Stressed in Memphis Talk
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1947
all members of Alcoholics Anonymous to strive for humility
before success and for unity before fame, Bill W, speaking
before the third annual Southeastern Regional Convention
in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 19, reviewed the Twelve
suggested Traditions for the organization.
out that the success of AA could be "heady wine and
a serious problem", Bill reminded members that as
alcoholics "we are a people who could not exist at
all except for the grace of God."
are the highlights of the talk as given to the AA Grapevine
in advance of the Memphis meeting:
years ago, Dr. Bob and I, among others, did a lot of traveling
and speaking at AA groups the length and breadth of the
country. Alcoholics Anonymous was just starting its astonishing
growth. There was concern whether we could successfully
expand so fast. Widely separated clusters of AAs were
making their uncertain start, often too far from the original
few groups to get much direct help. Many had to rely wholly
on literature and letters.
meet this seeming emergency, the few of us who could do
so got out among the new groups. We wanted to bring our
experience and encouragement directly to the incoming
thousands who were still unsure; we wanted them to feel
a part of the growing whole; we wanted them to see that
AA had nothing to do with geography; that it would work
for them under any conditions whatever. We wished to foster
a sound growth and the spirit of unity. So a few of us
have changed. As everyone knows, AA has since exceeded
our wildest expectations. Speaking for Dr. Bob and myself,
we feel that we oldsters need not take the prominent roles
we once did. AA leadership is becoming, happily and healthily,
a rotating matter. And besides, our literature, a generous
press, and thousands of new travelers are carrying AA
to every corner of the world.
there does remain a problem -- a serious problem, in whose
solution AAs will expect us oldsters to occasionally take
a hand. That is the problem of success itself. Always
a heady wine, success may sometimes cause us to forget
that each of us lives on borrowed time; we may forget
that we are a people who cannot exist at all, but for
the grace of God. The wine of forgetfulness might make
us dream that Alcoholics Anonymous was our success rather
than God's will. The very malignancy which once tore us
apart personally could again commence to rend us as groups.
False pride might lead us to controversy, to claims of
power and prestige, to bickerings over property, money,
and personal authority. We would not be human if these
illnesses didn't sometimes attack us.
many of us think today the main problem of Alcoholics
Anonymous is this: How, as a movement, shall we maintain
our humility -- and so our unity -- in the face of what
the world calls a great triumph? Perhaps we need not look
far afield for an answer. We need only adapt and apply
to our group life those principles upon which each of
us has founded his own recovery. If humility can expel
the obsession to drink alcohol, then surely humility can
be our antidote for that subtle wine called success."
then went on to explain in detail the Twelve Points of
Tradition, first printed in an article in the April 1946
issue of the AA Grapevine: "Two years ago my old
friends urged that I try to sum up our experience of living
and working together; that I try to state those definite
principles of group conduct which had then quite clearly
emerged from a decade of strenuous trial and error. In
the spirit of our original Twelve Steps, and strictly
within the ample proof's of our experience. I made the
following tentative attempt; Twelve Points to Assure Our
Future, an Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition of Relations
(recently revised in the light of later experience).
AA experience has taught us that"
Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part
of a great whole. AA must continue to live or most of
us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first.
But individual welfare follows close afterward.
For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority
-- a loving God as he may express himself in our group
Our membership ought to include all who suffer alcoholism.
Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought
AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any
two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety
may call themselves an AA group, provided, of course,
that as a group, they have no other affiliation.
With respect to its own affairs, each AA group should
be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience.
But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring
groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no
group, regional committee, or individual should ever take
any action that might greatly affect AA as a whole without
conferring with the trustees of the Alcoholic Foundation.
On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual
entity having but one primary purpose -- that of carrying
its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
Problems of money, property, and authority may easily
divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore,
that any considerable property of genuine use to AA should
be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing
the material from the spiritual. An AA group, as such
should never go into business. Secondary aids to AA, such
as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration,
ought to be incorporated and set apart that, if necessary,
they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence, such
facilities ought not to use the AA name. Their management
should be the sole responsibility of those people who
financially support them. For clubs, AA managers are usually
preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation,
ought to be well outside AA -- and medically supervised.
While an AA group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation
ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual
or implied. An AA group can bind itself to no one.
AA groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the
voluntary contributions of their own members. We think
that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any
public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics
Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs,
hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance
of large gifts from any source or contributions carrying
any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then, too, we view
with much concern those AA treasuries which continue,
beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for on stated
AA purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing
can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile
disputes over property, money, and authority.
Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non professional.
We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling
alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics
where they are going to perform those services for which
we might otherwise have to engage nonalcoholics. Such
special services may be well recompensed. But our usual
AA Twelfth Step work is never to be paid for.
Each AA group needs the least possible organization. Rotating
leadership is the best. The small group may elect its
secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and
the groups of a large metropolitan area their central
or intergroup committee, which often employs a full time
secretary. The trustees of the Alcoholic Foundation are,
in effect, our general service committee. They are the
custodians of our AA Tradition and the receivers of voluntary
AA contributions by which we maintain the AA General Service
Office in New York. They are authorized by the groups
to handle our overall public relations and they guarantee
the integrity of our principal newspaper, the AA Grapevine.
All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit
of service, for true leaders in AA are but trusted and
experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real
authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal
respect is the key to their usefulness.
No AA group or member should ever, in such a way as to
implicate AA, express any opinion on outside controversial
issues -- particularly those of politics, alcohol reform,
or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups
oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express
no views whatever.
Our relations with the general public should be characterized
by personal anonymity. We think AA ought to avoid sensational
advertising. Our names and pictures as AA members ought
not be broadcast, filmed or publicly printed. Our public
relations should be guided by the principle of attraction
rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves.
We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the
principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance.
It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities;
that we are actually to practice genuine humility. This
to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us;
that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of
him who presides over us all.
sum us: For thousands of alcoholics yet to come, AA does
have an answer. But there is one condition. We must, at
all costs, preserve our essential unity; it must be made
unbreakably secure. Without permanent unity there can
be little lasting recovery for anyone. Hence our future
absolutely depends upon the creation and observance of
a sound group Tradition. First things will always need
to be first; humility before success, and unity before
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1947
practicing our Traditions, The AA Grapevine, Inc. has
neither endorsed nor are they affiliated with Silkworth.net.
The Grapevine®, and AA Grapevine® are registered
trademarks of The AA Grapevine, Inc.
index | Grapevine