The Principle of Anonymity – Some thoughts from the A.A. oldtimers
In the Forward to the First Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it states:
"It is important that we remain anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication. Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event. We would like it understood that our alcoholic work is an avocation.
When writing or speaking publicly about alcoholism, we urge each of our Fellowship to omit his personal name, designating himself instead as "a member of Alcoholics Anonymous." (pg. xiii, A.A. 4th Edition)
Tradition Eleven states:
"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." (Short Form)
"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." (Long Form)
Tradition Twelve states:
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." (Short Form)
"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." (Long Form)
What did the old timers think about anonymity?
On page 264-265 of "DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers" (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., New York 1980) it states:
"As far as anonymity was concerned, we knew who we were. It wasn't only A.A., but our social life. All of our lives seemed to be spent together. We took people home with us to dry out. The Cleveland group had the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the members," said Warren. "In fact, I remember Dr. Bob saying, 'If I got up and gave my name as Dr. Bob S., people who needed help would have a hard time getting in touch with me.'"
Warren recalled, "He (Dr. Bob) said there were two ways to break the anonymity Tradition: (1) by giving your name at the public level of press or radio; (2) by being so anonymous that you can't be reached by other drunks."
In an article in the February 1969 Grapevine, D.S. of San Mateo, California, wrote that Dr. Bob commented on the Eleventh Tradition as follows:
"Since our Tradition on anonymity designates the exact level where the line should be held, it must be obvious to everyone who can read and understand the English language that to maintain anonymity at any other level is definitely a violation of this 'Tradition'.
"The A.A. who hides his identity form his fellow A.A. by using only a given name violates the Tradition just as much as the A.A. who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matters pertaining to A.A.
"The former is maintaining his anonymity above the level of press, radio, and films, and the latter is maintaining his anonymity below the level of press, radio, and films -- whereas the Tradition states that we should maintain our anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."
Ernie G. of Toledo, commenting on what he saw to be an increase of anonymity within A.A. today as compared with the old days said, "I made a lead over to Jackson (Michigan) on night, and everybody's coming up to me and saying, "i'm Joe,' 'I'm Pete.' Then one of guys said, 'Safe journey home. If you get into any trouble, give me buzz.' Later, I said to the fellow who was with me, 'You know, suppose we did get into trouble on the way home. How would we tell anyone in A.A.? We don't know anyone's last name.' They get so doggone carried away with this anonymity that it gets to be a joke. I had a book (evidently, one of the small address books compiled by early members or their wives) with the first hundred names -- first and last -- telephone numbers, and where they lived."
Dr. Bob's views on anonymity remained clear in the recollections of Akron's Joe P. (the Dartmouth grad). Though it was not the custom in the mid-1940's to give A.A. talks to anyone except drunks, Joe noted, a few members formed an unofficial public information committee that started to speak to Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs throughout the state.
"Of course, we first had to get permission from Bob. He said you were not supposed to break your anonymity in the newspapers or on the radio, but he didn't think we would ge anyplace if people didn't know we belonged to A.A. He had the firm conviction that you should let yourself be known as A.A. member in the community, and he was always sure to tell you about it every time you met him."
What are your thoughts and experiences with the anonymity prinicple? Do you let people outside the fellowship know you are member of A.A. or C.A. or N.A., S.L.A.A., etc.? Do you remain anonymous even amongst the fellowship? Ever had your anonymity broken? Let us know what you think.