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The Choice is Ours
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., November 1960
its deeper sense AA is a quest for freedom -- freedom under
God. Of course the immediate object of our quest is sobriety
-- freedom from alcohol and from all its baleful consequences.
Without this freedom, we have nothing at all.
though, we can achieve no liberation from the alcohol obsession
until we become willing to deal with those character defects
which have landed us in that helpless condition. Even to
gain sobriety only, we must attain some freedom from fear,
anger and pride; from rebellion and self-righteousness;
from laziness and irresponsibility; from foolish rationalization
and outright dishonesty; form wrong dependencies and destructive
this freedom quest, we are always given three choices. A
rebellious refusal to work upon our glaring defects can
be a ticket to destruction. Or, for a time, we can stay
sober with a minimum of self-improvement and settle ourselves
into a comfortable but often dangerous mediocrity. Or we
can continuously try hard for those sterling qualities which
can add up to greatness of spirit and action -- true and
lasting freedom under God, the freedom to find and do his
most of us this last choice is really ours; we must never
be blinded by the futile philosophy that we are just the
hapless victims of our inheritance, our life experiences,
and our surroundings -- that these are the sole forces that
make our decisions for us. This is not the road to freedom.
We have to believe that we can really choose.
our whole Society, and every group in it, will constantly
face these identical decisions. Shall we settle for destruction?
Shall we try only for the temporary comforts of a complacent
mediocrity? Or shall we consistently face the disciplines,
make the sacrifices, and endure the discomforts that will
qualify us to walk the path that invariably leads toward
true greatness of spirit and action?
reflections are meant to be background for the theme of
this article -- the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Traditions are the yardstick by which our Fellowship can
accurately measure its progress -- or the lack of it. In
our Traditions we see such wisdom as we have been able to
muster in a quarter of a century of living and working together.
That these principles stake out the path we ought to follow
there can be little doubt.
we contemplate the Traditions we see that they have two
main characteristics, and that each of these aspects reinforces
first aspect of the Twelve Traditions is 'protection'; the
second aspect is 'progress'. We are first reminded what
our Fellowship's temptations really are and by what means
we may best deal with them. This is our basis for a continuous
moral inventory of our collective behavior -- the first
step to actively casting aside our road blocks. In the affirmative
or positive aspect of the Traditions we learn, both directly
and impliedly, how we may best apply the high ideals of
sacrifice and willing responsibility, trust and love, in
our relations with each other and with the world around
us. Out of these practices flows the spiritual energy that
moves us along the road to full liberation.
we ponder 'protection', we see that our Traditions warn
against the perils of public fame and power, against the
perils of great wealth, against the making of compromising
alliances, against professionalism. We are reminded that
we may deny no alcoholic his membership, that we must never
create an authoritative government of men. We are cautioned
that we should never force AA's message upon the world by
aggressive promotional schemes, and that we should shun
public controversy as the Devil himself.
are typical examples of the protective prudence which our
Twelve Traditions directly express, or clearly imply. Some
claim that these warnings are nothing but the sum of our
collective fears. Once upon a time this was very true. In
our first years, every violation of these precepts seemed
to threaten our actual existence. We then doubted if our
rebellious membership could ever resist its great temptation.
But we 'have' resisted, and so we have survived. Therefore
the stark fears of yesterday have since given way to a vigilant
prudence -- something quite different from unreasoning panic.
course, we know that we shall always have to deal with the
fearful forces which are released when the human ego runs
amok -- the same forces that are shattering the world of
our time. 'Deliver us from temptation' must therefore continue
to be a prime ingredient of our every attitude, practice
and prayer. When things go well, we must fall into the error
of believing that no great ill can possibly befall us. Nor
should we accuse ourselves of "negative thinking"
when we insist on facing the destructive forces in and around
us, both realistically and effectively. Vigilance will always
be the price of survival.
is the protective aspect of our Traditions. But AA's Twelve
Traditions should provide us with far more than protection
against mediocrity and dissolution -- and they do.
now think about the positive, the progressive side of AA's
Traditions; the disciplined sacrifices and responsibilities
that we shall need to undertake; the degree of mutual trust
and love that we shall need to achieve if we are to find
the greater freedom we seek. The length of this article
will not admit a full examination of all Twelve Traditions
in this respect, but a few examples can serve to illustrate
just what we mean.
