Tradition Two: Group Conscience or Mob Rule?

(Short form) “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.”

(Long Form) “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority-a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.”

The purpose of this blog is to enhance Unity by encouraging discussion of one element of Tradition Two: Group Conscience.

The format poses some inventory questions followed by material from published recovery sources. This blog invites exploration as it relates to our fellowships’ group conscience process: “What is our understanding of group conscience and how do we achieve it?”

How does our definition and practice of group conscience compare to the experience of others?

The AA Group, pamphlet, 1995

“The term ‘informed group conscience’ implies that pertinent information has been studied and all views have been heard before the group votes…This is achieved by the group members through the sharing of full information, individual points of view, and the practice of AA principles. To be fully informed requires a willingness to listen to minority opinions with an open mind. On sensitive issues, the group works slowly-discouraging formal motions until a clear sense of its collective view emerges.”

NA – Twelve Concepts of Service

“Group conscience is the spiritual means by which we invite a loving God to influence our decisions. Conscience is essentially a spiritual faculty. It is our innate sense of right and wrong, an internal compass that each of us may consult in our personal reflections about the best course to take. Our basic text refers to conscience as one of those “higher mental and emotional functions”…The exercise of group conscience is the act by which our members bring the spiritual awakening of our Twelve Steps directly to bear in resolving issues affecting NA. As such, it is a subject which must command our most intent consideration…Group conscience is the means by which we collectively invite the on going guidance of a Higher Power in making decisions.”

NA, It Works How and Why

“Group conscience can be thought of in much the same way as personal conscience. Group conscience reflects a collective awareness of, understanding of, and surrender to spiritual principles…If we are to find guidance from an Ultimate Authority we need to find means of hearing that guidance together. The mechanism we use is group conscience… Without direction our services may lack consistency…The success of the group conscience depends on our willingness as individuals to seek guidance from a Higher Power on a personal level. We then bring that willingness into the group setting…This conscience is a reflection of our relationship with a Higher Power. It reflects the guidance we receive from the God of our understanding and our commitment to follow that guidance…When consulted regularly, that collective conscience guides us in fulfilling our primary purpose while preserving our unity and common welfare.”

Do our group conscience decisions demonstrate the loving influence of a higher power or are they destructive in nature, rooted in emotional self will?

AA Grapevine Article, January 1998

“My experience has been that unity is best achieved by a full hearing of all points of view, followed by some time for those involved to step back from emotional responses to the issue, as well as careful consideration and prayer…When we need to make a decision it is important for me to allow the group conscience to work and to trust in the process of applying the Twelve Traditions in making our decisions.”

NA, Twelve Concepts of Service

“Developing a collective conscience provides us with the spiritual guidance we need for making service decisions. We pray or meditate together, we share with one another, we consider our Traditions, and we seek direction from a Higher Power… It is possible for us to apply the principles of the program in all our affairs, including our service affairs. We acknowledge group conscience is the spiritual means by which we invite a loving God to influence our decisions in our service affairs, when we listen not to just the words our fellow members speak, but to the spirit behind their words, when we seek God’s will, not our own, and when we serve others, not ourselves. And when in our groups, service boards, and committees when we invite a loving God to influence us before making service related decisions.”

AA Grapevine Article, January 1958, Bill Wilson

“I think many oldsters who have put our AA ‘booze cure’ to severe but successful tests still find they often lack emotional sobriety. Perhaps they will be the spearhead For the next major development in AA-the development of much more real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility) in our relations with ourselves, with our fellows, and with God…Reinforced by what grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed, upon any set of circumstances whatsoever…Plainly I could not avail myself of God’s love until I was able to offer it back to him by loving others as he would have me. And I couldn’t possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies. For my dependency meant demand-a demand for the possession and control of the people and conditions surrounding me.

NA, It Works How and Why

“The conscience of a group takes shape and is revealed when its members take time to talk with each other about their personal needs. The needs of the group, and the needs of NA as a whole. As members listen carefully to each other and consult their personal understanding of a loving God, something happens; Solutions to problems become apparent, solutions that take into consideration the needs of everyone concerned…We encourage our trusted servants to remain open to new ideas, to become knowledgeable about all aspects of service in NA, and to continue to seek personal recovery. All of these attributes are essential to their ability to serve us well.”

The AA Group, pamphlet, 1995

“Almost every group problem has a resolution which usually can be reached through the mechanism of an informed group conscience. Importantly, a good sense of humor, cooling off periods, patience, courtesy, willingness to listen and to wait-plus a sense of fairness and trust in a ‘Power greater than ourselves’-have been found more effective than legalistic arguments or personal accusations.

