Principles before personalities

In working on my blog, I’ve recently been thinking about the 12 Traditions of A.A.. Like the 12 Steps, these Traditions are read out at the start of every A.A. meeting to help us remember how A.A. works.

The 12 Traditions are:

  1. 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. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. 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. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. 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. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

These 12 Traditions remind us that A.A. groups are there to support alcoholics/addicts to get sober and stay sober, and as long as you are trying to do that you are welcome. (There are also many “Open” meetings where friends, family members and people who are curious about A.A. are welcome to come and participate.) The Traditions say how A.A. groups are to organize and pay for themselves, and that A.A. groups do not get involved in public issues. And the foundation of a connection to God – as you understand Him/Her – is made clear.

The 12th Tradition has been particularly important to me, for a couple of reasons:

  • First, and most importantly, anonymity.It is very hard to quit drinking/drugging. For sure, there are the physical effects of withdrawl and the low state I was in when I finally decided to get sober. It was also pretty hard to admit I was powerless over alcohol, that my life had become unmanageable because of using, that booze and drugs were making me crazy. I very much counted on the anonymity promise of A.A. when I started going to meetings. I had a high profile in my community and a good job, and I needed to know my anonymity would be protected. Very fortunately, at my first A.A. meeting that day almost 26 years ago, another high profile person was there and he made a point of coming up to me at the end of the meeting to say that my anonymity would be kept by the group. What a comforting welcome and assurance as I started on the long and far from easy journey to sobriety.
  • Another part of the 12th tradition is also very important to me: principles over personalities. What that means to me is that the principles that are outlined in the 12 Steps and that underlie the 12 Traditions are more important than individuals who may be in any meeting room. It is not about who you are, or how much or how little sobriety you have, or whether you sit at the front of the meeting or at the back of the room. What matters is that you are an alcoholic/addict who is trying to get sober, and who is trying to practice the principles involved in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Knowing that I was welcome at a meeting from my first day, and that other people would be welcome regardless of who they are and how shaky their sobriety might be, has been a consistently powerful part of the A.A. program for me.

My thanks to the people in my home group and the A.A. rooms over many years for keeping that promise – that Tradition – of protecting my anonymity and welcoming alcoholics at every stage of recovery. It is with the support of people working on their recovery in A.A. meetings wherever I went that I have been able to get sober and stay sober. So much gratitude!

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2 Responses to Principles before personalities

  1. Thanks Sibyl! I love these 12 Traditions. They’re in line with my favourite organizational theory: Chaordic Theory by Dee Hock. And if I remember correctly he mentioned the 12-step program in his book “One from Many”.
    Ultimately, all of our organizations and collectives will have to become truly democratic organizations like AA………..

    • Sibyl says:

      Hi Pamela,
      Neat to see how thoughtful people in different arenas are looking at how people can support each other, make community and build democracy from the ground up. A.A. groups are definitely very people oriented and don’t encourage hierarchies where some people are better than others. Thanks for helpingmake the connections with other communities and thinkers.

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