The Milestones Ahead
By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1953
We are standing on the threshold of maturity, although no one can say in truth that we are really mature yet. This process of maturing will of course go on as long as we last.
I have been asked to speak on “The Milestones Ahead.” I dislike the role of a prophet, for I certainly am not that; I have been mistaken too often. But I think that we can take a look ahead to some extent. For example, we can look at problems that occupy our immediate foreground. It is plain to all of us that unless this society can develop enough brotherhood and partnership amongst its members, we shall someday fall into disunity and the basis of partnership and brotherhood leads to greatly improved personal relations.
It is true that the love of one drunk for another is wonderful to behold. When the stranger is on the doorstep and we carry our message to him, we don’t think of personal reward in any ordinary sense. He isn’t going to pay us; he may not even love us. We don’t expect a thing except the inner glow which one gets from having love in our hearts, and from offering the right kind of love to a fellow human being — in our case, another drunk.
If he turns us down, we say, well, there are plenty more drunks. If he accepts our offer and carries it on, and we see no more of him, we say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” If he returns to become our bosom friend, then we really are joyful. But we realize that that joy, that gladness, that satisfaction, are extra dividends of A.A. life. The really sustaining thing is that we receive God’s love just in proportion as we have love for others and try to give that away. Thus in our Twelve Steps, there is an expression of almost pure love, the kind of love that has no price tag on it.
Consider what happens, though, when we move away from the Twelfth Step, and our relations with people became closer, including the whole subject of domestic relations.
How many of us are there now who can go home with the same kind of love for a long-suffering wife that we have had down at the club house for our alcoholic brother? Lots of us can, but lots of us can’t – not yet – because there has been a profound distortion of family life due to our drinking. There is a whole area of personal relationships, which has not only to do with sobriety, but with emotional sobriety. It has to do with the joy of living, and that is an area in which there is a vast amount to be learned and a vast amount to be done. Are we able “to carry these principles into all our affairs?”
We sometimes quarrel a great deal, not often about things that matter too much, but there is a great deal of unnecessary anger, ambition, pride, a tendency to dominate people, or a tendency to cling to people. All the problems of personal relationships, which have to do with an emotional sobriety, a happy sobriety, are yet far from solution. When we have moved on and made a great dent in those problems, we shall have passed another milestone.
Then there is the problem of the complacent A.A. He comes in, he does good work, his family is united, his family is happy, his income is good, and he “assumes” that he is “cured.” He thinks he’s done his bit for A.A. Most of us know that this blissful state can’t last too long. At some point life is going to present him with a great lump he’s not prepared to swallow. So he, and those who are coasting with him, might take another look at our Twelve Steps – not just the First and the Twelfth, but all those in between, and try hard to apply them in all their affairs, and try harder to be more realistic about their obligations.
Consider also this matter of sponsoring new people. Since we have grown large in numbers, the careful attention that we used to give is perhaps sometimes denied new people. They come into our larger meetings. They wander about. Our sponsorship is still occasionally defective. We can do much about improving it. We can remember the kind of chance that somebody gave us, and the desire can again burn in us to give that next fellow his chance, and not leave the job to somebody else.
To be prudent is not necessarily to be fearful. Curiously enough, this Society as a whole has never had a problem, which has cut clear across it. The individual has been beset with problems, and he has survived. So have Groups. So have areas. But, A.A. as a whole has never been cut across by a great problem or a great calamity. We are living in a world which sometimes seems largely filled with nothing but problems and calamities, and for all of these last seventeen or eighteen years God has spared our fellowship anything that looks like a big problem. This has permitted our reputation to be made secure in the public mind. We are now prepared to meet serious problems as they come, and it is not fearful to say that such problems will undoubtedly come someday to A.A. as a whole.
Just take one problem – not too serious – and let us try to think how we would behave if it occurred. I know of an author who is a humorist on the sarcastic side. Two or three years ago he got material together for a funny book about A.A. which would have roundly ridiculed us. The book was never published, because he found too many of his old writing cronies in A.A., and they discouraged him. But supposed that he had published this book?
You know what your first reaction would have been. It would have been a reaction of great rage. “He can’t do this to us!” But, does that necessarily have to be our reaction? When we are unfairly criticized, loudly criticized at some time in the future, or actually attacked, are we prepared to take such attacks in silence, and in dignity, with no thought of retaliation? And if there is any truth in such an attack, can we humbly say, “That is so, this Society stands corrected.”
Today the world is full of political divisions, warring philosophies, warring nations. Supposing that those divisions cut deep in this country sometimes, and our Society as such starts to quarrel. Shall we find the wisdom and grace at such a time to say, “No Traditionally, these are matters on which A.A. ‘s can never quarrel within the confines of this Society. This is the sort of quarrel that can destroy us, and the chance for sobriety and a new way of life for all who might come.”
Conceivably we might one day have a religious division. I don’t believe we will, but we might. Much will depend on how we shall act then. Much will depend on what this body, the conscience of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole, says and does at such a critical juncture.
Personally – and this may seem strange – I think we are ready to meet these problems. I think we can manage them, and I think so because of what I see here before me. I see God, speaking through the group conscience, in this room. I feel that our guidance will be true and that the voice of Alcoholics Anonymous will remain clear, that its conscience is now so experienced and so well related to a Higher Power that it can apprehend the right thing to do at the right time. Despite all the perils of the road ahead, I know that you share with me an utter confidence about our future.
There is more temptation to which this movement may be subjected. All around us men are commencing to say, “Why, this A.A. thing is a lot more than a cure for drunks. It’s a way of life that could save civilization.” Mr. Herbert Hoover, several years ago, paused in the middle of a policy talk and pointed to this Society as one whose spirit ought to animate the whole world. A fellow from the United Nations told me the other day that ideas he had drawn from the A.A. tradition had transformed the whole status of relief work in Greece. The week before, a man came in who is a very noted philosopher in this country. He said to me, “Bill, I began to sense that A.A. has a deeper destiny than just sobering up drunks. It may be a spearhead of a new religious evolution.”
At first that sort of thing made me feel good. It made me feel ambitious! I thought, well, now that we’re on the way to sobering up all the drunks in the world, why not sober up all the people in the world, emotionally speaking?
Then prudence intervened and said to me, as I know it must have said to you, “These are things we should never say about ourselves. The more we mind our own business, the more we offer with success what we have to the next alcoholic, the longer we shall last and the larger will be our usefulness, even to the world outside.”
To you of this third General Service Conference, I say welcome, and may God speak in your conscience. May your voice be clear and true, and may the great service heart of Alcoholics Anonymous, which beats in the center of this gathering continue to beat for so long as God shall need us.