AA Grapevine Article, May 1954

“Bill W. says, in The Milestones Ahead , ‘It is true that the love of one drunk for another is wonderful to behold.’ As we all go out in our Twelve Step work, he says, ‘there is an expression of almost pure love, the kind of love that has no price tag on it.’ But in our association with others (to quote Bill W. again) ‘are we able to carry these principles into all our affairs? We sometimes quarrel a great deal, not often about things that matter too much, but there is a great deal of unnecessary anger, ambition, pride, a tendency to cling to people. All the problems of personal relationships which have to do with emotional sobriety, a happy sobriety, are yet far from solution. It is plain to all of us that unless this society can develop enough brotherhood and partnership amongst its members, we shall some day fall into disunity, and the basis of partnership and brotherhood has to be greatly improved personal relations.’…When a question involving a difference of opinion arises, all members of the group can be invited to express their opinion on the subject. Then all the facts pertaining to the subject will be presented which makes it much easier to judge the issue in a fair and impartial way.”

Do we seek substantial unanimity in group conscience decisions or do we believe a simple majority vote, based in personal or political power, is sufficient?

The AA Group, pamphlet, 1995

“The term ‘informed group conscience’ implies that pertinent information has been studied and all views have been heard before the group votes…The ‘informed group conscience’ is the collective conscience of the group membership and thus represents substantial unanimity on an issue before definitive action is taken…To be fully informed requires a willingness to listen to minority opinions with an open mind…The result rests on more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ count-precisely because it is the spiritual expression of the group conscience.”

NA, Twelve Concepts of Service

“Our groups, service boards, and committees often use the vote as a rough tool for translating spiritual guidance into clear, decisive terms. Sometimes, however, no vote is needed; following thoughtful, attentive discussion, it is perfectly apparent what our collective conscience would have us do in a given situation. Just as we seek the strongest possible spiritual unity in NA, so in our decision making we seek unanimity, not merely a majority vote. The more care we take in our considerations, the more likely we are to arrive at unanimity, and no vote will be needed to help us translate our group conscience into a collective decision. When making specific service decisions, voting may be the measure of our group conscience. However, group conscience can be seen in all our fellowship’s affairs, not only our decision making process.”

AA Grapevine Article, May 1954

“Since our first tradition says ‘personal recovery depends on AA unity’ it would make sense to be certain that our unity comes first. We can play it safe by adopting the policy used by the General Service Conference which provides that no action should be taken on any question unless by consent of at least three-quarters of the Conference members. A mere majority vote should not authorize action because, if even a small minority are in opposition, this would tend to destroy our unity. But the important thing is that by asking the entire group to voice its sentiments, we are using our Second Tradition…Here we tie ourselves to the greatest powering existence, the power that really makes AA tick. If we are sincere in our approach this plan will invariably give us the right answer as the group conscience speaks.”

Do we seek out and value minority opinion in our group conscience or does our decision process stifle dissenting views and is it consistently influenced by dominant personalities?

The AA Group, pamphlet, 1995

“Before a vote is taken, it is essential that the members be given all the facts relevant to the subject at hand. In many cases, a few members may be asked to look into the pros and cons of the issue and present them at the meeting. Arriving at an informed group conscience in big matters or small is a process that may take some time. But it is important that the minority, or dissenting, views be heard along with those of the majority. In some instances, they may even turn the table…Some groups have tried observing Robert’s Rules of Order, only to find that many members are inexperienced in parliamentary procedures and feel too intimidated to speak up. Besides, there is the spiritual nature of our fellowship, embodied in our Traditions and Concepts which give ample guidance.”

AA Grapevine Article, 1947, Bill Wilson

“Almost without exception the failure to accomplish anything by coercion has been complete. Yet we alcoholics can be led, we can be inspired: coming into AA we can, and we gladly do, yield to the will of God. Hence it is not strange that the only real authority to be found in AA is that of spiritual principle. It is never personal authority…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…I can see my older friends smiling. They are recalling those times when they, too, felt a mighty call to ‘save the AA movement’ from something or other…In such fashion each of us learns that, in AA, one can be a servant only”

AA, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, P. 134

“…the group now has a so called rotating committee, very sharply limited in its authority. In no sense whatever can its members govern or direct the group. They are servants. Theirs is the sometimes thankless privilege of doing the group’s chores…The committee gives no spiritual advice, judges no one’s conduct, issues no orders. Every one of them may be promptly eliminated at the next election if they try this. And so they make the belated discovery that they are really servants, not senators. These are universal experiences. Thus throughout AA does the group conscience decree the terms upon which its leaders shall serve.

NA, Twelve Concepts of Service

“The expression of the individual conscience to the group is the foundation of a group conscience. Without it, we block the guidance of a loving God, our ultimate authority. When a position supported by many of us is challenged by a few of us, our service boards and committees should always treat such input with respect and careful consideration. The information and insights offered by the few may save us from dangerous mistakes; they may even lead us to new, previously undreamt horizons of service, where we might fulfill our fellowship’s primary purpose more effectively than ever. For the sake of our fellowship, and for the sake of our members yet to come, our groups, service boards, and committees must always carefully consider all view points in their decision making processes…if you are a member of a service body, all you need do is raise your hand and speak. If the point you wish to make is complex, you may wish to put it in writing, so that other members of the board or committee can study it more carefully…The full participation of each member of the team is of great value as we seek to express the collective conscience of the whole…That all members of a service body bear substantial responsibility for that bodies decisions and should be allowed to fully participate in its decision making processes, with its emphasis on equalizing the relative weight of each voice on the team, puts the spiritual principle of anonymity into practice.”

