Talking politics is frowned on in AA meetings. One member makes the case that clothes can talk too
Tradition Ten tells us that “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 whatsoever.”
I have been sober in AA a long time—more than 40 years—and have had an appreciation for our Traditions ever since I first read them in The AA Service Manual that I found on a table at my home group in early recovery.
What struck me from the first reading was that there was nothing to argue about here. The manual contained statements of principle, of suggested best practices. These statements, in addition to the Steps, have guided my behavior throughout my life, both inside and outside AA.
I heard somewhere that if you didn’t get the First Step, you couldn’t properly take any of the other Steps and, similarly, if you didn’t get the First Tradition, you couldn’t properly practice the other Traditions. I learned that one of the fundamental requirements for practicing the First Tradition (and indeed all the others) was to think of the welfare of others and to reduce the self-centeredness that is an essential part of the disease of alcoholism.
As far as the Tenth Tradition is concerned, I’m aware that I have always been very opinionated. I have strong opinions on virtually everything. When I was drinking, I took pride in expressing my opinions loudly, especially since I was convinced I was always right and that my opinions were always justified, even if I was wrong—which I never was.
In early sobriety, I found myself expressing critical opinions in meetings about such things as medications, smoking marijuana, drug addiction and psychiatrists. As I grew in AA, I learned to practice more restraint and, for the most part, to eliminate the expression of my personal opinions in meetings. I even mostly stopped participating in discussions of politics or even sports in our meetings-before-the-meetings. I developed the habit of saying, “Tenth Tradition—outside issues,” when the occasion arose.
Recently however, I had an experience that rocked me. At my regular Saturday morning meeting, a member showed up wearing an item of political clothing of a politician who expresses strong, controversial racist views. I’m one of only two black members who regularly attend this meeting. And on this occasion I was the only black person in a room full of white folks. I felt offended, even assaulted, by the sight of his clothing and the message it conveyed.
I knew, however, that the man wearing it is the founder of the group and he’s been sober for about 50 years. He’s respected by everyone for the quality of his sobriety. Moreover, he’s blind. I wondered whether he even knew what he was wearing. I knew he had to be driven to the meeting by another member and I wondered whether that member had commented on it. I said nothing, but was distracted throughout the meeting. As far as I could gather, nobody else appeared to be disturbed by it.
But that day had a lasting effect on me. I no longer feel safe among the members of our group. I still attend the meetings, but I no longer feel I belong. I know that since I was disturbed by what I saw, that means something is not right with me. I am willing to accept that I can be overly sensitive about racial matters. I cannot, however, ignore the fact that the opinion expressed by the wearing of that clothing, which has a strong political message, has, for me, effectively diverted the group from its primary purpose and compromised group unity.
This experience has reinforced for me the importance of the Tenth Tradition and the subtle—or not so subtle—ways in which members can express opinions on outside issues.