By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1961
The 1961 Conference, like its predecessors was illuminated by several formal and informal presentations by Bill W., surviving co—founder of A.A. A recurring theme in these talks during the four day meeting was the importance of the Conference structure to assure sound growth of the Fellowship. Bill also emphasized the need to be realistic in evaluating A.A. activities to date, warning that humility and a spirit of cooperation should mark the Society’s relations with others who share A.A.s concern with the problem of alcoholism.
Key excerpts from Bill’s follows:
Contrast Between Good, Evil Societies
Since the beginning of recorded time, many societies and nations of civilizations have passed in review. In those great ones that have left their mark for good, in contrast with those who have left their mark for evil, there has been always a sense of history, a true and a high and a constant purpose, and there has always been a sense of destiny.
In the societies which failed to leave a bright mark in the annals of the world, there was always a false or boastful sense of history, always a mistaken or inadequate purpose and always the presumption of an infinite, a glorious and an exclusive destiny.
In the societies that left their mark of goodness on time, the sense of history was not a matter for pride or for glory; it was the substance of the learning of the experience of the past. In the purpose of such a society there was always truth and constancy, but never a supposition that the society had apprehended all of the truth-or the superior truth. And in the sense of destiny there was no conceit, no supposition that a society or nation or culture would last forever and go on to greater glories. But there was always a sense of duty to be fulfilled, whatever destiny the society might be assigned by providence for the betterment of the world.
This is the crossroads at which we in A.A. stand. This is a good time to re-examine how well we have looked upon our history and how much we have profited by it, what false insights or false glories we may have been extracting from history—to our future detriment. It is a moment to examine the purpose of this Society. Indeed, we are very lucky to be able to state as the nucleus of that purpose a single word: sobriety.
Need For More Quietude
Quite early we saw, however, that sobriety in abstinence from alcohol could never be attained unless there was sobriety and more quietude in the false motivations that underlay our drinking.
When the Twelve Steps were cast up- without any real experience and therefore under some Guidance, surely- we were given keys to sobriety in its wider implications. We have been blessed with a concrete definition of purpose but, for all its concreteness, we could still abuse it and misuse it in a very natural way.
Some times we begin to think that perhaps, according to the Scriptural promise, the first shall be last and the last- meaning us-shall really be first. That would indeed be a very dangerous presumption and never should we indulge it. If we do, we shall compete in history with other societies who have been ill-advised enough to suppose that they had a monopoly on truth or were in some way superior to other attempts of men to think and to associate in love and in harmony.
We may look out upon our destiny with no violation of our principle that we are to live one day at a time. We mean that, emotionally, each in his personal life is never to repine upon the past glory too much in the present or presume upon the future. We shall attend to the day’s business but we shall try to apprehend ever more truth from the lessons of our history, not the lessons of our successes but the lessons of our defections, failures and the awful emotions that can be set loose upon us. For these, indeed, are the raw materials that God has used to forge this still rather little instrument called Alcoholics Anonymous. So we may look at destiny and we may ask ourselves about it and speculate upon it a little —— if we do not presume to play God.
Fresh Freedom Under God
By this singular Providence which has been ours, it has been our privilege to walk through a new door that opened a quarter of a century ago. This quarter century, this brief span of life of Alcoholics Anonymous, has been characterized by exactly the reverse of what has been going on in the world around us. Each turning point in our history has opened up to fresh freedom under God for greater numbers of people.
When I was asked to write a greeting to this Conference, I think I used the word "family" in describing A.A. for perhaps the first time, it occurred to me that we were more than a therapy, more than a group of alcoholics trying to get along in the world. We here in this room were small fragments of a huge and growing family, a fragment collectively designated for the time being as "trusted servants" for the rest and appointed to a mission which would further our purpose and destiny.
Need To Establish Conference
You will remember that at St. Louis a huge transference took place. We old—timers realizing that we couldn’t last forever, also realized that a linkage had to be made between you and this vital beacon of service right here. We realized that this Conference had to be established firmly and that you had to be given the opportunity to look after your own affairs worldwide. We had to apply Tradition Two to ourselves, formally passing the ultimate authority and responsibility over to you and to the generations that will follow you. This powerful experiment had to be tried. One of the most glorious moments in my whole A.A. career was the day when I first realized that in spite of my weakness and your weakness, we are going to do this—and that it would succeed. But there is more that has to be transferred than past authority and responsibility. And that this transfer has been going on a long time, I speak to you of the transfer of service leadership.