Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 40
What do the Three Legacies of AA represent?
The three legacies of AA – recovery, unity and service – in a sense represent three impossibilities, impossibilities that we know became possible, and possibilities that have now borne this unbelievable fruit. Old Fitzmayo, one of the early AA’s and I visited the Surgeon General of the United States in the third year of this society and told him of our beginnings. He was a gentle man, Dr. Lawrence Kolb, and has since become a great friend of AA. He said, “I wish you well. Even the sobriety of a few is almost a miracle. The government knows that this is one of the greatest health problems but we have considered the recovery of alcoholics so impossible that we have given up and have instead concluded that rehabilitation of narcotic addicts would be the easier job to tackle.”
Such was the devastating impossibility of our situation. Now, what has been brought to bear upon this impossibility that it has become possible? First, the grace of Him who presides over all of us. Next, the cruel lash of John Barleycorn who said. “this you must do, or die.” Next, the intervention of God through friends, at first a few and now legion! who opened to us, who in the early days were uncommitted, the whole field of human ideas. morality and religion, from which we could choose.
These have been the wellsprings of the forces and ideas and emotions and spirit which were first fused into our Twelve Steps for recovery. Some of us act well, but no sooner had a few got sober than the old forces began to come into play in us rather frail people. They were fearsome, the old forces, the drive for money, acclaim, prestige.
Would these forces tear us apart? Besides, we came from every walk of life. Early, we had begun to be a cross-section of all men and women, all differently conditioned, all so different and yet happily so alike in our kinship of suffering. Could we hold in unity? To those few who remain who lived in those earlier times when the Traditions were being forged in the school of hard experience on its thousands of anvils, we had our very, very dark moments.
It was sure recovery was in sight, but how could there be recovery for many? Or how could recovery endure if we were to fall into controversy and so into dissolution and decay?
Well, the spirit of the Twelve Steps which have brought us release from one of the grimmest obsessions known — obviously, this spirit and these principles of retaining grace had to be the fundamentals of our unity. But in order to become fundamental to our unity, these principles had to be spelled out as they applied to the most prominent and the most grievous of our problems.
So, out of experience came the need to apply the spirit of our steps to our lives of working and living together. These were the forces that generated the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But, we had to have more than cohesion. Even for survival, we had to carry the message and we had to function. In fact, that had become evident in the Twelve Steps themselves for the last one enjoins us to carry the message. But just how would we carry this message? How would we communicate, we few, with those myriad’s who still don’t know? And how would this communication be handled? How could we do these things. How could we authorize these things in such a way that in this new, hot focus of effort and ego that we would not again be shattered by the forces that had once ruined our lives?
This was the problem of the Third Legacy. From the vital Twelfth Step call right up through our society to its culmination today. And, again, many of us said: “This can’t be done. It’s all very well for Bill and Bob and a few friends to set up a Board of Trustees and to provide us with some literature, and look after our public relations and do all of those chores for us that we can’t do for ourselves. This is fine, but we can’t go any further than that. This is a job for our elders, for our parents. In this direction only, can there be simplicity and security.
And then came the day when it was seen that the parents were both fallible and perishable and Dr. Bob’s hour struck and we suddenly realized that this ganglion, this vital nerve center of World Service, would lose its sensation the day the communication between an increasingly unknown Board of Trustees and you was broken. Fresh links would have to be forged. And at that time many of us said: This is impossible, this is too hard. Even in transacting the simplest business, providing the simplest of services, raising the minimum amounts of money, these excitements to us, in this society so bent on survival have been almost too much locally. Look at our club brawls. My God, if we have elections countrywide and Delegates come down here and look at the complexity – thousands of group representatives, hundreds of committeemen, scores of Delegates – my God, when these descend on our parents, the Trustees, what is going to happen then? It won’t be simplicity: it can’t be. Our experience has spelled it out.
But there was the imperative, the must, and why was there an imperative? Because we had better have some confusion, some politicking, than to have utter collapse of this center.
That was the alternative and that was the uncertain and tenuous ground on which the General Service Conference was called into being.
I venture, in the minds of many and sometimes in mine that the Conference could be symbolized by a great prayer and a faint hope. This was the state of affairs in 1945 to 1950. Then came the day when some of us went up to Boston to watch an assembly elect by two-thirds vote or lot a Delegate. Prior to assembly, I consulted all the local politicos and those very wise Irishmen in Boston said, “We’re going to make your prediction Bill, you know us temperamentally, but we’re going to say that this thing is going to work.” That was the biggest piece of news and one of the mightiest assurances that I had up to this time that there could be any survival for these services.
Well, work it has and we have survived another impossibility. Not only have we survived the impossibility, we have so far transcended it that there can be no return in future years to the old uncertainties, come what perils there may.
Now, as we have seen in this quick review, the spirit of the Twelve Steps was applied in specific terms to our problems of living and working together. This developed the Twelve Traditions. In turn, the Twelve Traditions were applied to this problem of functioning at world levels in harmony and unity. (10th GSC, April, 1960)