Tradition One. It says that AA's common welfare comes first.
This really means that our personal ambitions will have
to be set aside every time they conflict with the safety
or the effectiveness of our Fellowship. It means that we
must sometimes love our Society more than ourselves.
Two states: "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." This is a study in mutual trust
in God, in ourselves, and in our service leadership. This
has been one of our finest experiments and it has succeeded
far beyond our expectations.
Three defines the personal liberty of the AA member. It
says, in effect, that any alcoholic can be an AA member
the moment he says so. Neither can any of us deprive him
of that membership, no matter what his behavior. Perhaps
no other society has ever staked out such a broad expanse
of liberty for the individual as this. Every AA newcomer
feels at once that he is wanted and trusted and loved. How
well we understand his needs; certainly we have had them
ourselves. Seldom has any alcoholic taken unfair advantage
of that unlimited charter for freedom. We took this decision
for individual freedom years ago. We are glad that we did;
there has never been any cause for regret.
Four is yet another confident declaration of mutual trust
and love as it flows from each AA group to the other. We
give each group full autonomy, the undisturbed right to
manage its own affairs. To make this condition doubly permanent
and secure, we have guaranteed to all AA groups that they
will never be subjected to any centralized government or
authority. In turn each group agrees that it will never
take any action that could injure us all. Rarely indeed
has any AA group ever forgotten that precious trust.
Seven proclaims AA's principle of self-support. In it, we
undertake to pay every cent of our own service expenses,
meanwhile declining outside contributions.
fact that we don't take money from the outside world builds
confidence in every alcoholic who thinks of approaching
us. This we know. Public goodwill has also been increased
because people like the idea that the once irresponsible
alcoholics have now become responsible. There is no doubt,
either, that this salutary practice takes us in the direction
of increased freedom for ourselves. By resolutely declining
outside funds, whether offered by individual donors or by
governments, we are making dead sure that we shall always
preserve our own liberty of action. Hence the old adage,
"Who pays the piper calls the tune" will never
be descriptive of us.
is little question that large sums could be raised today
for AA -- that is, if we ever gave the word. Perhaps no
greater calamity could befall our Fellowship than such a
development. We would be at once absolved from the beneficial
responsibility of raising our own funds. With lots of other
people's money available, our idea-a-minute members would
doubtless conceive countless schemes for doing good. In
those few past instances where we have taken outside money,
distraction and contention within has been the almost uniform
result. Therefore we are well aware that the responsibility
for full self-support brings us great spiritual and practical
blessings. This is sacrificial prudence at its best -- chief
bulwark to our cherished freedoms.
example: Tradition Ten is an emphatic warning against public
controversy. This was perhaps the first AA Tradition ever
to take shape. Of course we did reserve that sometimes enjoyable
right of quarreling among ourselves about lesser matters!
But when it came to the awful issues that rock society about
us, such as politics, religion, reform, and the like --
well, early AAs knew these terrible conflicts were surely
not for them.
on, a new aspect of this same peril came into view. All
sorts of people and organizations begged us to "take
stands," "deliver opinions," and "fight
evils," all up and down the line. Again we instantly
saw that if we ever embarked upon such a course, it would
certainly be our finish. Drunks by the thousands would be
kept away from AA through sheer prejudice. The same old
peril would again menace us. This time it would crash in
from the outside.
was when we AAs knew for sure that we had to be at peace
-- internally, and with the world about us. No doubt mankind
has wrung many a freedom out of violent controversy and
bitter war. Yet we AAs have had to learn that the kinds
of freedom that we must possess, cannot possibly be obtained
by violence. As a Fellowship, we cannot fight anybody, anywhere
or at any time. This has been proved. When we had directly
attacked John Barleycorn, we had lost. Booze fighting had
never worked. When we quarrel too much with each other,
we get drunk.
genuine peace will always be a chief ingredient of AA's
freedom. But let none suppose that we shrink from major
conflict only because we are afraid. Nowadays we believe
we keep the peace because we love each other.
now examine that vital Tradition Eleven. It deals with our
public relations. Here is our greatest channel of communication
to the alcoholic who still suffers. Tradition Eleven reads:
" 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."