NA Basic Text, Tradition Two, P. 61

“In NA, we rely on a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience, rather than on personal opinion or ego…We must constantly be on guard that our decisions are truly an expression of God’s will. There is often a vast difference between group conscience and group opinion. True spiritual principles are never in conflict; they compliment each other. The spiritual conscience of a group will never contradict any of our Traditions. The Second Tradition concerns the nature of leadership in NA…Those of us who have been involved in service or in getting a group started sometimes have a hard time letting go. Egos, unfounded pride, and self will destroy a group if given authority. We must remember that offices have been placed in trust, that we are trusted servants, and at no time do any of us govern.”-

Cocaine Anonymous World Service Manual, 2006 Edition

“The purpose of parliamentary procedure is ‘ to permit a majority to accomplish its ultimate purpose within a reasonable period of time but only after allowing the minority reasonable opportunity to express it’s views on the question at issue’ …This brief summary of parliamentary procedure, drawn largely from Robert’s Rules of Order, was prepared for use at the World Service Conference. The Conference believes that it may also be of use to Areas and Districts. Please use it in the spirit it is intended; to aid in the orderly conduct of business meetings. It does not replace or take precedence over a charter, bylaws, standing rules, or the principles upon which the Traditions, the Steps and the Twelve Concepts are based. A potential exists for one or more people to use parliamentary procedure to control and/or otherwise manipulate a group away from its intention. Scrupulous and incessant attention to principle is the only way to prevent these guidelines for business meetings from being used to circumvent or unjustly influence the group conscience.”

AA Grapevine, April 1959, Bill Wilson

“Somewhere in our literature there is a statement to this effect: ‘Our leaders do not drive by mandate, they lead by example.’ In effect we are saying to them, ‘Act for us, but don’t boss us.’ A leader in AA service is therefore a person who can personally put principles, plans and policies into such dedicated and effective action that the rest of us want to back him up and help him with his job. When a leader power-drives us badly, we rebel; but when he too meekly becomes an order-taker and he exercises no judgment of his own-well, he really is no leader at all…But in new and important matters, it will nevertheless consult widely before taking decisions and actions…He recognizes that even large majorities, when badly disturbed or uninformed, can, once in a while, be dead wrong. When such an occasional situation arises, and something vital is at stake, it is always the duty of leadership, even when in small minority, to take a stand against the storm–using every ability of authority and persuasion to effect a change…Leadership is often called upon to face heavy and sometimes long continued criticism…we have those who we like to call our ‘destructive critics.’ They power-drive, they are ‘politickers,’ They make accusations. Maybe they are violent, malicious. They pitch gobs of rumors, gossip, and general scuttlebutt to gain their ends–all for the good of AA.

As new members arrive, do we embrace change as a natural part of the group conscience process or do we remain resistant to our evolving group conscience?

NA, It Works How and Why

“Group conscience is not fixed and inflexible. We know that personal conscience changes as an individual’s relationship with a Higher Power grows and strengthens. In the same way the conscience of a group evolves as its members mature in recovery, new members arrive, and the group’s situation changes…The principles involved in group conscience guides us through are constantly changing, requiring our conscience to tell us different things in different settings… A higher power works through all of us, regardless of clean time or experience. Group conscience always exists, but we are not always willing or able to hear it or allow its expression. Hearing group conscience may take time and patience. A flexible approach invites a loving Higher Power into our group conscience process…Just as our personal recovery doesn’t always develop in an orderly fashion, our fellowship doesn’t always evolve as we would expect. As groups and committees go through this growing process, their collective conscience often evolves as well. Changes in the group conscience are not a cause for alarm, merely part of the growing process…No one member or group has a monopoly on the of the Higher Power’s will. We practice anonymity by offering our love, attention and respect to everyone, regardless of our personal feelings toward any individual. Every member has a part in the development of group conscience…We learn to cultivate our listening skills, using our ears more than our mouths in conversation. When we are open-minded, we hear and accept solutions offered by others in the development of group conscience… Only with an open mind can we recognize the guidance of a loving Higher Power.”

NA, Twelve Concepts of Service

“Our decision making process is not perfect. Many groups, service boards, and committees acknowledge this, and the value of the minority’s position, with every decision they make. Whenever a motion is approved by something less than unanimous consent, service bodies often ask those who voted against the measure to state their reasons for doing so, either out loud or in writing. If the decision needs to be revised at a later date, such minority opinions may prove invaluable in helping chart a new service course.”

2 thoughts on “Tradition Two: Group Conscience or Mob Rule?

  1. Thanks for taking the time to pull this together. I had questions from my own experience in service work with Marijuana Anonymous, and appreciate the source material.

  2. I had a (conference approved) pamphlet which stated that a group member has to be present at a group conscience meeting in order t participate, ie cannot send a proxy vote. 1)does anyone have that pamphlet. 2) Is this true? 3) can anyone point me in the direction of this?

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