‘AA Tradition How It Developed’ – Bill W 1955


How shall we A.A.’s best preserve our unity? That is the subject of this booklet.

When an alcoholic applies the Twelve Steps of our recovery program to his personal life, his disintegration stops and his unification begins. The Power which now holds him together in one piece overcomes those forces which had rent him apart. Exactly the same principle applies to each A.A. group and to Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole.
So long as the ties which bind us together prove far stronger than those forces which would divide us if they could, all will be well. We shall be secure as a movement; our essential unity will remain a certainty.

If, as A.A. members, we can each refuse public prestige and renounce any desire for personal power; if, as a movement, we insist on remaining poor, so avoiding disputes about extensive property and its management; if we steadfastly decline all political,
sectarian, or other alliances, we shall avoid internal division and public notoriety; if, as a movement, we remain a spiritual entity concerned only with carrying our message to fellow sufferers without charge or obligation; then only can we most effectively com‑
plete our mission. It is becoming ever so clear that we ought never accept even the most alluring temporary benefits if these should consist of considerable sums of money, or could involve us in controversial alliances and endorsements, or might tempt some of
us to accept, as A.A. members, personal publicity by press or radio. Unity is so vital to us A.A.’s that we cannot risk those attitudes and practices which have sometimes demoralized other forms of human society. Thus far we have succeeded because we have been different. May we continue to be so!

But A.A. unity cannot automatically preserve itself. Like personal recovery, we shall al‑
ways have to work to maintain it. Here, too, we surely need honesty, humility, open‑mindedness, unselfishness, and, above all—vigilance. So we who are older in A.A. beg you who are newer to ponder carefully the experience we have already
had of trying to work and live together. We would like each A.A. to become just as much aware of those disturbing tendencies which endanger us as a whole as he is conscious of those personal defects which threaten his own sobriety and peace of mind. For whole movements have, before now, gone on benders, too!

The “Twelve Points of A.A. Tradition” reproduced herein is our first attempt to state sound principles of group conduct and public relations. As one of the originators of A.A., I was asked to publish these “Points,” together with supporting articles, serially in our principal monthly journal, The A.A. Grapevine. Many A.A.’s already feel that these
Twelve Traditions are sound enough to become the basic guide and protection for A.A. as a whole; that we ought to apply them as seriously to our group life as we do the Twelve Recovery Steps to ourselves individually. Of this, it will take time to tell.

May we never forget that without permanent unity we can offer little lasting relief to those scores of thousands yet to join us in their quest for freedom.

Nobody invented Alcoholics Anonymous. It grew. Trial‑and‑error has produced a rich experience. Little by little we have been adopting the lessons of that experience, first as policy and then as tradition. That process still goes on and we hope it never stops. Should we ever harden too much, the letter might crush that spirit. We could victimize
ourselves by petty rules and prohibitions; we could imagine that we had said the last word. We might even be asking alcoholics to accept our rigid ideas or stay away. May we never stifle progress like that!

Yet the lessons of our experience count for a great deal. We now have had years of vast acquaintance with the problem of living and working together. If we can succeed in this adventure—and keep succeeding—then, and only then, will our future be secure.

Since personal calamity holds us in bondage no more, our most challenging concern has become the future of Alcoholics Anonymous; how to preserve among us A.A.’s such a powerful unity that neither weakness of persons nor the strain and strife of these
troubled times can harm our common cause. We know that Alcoholics Anonymous must continue to live. Else, save few exceptions, we and our brother alcoholics throughout the world will surely resume the hopeless journey to oblivion.

Almost any A.A. can tell you what our group problems are. Fundamentally they have to do with our relations, one with the other, and with the world outside. They involve relations of the A.A. to his group, the relation of his group to Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole, and the place of Alcoholics Anonymous in that troubled sea called modern
society, where all of humankind must presently shipwreck or find haven. Terribly relevant is the problem of our basic structure and our attitude toward those ever-pressing questions of leadership, money, and authority. The future may well depend on how we feel and act about things that are controversial and how we regard our public relations. Our final destiny will almost surely hang upon what we presently decide to do with these danger‑fraught issues!

Now comes the crux of our discussion. It is this: Have we yet acquired sufficient experience to state clear‑cut policies on these, our chief concerns; can we now declare general principles which could grow into vital traditions—traditions sustained in the heart of each A.A. by his own deep conviction and by the common consent of his fellows? That is the question. Though full answers to all our perplexities may never be found, I’m sure we have come at last to a vantage point whence we can discern the main outlines of a body of tradition which, God willing, can stand as an effective guard
against all the ravages of time and circumstance.

Acting upon the persistent urge of old A.A. friends, and upon the conviction that general
agreement and consent among our members are now possible, I shall venture to place in words these suggestions for An Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition of Relations—Twelve Points to Assure Our Future:

Long Form (Bold) Short Form(Italics)

Our A.A. experience has taught us that:

  1. Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.
    Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
    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.
  3. Our membership ought to include all who suffer alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
    The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. 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 A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of General Services Board.* On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
    Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. 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.
    Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. 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 A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An A.A. group, as
    such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A.—and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.
    An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. The A.A. 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 of contributions carrying any obligations whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.
    Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional. 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 A.A. Twelfth Step work is never to be paid for.

    Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. Each A.A. 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 General Services Board are, in effect, our A.A. General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our A.A. tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our overall public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal journal, The A.A. Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. 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. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., 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.

    Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. 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.

    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.
  12. 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 a 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.
    Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities

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