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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The 12 Traditions

Welcome to Part 3 of a 4-part series focusing on Alcoholics Anonymous. In my last post, I described how the 12 steps of A.A. help alcoholics overcome their problem. The 12 steps guide an A.A. member toward recovery. Similarly, A.A.'s 12 Traditions guide the A.A. organization as a whole toward being as effective as it can be. The 12 Traditions of A.A. are:

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole. 5. Each group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Tradition 1 reminds A.A. members that their individual and collective struggle with alcoholism comes first. Nothing is more important than getting better. Tradition 2 addresses the leadership structure of A.A. - the only authority is the "group conscience," the consensus that a group reaches after input from each member. A group's monthly business meeting is called the "group conscience meeting." All decisions are reached by consensus. Although each group may elect officials like a secretary or a treasurer, and A.A. as a whole elects a president, no formal command structure exists on a local or national level.

Tradition 3 is the fundamental tenet of A.A. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. A.A. members span all races, genders, religious faiths (including atheism), and political leanings. It's against A.A. bylaws and traditions to evict any member for any reason. Tradition 4 preserves the autonomy of each group - the group is the fundamental and indivisible unit of A.A. Tradition 5 establishes the primary purpose of each group. To carry the hope of A.A. to alcoholics still suffering. Every other operation of A.A. is secondary to this primary purpose.

Tradition 6 is another deeply important tradition. A.A. will never lend its name to outside causes. The organization, and individual groups, should never support a political candidate or advertise for a treatment center, for example. The reason is clearly stated in the Tradition - endorsements from A.A. will automatically lead to problems of money, property, and prestige. All these things are not bad in themselves, but they distract the group from fulfilling its primary purpose, as described in Tradition 5.

Tradition 7 deals with A.A.'s finances. Every A.A. group is completely self-supporting, passing a basket at every meeting. Each member donates as much or as little into the basket as he or she feels able. Members with financial difficulties often contribute nothing. A.A. group expenses are so small that this pay-as-you-can methodology works well. And it's certainly a relief to members, given the choice between paying a few dollars to an A.A. meeting or paying hundreds of dollars a day to an alcoholism treatment center.

Tradition 8 keeps A.A. a nonprofessional organization. A.A. started as a nonprofessional organization - just two people who worked together to fight their alcoholism. Tradition 8 keeps the organization focused on its role, helping people of all walks of life help each other struggle with their addiction. Tradition 9 is another form of Tradition 2 - A.A. must never become an "organized" organization, with a top-down command structure.

Tradition 10 is another form of Tradition 6, but in a way it's even more powerful. Not only should A.A. not attach its name to any enterprise, A.A. should not even form an opinion about outside issues. Traditions 11 and 12 work together to maintain the anonymity of A.A. members. A.A. members do not acknowledge each other outside of meetings (unless they knew each other previously), and they refer to themselves only by first name inside meetings. Anonymity allows people to feel comfortable sharing the often difficult and painful revelations required to successfully fight alcoholism.

Coming on Friday: a summary of the series, and why I think A.A. is so important.

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