Tradition Four: Group Autonomy OR Intergroup/Area Tyranny?
Tradition Four (Short): Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
Tradition Four (Long): 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 the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
Bill Wilson learned:
"Nowhere in AA is there to be seen any constituted human authority that can compel an AA group to do anything...After struggling a few years to run the AA movement I had to give it up--it simply didn't work. Heavy handed assertion of my personal authority always created confusion and resistance."
Bill Wilson elaborates:
Tradition Four is yet another confident declaration of mutual trust and love as it flows from each AA group to the other. We give each group full autonomy, the undisturbed right to manage its own affairs. To make this condition doubly permanent and secure, we have guaranteed to all AA groups that they will never be subjected to any centralized government or authority. In turn each group agrees that it will never take any action that could injure us all. Rarely indeed has any AA group ever forgotten that precious trust.
"We had discovered that there was perfect safety in the process of trial and error. So confident of this had we become that the original statement of AA tradition carried this significant sentence: Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA Group provided that as a group they have no other affiliation. This meant, of course that we had been given the courage to declare each AA group an individual entity, strictly reliant on its own conscience as a guide to act...Every group has THE RIGHT to be wrong."
Bill Wilson said:
"...let us look more closely at Tradition Four. The first sentence guarantees each AA group local autonomy. With respect to it's own affairs, the group may make any decisions, adopt any attitudes that it likes. No overall or Intergroup authority should challenge this primary privilege. We feel this ought to be so, even though the group might sometimes act with complete indifference to our Tradition."
Bill continues for emphasis, to describe a most extreme, outrageous example of departure from typical behaviour:
"For example, an AA Group, if it wished, may hire a paid preacher and support him out of proceeds of a group nightclub. Though such an absurd action would be miles outside of our Tradition, the group's 'right to be wrong' would be held inviolate. We are sure that each group can be granted, and safely granted, these most extreme privileges...hence we say to each group, you should be responsible to no other authority than your own conscience."
Bill Wilson was often criticized for this laissez-faire attitude. Immaturity, lack of responsibility, promoting anarchy with a resultant dilution of our program were some criticisms. His answers to such criticisms were consistently simple:
"...almost anarchistic...a structure that actually invites deviation, knowing in advance it will fail, because we have the coercives of continuous drunkenness, insanity and death...because the penalty for enough deviation is drunkenness, and the penalty for drunkenness is insanity or death, we think that this is sufficient. We don't have to supplement God's work of correction."
1986 GENERAL SERVICE CONFERENCE CLOSING TALK
by Bob Pearson
At the closing brunch on Saturday morning, Bob Pearson (G.S.O. senior adviser), who is retiring early next year, gave a powerful and inspiring closing talk (excerpted below) to the 36th Conference. (This talk was rescheduled from Friday afternoon.)
Our greatest danger: rigidity
This is my 18th General Service Conference - the first two as a director of the Grapevine and A.A.W.S., followed by four as a general service trustee. In 1972, I rotated out completely, only to be called back two years later as general manager of G.S.O., the service job I held until late 1984. Since the 1985 International Convention, of course, I have been senior adviser. This is also my last Conference, so this is an emotionally charged experience.
I wish I had time to express my thanks to everyone to whom I am indebted for my sobriety and for the joyous life with which I have been blessed for the past nearly 25 years. But since this is obviously impossible, I will fall back on the Arab saying that Bill quoted in his last message, "I thank you for your lives." For without your lives, I most certainly would have no life at all, much less the incredibly rich life I have enjoyed.
Let me offer my thoughts about A.A.'s future. I have no truck with those bleeding deacons who decry every change and view the state of the Fellowship with pessimism and alarm. On the contrary, from my nearly quarter-century's perspective, I see A.A. as larger, healthier, more dynamic, faster growing, more global, more service-minded, more back-to-basics, and more spiritual - by far - than when I came through the doors of my first meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, just one year after the famous Long Beach Convention. A.A. has flourished beyond the wildest dreams of founding members, though perhaps not of Bill himself, for he was truly visionary.
I echo those who feel that if this Fellowship ever falters or fails, it will not be because of any outside cause. No, it will not be because of:
- treatment centers or
- professionals in the field, or
- non-Conference-approved literature, or
- young people, or
- the dually-addicted, or even
- the "druggies" trying to come to our closed meetings.
If we stick close to our Traditions, Concepts, and Warranties, and if we keep an open mind and an open heart, we can deal with these and any other problems that we have or ever will have. If we ever falter and fail, it will be simply because of us. It will be because we can't control our own egos or get along well enough with each other. It will be because we have too much fear and rigidity and not enough trust and common sense.
If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer:
- the growing rigidity;
- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions;
- pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions;
- screening alcoholics at closed meetings;
- prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books";
- laying more and more rules on groups and members.
And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met.
Bob Pearson (senior adviser)
Has your local area or intergroup been policing your meetings? Have you been informed that your Group's message, meeting format, and/or meeting literature is not World Services Approved? Has your Group been taken off Intergroup/Area's listings of meetings because of alleged non-compliance to Traditions? Let us know about your Intergroup or Area dictates, governance, and outright enforcement of mandates, rules and laws inhibiting a Group's ability to "carry its message to the alcoholic or addict who still suffers".