to them for advice. They become the voice
of the group conscience; in fact, these are the true voice
of Alcoholics Anonymous. They do not drive by mandate; they
lead by example. This is the experience which has led us
to the conclusion that our group conscience, well-advised
by its elders, will be in the long run wiser than any single
A.A. was only three years old, an event occurred demonstrating
this principle. One of the first members of A.A., entirely
contrary to his own desires, was obliged to conform to group
opinion. Here is the story in his words.
day I was doing a Twelfth Step job at a hospital in New
York. The proprietor, Charlie, summoned me to his office.
`Bill,' he said, `I think it's a shame that you are financially
so hard up. All around you these drunks are getting well
and making money. But you're giving this work full time,
and you're broke. It isn't fair.' Charlie fished in his
desk and came up with and old financial statement. Handing
it to me, he continued, `This shows the kind of money the
hospital used to make back in the 1920's. Thousands of dollars
a month. It should be doing just as well now, and it would
- if only you'd help me. so why don't you move your work
in here? I'll give you and office, a decent drawing account,
and a very healthy slice of the profits. Three years ago,
when my head doctor, Silkworth, began to tell me of the
idea of helping drunks by spirituality, I thought it was
crackpot stuff, but I've changed my mind. some day this
bunch of ex-drunks of yours will fill Madison Square Garden,
and I don't see why you should starve meanwhile. What I
propose is perfectly ethical. You can become a lay therapist,
and more successful than anybody in the business.'
was bowled over. There were a few twinges of conscience
until I was how really ethical Charlie's proposal was. There
was nothing wrong whatever with becoming a lay therapist.
I thought of Lois coming home exhausted from the department
store each day, only to cook supper for a houseful of drunks
who weren't paying board. I thought of the large sum of
money still owing my Wall Street creditors. I thought of
a few of my alcoholic friends, who were making as much money
as ever. Why shouldn't I do as well as they?
I asked Charlie for a little time to consider it, my own
mind was about made up. Racing back to Brooklyn on the subway,
I had a seeming flash of divine guidance. It was only a
single sentence, but most convincing. In fact, it came right
out of the Bible - a voice kept saying to me, `The laborer
is worthy of his hire.' Arriving home, I found Lois cooking
as usual, while three drunks looked hungrily on from the
kitchen door. I drew her aside and told the glorious news.
She looked interested, but not as excited as I thought she
was meeting night. Although none of the alcoholics we boarded
seemed to get sober, some others had. With their wives they
crowded into our downstairs parlor. At once I burst into
the story of my opportunity. Never shall I forget their
impassive faces, and the steady gaze they focused upon me.
With waning enthusiasm, my tale trailed off to the end.
There was a long silence.
timidly, one of my friends began to speak. `We know how
hard up you are, Bill. it bothers us a lot. We've often
wondered what we might do about it. But I think I speak
for everyone here when I say that what you now propose bothers
us an awful lot more.' The speaker's voice grew more confident.
`Don't you realize,' he went on, `that you can never become
a professional? As generous as Charlie has been to us, don't
you see that we can't tie this thing up with his hospital
or any other? You tell us that Charlie's proposal is ethical.
Sure, it's ethical, but what we've got won't run on ethics
only; it has to be better. Sure, Charlie's idea is good,
but it isn't good enough. This is a matter of life and death,
Bill, and nothing but the very best will do!' Challengingly,
by friends looked at me as their spokesman continued. `Bill,
haven't you often said right here in this meeting that sometimes
the good is the enemy of the best? Well, this is a plain
case of it. You can't do this thing to us!'
spoke the group conscience. The group was right and I was
wrong; the voice on the subway was not the voice of God.
Here was the true voice, welling up out of my friends. I
listened, and - thank God - I obeyed."
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