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Fundamentals - In Retrospect
By Dr. Bob Smith
is gratifying to feel that one belongs to and has a definite
personal part in the work of a growing and spiritually prospering
organization for the release of the alcoholics of mankind
from a deadly enslavement. For me, there is double gratification
in the realization that, more than thirteen years ago, an
all-wise Providence, whose ways must always be mysterious
to our limited understandings, brought me to "see my
duty clear" and to contribute in decent humility, as
have so many others, my part in guiding the first trembling
steps of the then-infant organization, Alcoholics Anonymous.
[AA began June 10, 1935, with the start of Dr. Bob's lasting
sobriety. He died November 16, 1950.]
is fitting at this time to indulge in some retrospect regarding
certain fundamentals. Much has been written; much has been
said about the Twelve Steps of AA. These tenets of our faith
and practice were not worked out overnight and then presented
to our members as an opportunist creed. Born of our early
trials and many tribulations, they were and are the result
of humble and sincere desire, sought in personal prayer,
for divine guidance.
finally expressed and offered, they are simple in language,
plain in meaning. They are also workable by any person having
a sincere desire to obtain and keep sobriety. The results
are the proof. Their simplicity and workability are such
that no special interpretations, and certainly no reservations,
have ever been necessary. And it has become increasingly
clear that the degree of harmonious living that we achieve
is in direct ratio to our earnest attempt to follow them
literally under divine guidance to the best of our ability.
there are no shibboleths (which means "long-standing
formula, doctrine, or phrase, etc., held to be true by a
group) in AA. We are not bound by theological doctrines.
None of us may be excommunicated and cast into outer darkness.
For we are many minds in our organization, and an AA Decalogue
(which means "Ten Commandments") in the language
of "Thou shalt not" would gall (which means "irritate")
at our Twelve Traditions. No random expressions, these,
based on just casual observation. On the contrary, they
represent the sum of our experiences as individuals, as
groups within AA, and similarly with our fellows and other
organizations in the great fellowship of humanity under
God throughout the world. They are all suggestions, yet
the spirit in which they have been conceived merits their
serious, prayerful consideration as the guidepost of AA
policy for the individual, the group, and our various committees,
local and national.
have found it wise policy, too, to hold to no glorification
of the individual. Obviously that is sound. Most of us will
concede that when it came to the personal showdown of admitting
our failures and deciding to surrender our will and our
lives to Almighty God, as we understood him, we still had
some sneaking ideas of personal justification and excuse.
We had to discard them, but the ego of the alcoholic dies
a hard death. Many of us, because of activity, have received
praise, not only from our fellow AAs, but also from the
world at large. We would be ungrateful indeed to be boorish
when that happens; still, it is so easy for us to become,
privately perhaps, just a little vain about it all. Yet
fitting and wearing halos are not for us.
all seen the new member who stays sober for a time, largely
through sponsor-worship. Then maybe the sponsor gets drunk,
and you know what usually happens. Left without a human
prop, the new member gets drunk, too. He has been glorifying
an individual, instead of following the program.
we need leaders, but we must regard them as the human agents
of the Higher Power and not with undue adulation as individuals.
The Fourth and Tenth Steps cannot be too strongly emphasized
here - "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory
of ourselves...Continued to take personal inventory and
when we were wrong promptly admitted it." There is
your perfect antidote for halo poisoning.
with the question of anonymity. If we have a banner, that
word, speaking of the surrender of the individual - the
ego - is emblazoned on it. Let us dwell thoughtfully on
its full meaning and learn thereby to remain humble, modest,
and ever conscious that we are eternally under divine direction.
Anonymous was nurtured in its early days around a kitchen
table. Many of our pioneer groups and some of our most resultful
meetings and best programs have their origin around that
modest piece of furniture, with the coffeepot handy on the
stove. True, we have progressed materially to better furniture
and more comfortable surroundings. Yet the kitchen table
must ever be appropriate for us. It is the perfect symbol
of simplicity. In AA we have no VIPs, nor have we need of
any. Our organization needs neither titleholders nor grandiose
buildings. That is by design. Experience has taught us that
simplicity is basic in preservation of our personal sobriety
and helping those in need.
better it is for us to fully understand the meaning and
practice of "thou good and faithful servant" than
to listen to "When 60,000 members [in 1948] you should
have a sixty-stories-high administration headquarters in
New York with an assortment of trained 'ists' to direct
your affairs." We need nothing of the sort. God grant
that AA may ever stay simple.
the years, we have tested and developed suitable techniques
for our purpose. They are entirely flexible. We have all
known and seen miracles - the healing of broken individuals,
the rebuilding of broken homes. And always, it has been
the constructive, personal Twelfth Step work based on an
ever-upward-looking faith that has done the job.
as large an organization as ours, we naturally have had
our share of those who fail to measure up to certain obvious
standards of conduct. They have included schemers for personal
gain, petty swindlers and confidence men, crooks of various
kinds, and other human fallibles. Relatively, their number
has been small, much smaller than in many religious and
social-uplift organizations. Yet they have been a problem
and not an easy one. They have caused many an AA to stop
thinking and working constructively for a time.
cannot condone their actions, yet we must concede that when
we have used normal caution and precaution in dealing with
such cases, we may safely leave them to the Higher Power.
Let me reiterate that we AAs are many men and women that
we are of many minds. It will be well for us to concentrate
on the goal of personal sobriety and active work. We humans
and alcoholics, on strict moral stocktaking, must confess
to at least a slight degree of larcenous (which means "characterized
by the wrongful taking of the personal goods of another")
instinct. We can hardly arrogate (which means "to assume
to ourself without right") the roles of judges and
grand years! To have been a part of it all from the beginning
has been reward indeed.