AA Myths: The Myth that Bill wished he could have changed “rarely” to “never.”

A rumor has persisted for years in the fellowship of AA that Bill wished he could have changed “rarely” to “never.” This is a myth.

In a letter to Les V., dated May 25, 1961 Bill W. stated: “Concerning your comment about the use of the word ‘rarely’ in Chapter Five of the Big Book. My recollection is that we did give a considerable thought at the time of writing. I think the main reason for the use of ‘rarely’ was to avoid anything that would look like a claim for a 100% result. Assuming of course that an alcoholic is willing enough and sane enough, there can be a perfect score on such character. But since willingness and sanity are such illusive and fluctuating values, we simply didn’t like to be too positive. The medical profession could jump right down our throats…I do remember thinking about it a lot.”

In addition, the following question and response were made at the 1970 General Service Conference, as part of the “Ask-It” Basket questions. Bill was, of course, still living at this time and was able to respond:

Q. Has Bill ever said, “If there was any change he would make in the Big Book, it would be to change the world ‘rarely’ to ‘never’ at the start of Chapter Five”? A. “No, Bill said he had never considered this” (1970 General Service Conference Report, p. 31).


5 thoughts on “AA Myths: The Myth that Bill wished he could have changed “rarely” to “never.”

  1. Thank you. I have heard this story many times. I believe I even heard it at a Joe and Charlie Seminar. And, if Bill said it, that would at least have settled Bill’s view. But did he say it, or even tell the truth when he did.

    Added to the material you set forth are these ideas:
    1.We now have the Hazelden heavily annotated and so-called printer’s manuscript. So one starting place today  would be to see if there are annotations there. I have not done so.

    2. I have reviewed many of Bill’s manuscripts, his autobiography, the Lois memoirs, and the biographies of the many who have dug up snippets here and there

    3. As to successes and failures about the time the Big Book went to press, we have these additional items:

    a. There is now a handwritten roster on Dr. Bob’s own stationary. It was appended, I believe, to an Amos report. It is on file at the Rockefeller Archives. I have a photo copy. This memo of 1939 (If that is the date) certainly shows Dr. Bob’s view of who succeeded and who failed. And there were failures.

    b. Bill himself many times said there were “failures galore.” So did Bob in less dramatic language.

    c. Hence it gets down to whether there was ever a claim that if someone “thoroughly followed our path,” he could not and did not fail. In that respect, there are a lot of disputed thoughts about the “first forty” and a few good researchers who have looked into their names and records. One view is that in the “counting of noses” in November of 1937,

    20 of the first forty had maintained continuous sobriety. For how long? What path did they follow? Frank Amos summarized it, and we have published that summary as well as the 16 practices of the early pioneers. Is one confining his thinking to Akronites and how they followed their Christian program? Is one accepting Bill’s contention that there were an alleged “six” “word-of-mouth” ideas (some called them steps) prior to the Big Book. Which of the any of the extant, examined rosters tells whether all the named folks were following the Akron program or Bill’s supposed six word of mouth ideas? We have published the varied versions in Bill’s own varied words re these ideas. And Bill himself said there was no general agreement on what they were and also that they were applied variously at the whim of the particular person’s approach.

    d. All in all, there is little actual evidence to indicate that any of the pioneers claimed 100% for their programs, whatever they were. Myth and speculation don’t mean anything.

    e. And there certainly are no later credible surveys other than Dr. Bob’s memo and the survey taken by Clarence Snyder in Cleveland showing a 90% success rate there.

    4. As you no doubt know, our research, publication and dissemination has been and is focused on the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in the early A.A. Akron Christian Fellowship. And I have published several books exploring the roots from many angles. http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml <http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml&gt; , http://www.dickb.com/Oxford.sthml <http://www.dickb.com/Oxford.sthml&gt; ,www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml <http://www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml&gt; . And By the Power of God. And once a person moves into speculation, you have to ask: Where is the evidence? Where is there more than one type of evidence? Is the reporter an advocate or a student? Who did and didn’t believe in God, accept Jesus Christ, and study the Bible? And whatever Hank Parkhurst was, we certainly know he got drunk shortly after the Big Book was published. Ebby perhaps before, and certainly for years after.  So did others. And we know their names.

    5. Again, our focus is on the results which an alcoholic with free will can, could, and did achieve. Also on the beliefs he had. Also on the program he was following. Also on the validity of the records. As a former attorney with many many years of research and search for evidence under his belt, I also have to ask if the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt or merely by a preponderance the point being made. The picture is best viewed as one where focusing on helping the alcoholic who still suffers is primary for A.A., for the reporters, and for the individual. And if the answers were all that clear, we wouldn’t have thousands of treatment centers that have failed by the score in recent years.

    6. Aloha.

    God bless,

    Dick B.

  2. Thank you for clearing this up. I can see Bill’s and the one hundred’s reason in not using the word never. The book might have been perceived to be to good to be true; as there is one of those on the market today. I do not see "rarely" as nothing more than spiritual progress.

    Dave J.

  3. This is nothing more than semantics. Accepting that Bill never regretted using the word “rarely” have we seen a person fail … instead of “never” doesn’t mean that “never” was in fact accurate and the fact that Bill at least believed “never” to be accurate is reflected in the author’s words.

  4. “Rarely have we seen a person fail that has thoroughly followed our path”. Then it goes on to say “none of us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles”. I would assert that no one has ever thoroughly followed our path. We are not saints. Bill was a salesman and he was trying to sell the steps. For good reason. They’ve saved millions including myself. But sometimes Bill’s flowery language is just that.

  5. This has got to be the biggest rat turd vaulting article ever. The point of the myth is that if he used ‘never’ instead of rarely some drunk would work the program and drink to prove him wrong. It’s just a funny story people tell to shed light on the insane mind of an alcoholic.

    I just got back from a meeting its 2018 and people are still trying to work the steps using the 12 & 12. Yes the book without the directions on how to work the steps. Then we have large confrences here in my city were they are teaching 4th step classes with a column labeled ‘What’s my part’ instead of defect of character. Thats right even though the book says our part is always that we got angry “anger and the brainstorm were not for us..” no one is having white light spiritual experiences because they are asking God to remove what they actually did in the past, which can’t be removed fyi, instead of asking for the defect that cause the reaction to be removed. Lets get our priorities straight

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