Since this great Tradition describes the most important
application of AA's principle of anonymity, and because
it sets the pitch and tone of our entire public relations
policy, nothing can be more critically important. If personal
ambitions ever invade our public relations we shall be badly
crippled, perhaps lost altogether.
danger, of course, is the possibility that we may one day
recklessly abandon the principle of personal anonymity at
the top public level. This possibility arises from the fact
that many of us AAs have been, and sometimes still are,
possessed by enormous power drives. These are frequently
fueled by an almost irresistible craving for money, approval,
and public acclaim. My own past history is outstanding in
this respect. I can well understand the constant temptation
to turn oneself into a public figure. Therefore I have urged,
in season and out, that we AAs maintain our personal anonymity
at the top level, no matter what the personal sacrifices
chief hope for the future is that these appalling urges
of ours will be held in restraint by self-discipline, by
love of AA, and by firm group and public opinion. These
powerful constructive forces, all working together, have
thus far been enough. We pray that they may always prevail.
look once more at how immense this temptation really is.
A vast communication net now covers the earth, even to its
remotest reaches. Granting all its huge public benefits,
this limitless world forum is nevertheless a hunting ground
for all those who would seek money, acclaim, and power at
the expense of society in general. Here the forces of good
and evil are locked in struggle. All that is shoddy and
destructive contests all that is best.
nothing can matter more to the future welfare of AA than
the manner in which we use this colossus of communication.
Used unselfishly and well, the results can surpass our present
imagination. Should we handle this great instrument badly,
we shall be shattered by the ego demands of our own people
-- often with the best of intention on their part. Against
all this, the sacrificial spirit of AA's anonymity at the
top public level is literally our shield and our buckler.
Here again we must be confident that love of AA, and of
God, will always carry the day.
in Tradition Twelve, we see "anonymity is the spiritual
foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place
principles before personalities."
principle, and its enormous implications, touches every
aspect of our lives. Anonymity is humility at work. To maintain
the humility of our Society we shall constantly take stock
of our temptations and of our defects. The spirit of anonymity
calls upon each of us for personal sacrifice in every level
of our Fellowship's undertakings. Only through such willing
sacrifices can we AAs meet our responsibilities to ourselves,
to the victims of alcoholism everywhere, and to society
as a whole. Here we clearly see that only sacrifice can
fulfill responsibility; that only high responsibility can
lead to mutual trust; and that only mutual trust can be
the foundation for great love -- each of us for the other,
and all of us for God.
just this spirit, all of those present at AA's 25th Anniversary
in Long Beach rededicated themselves to the service of AA.
They knew that the choice was theirs, and they made it.
These were their telling words:
God's grace we are here assembled in grateful remembrance
of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the founding of our Fellowship.
this meaningful quarter century mark we are deeply aware
that we stand upon the threshold of a great door which opens
wide into our future. Ours can be a destiny of ever-increasing
promise and fulfillment. Our faith in this vision has never
the future would still lack its full use and meaning did
it not bring us fresh problems and even acute perils --
problems and perils through which we can grow into true
greatness of action and spirit.
these ends we have pledged our lives and fortunes. We here
rededicate ourselves to an ever deepening love of each other
-- love for the wondrous creation in which we live and serve,
and love for its supreme author, God himself.
now entrust you of AA's distant reaches -- you who so well
symbolize the unique and loving communication that is ours
in this universal Fellowship -- to carry this message to
fellow members everywhere; and most especially to all those
others who still know not, and who, God willing, may soon
issue out of their darkness into light."
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., November 1960
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