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AA Ever Have a Personal Government?
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1947
answer to this question is almost surely "no."
That is the clear verdict of our experience.
begin with, each A.A. has been an individual who, because
of his alcoholism, cod seldom govern himself. Nor could
any other human being govern the alcoholic's obsession to
drink, his drive to have things his own way. Time out of
mind, families, friends, employers, doctors, clergymen,
and judges have tried their hand at disciplining alcoholics.
Almost without exception the failure to accomplish anything
by coercion has been complete. Yet we alcoholics can be
led, we can be inspired: coming into A.A. we can, and we
gladly do, yield to the will of God. Hence it is not strange
that the only real authority to be found in A.A. is that
of spiritual principle. It is never personal authority.
unreasonable individualism (egocentricity if you like) was,
of course, the main reason we all failed in life and betook
ourselves to alcohol. When we couldn't coerce others into
conformity with our own plans and desires, we drank. When
others tried to coerce us, we also drank. Though now sober,
we still have a strong hangover of these early traits which
caused us to resist authority. Therein probably hangs a
clue to our lack of personal government in A.A.: no fees,
no dues, no rules and regulations, no demand that alcoholics
conform to A.A. principles, 110 one set in personal authority
over anyone else. Though no sterling virtue, our aversion
to obedience does pretty well guarantee us freedom from
personal domination of any kind.
it is a fact that most of us (10 follow, in our personal
lives, the Twelve Suggested Steps to recovery. But we do
this from choice. We prefer recovery to death. Then, little
by little, we perceive the spiritual basis of life is the
best. We conform because we want to.
Originally published in The A.A. Grapevine.
most A.A. groups become willing to follow the "Twelve
Points of Tradition to Assure Our Future." The groups
are willing to avoid controversy over outside issues such
as political reform or religion; they stick to their single
purpose of helping alcoholics to recover; they increasingly
rely on self-support rather (ban outside charity. More and
more do they insist on modesty and anonymity in their public
relations. The A.A. groups follow these other traditional
principles for the very same reason that the individual
A.A. follows the Twelve Steps to recovery. Groups see they
would disintegrate if they didn't and they soon discover
that adherence to our tradition and experience is the foundation
for a happier and more effective group life.
in A.A. is there to be seen any constituted human authority
that can compel an A.A. group to do anything. Some A.A.
groups, for example, elect their leaders. But even with
such a mandate each leader soon discovers that while he
can always guide by example or persuasion he can never boss,
else at election time he may find himself passed by.
majority of A.A. groups do not even choose leaders. They
prefer rotating committees (0 handle their simple affairs.
These committees are invariably regarded as servants-they
have only the authorization to serve, never to command.
Each committee carries out what it believes to be the wishes
of its group. That is all. Though A.A. committees used to
try to discipline wayward members, though they have sometimes
composed minute rules and regulations and now and then have
set themselves up as judges of other people's personal morals,
1 know of no case where any of these seemingly worthy strivings
had any lasting effect-except, perhaps, the election of
a brand-new committee!
I can make these assertions with the greatest of confidence.
For in my own turn I, too, have tried a hand at governing
A.A. Each time 1 have strenuously tried it I have been shouted
struggling a few years to run the A.A. movement I had to
give it up-it simply didn't work. Heavy-handed assertion
of my personal authority always created confusion and resistance.
If I took sides in a controversy, I was joyfully quoted
by some, while others murmured, "And just who does
this dictator think he is?" If I sharply criticized,
I usually got double criticism on the return bounce. Personal
power always failed. I can see my older A.A. friends smiling.
They are recalling those times when they, too, felt a mighty
call to "save the A.A. movement" from something
or other. But their days of playing "Pharisee"
are now over. So those little maxims "Easy Does It"
and "Live and Let Live" have come to be deeply
meaningful and significant to them and to me. In such fashion
each of us learns that, in A.A., one (all be a servant only.
at the General Office we have long known that we can merely
supply certain indispensable services. We can supply information
and literature; we can usually tell how the majority of
A.A.'s feel about our current problems; we can assist new
groups to start, giving advice if asked; we can look after
the over-all A.A. public relations; we can sometimes mediate
difficulties. Similarly, the editors of our monthly journal,
The A.A. Grapevine, believe themselves simply a mirror of
current A.A. life and thought. Serving purely as such, they
cannot rule or propagandize. So. also, the trustees of The
Alcoholic Foundation (our A.A. general service committee)
know them-selves to be simple custodians, custodians who
guarantee the effectiveness of the A.A. General Office and
The A.A. Grapevine and who are the repository of our general
funds and Tradition caretakers only.
is most clearly apparent that, even here at the very center
of A.A., there can only exist a center of service-custodians,
editors, secretaries and the like - each, to be sure, with
a special vital function, but none of them with any authority
to govern Alcoholics Anonymous.
such centers of service, international, national, metropolitan
area or local, will be sufficient for the future, I can
have no doubt. So long as we avoid any menacing accumulation
of wealth or the growth of personal government at these
centers, we cannot go astray. While wealth and authority
lie at the foundation of many a noble institution, we of
A.A. now apprehend, and thoroughly well, that these things
are not for us. Have we not found that one man's meat is
often another man's poison?
we not do well if, instead, we can cling in some part to
the brotherly ideals of the early Franciscans? Let all of
us A.A.'s, whether we be trustees, editors, secretaries,
janitors or cooks-or just member - ever recall the unimportance
of wealth and authority as compared with the vast import
of our brotherhood, love and service.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., January 1947
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