Tradition Two: The Principle of Rotation

(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.”

The purpose of this blog is to enhance unity by encouraging discussion of one element of Tradition Two: The Principle of Rotation.

The format poses inventory questions followed by material from published sources of CA, NA, and AA. This blog explores the question, as it relates to our fellowships’ rotation of leaders, “do we serve or do we govern?”

Do we practice rotating leadership, stepping out of office regardless if we believe others are not available, not willing and not qualified or do we remain frozen in office?

The AA Group Pamphlet, p. 34

“Traditionally, Rotation keeps AA members from becoming frozen in office. It also ensures that group tasks, like nearly everything else in AA, are passed around for all to share…to step out of an AA office you love can be hard. If you have been doing a good job, if you honestly don’t see anyone else around willing, qualified, or with the time to do it, and if your friends agree, it is especially tough. But it can be a real step forward in growth–a step into the humility that is, for some people, the spiritual essence of anonymity…rotation helps to bring us spiritual rewards far more enduring than any fame. With no AA “status” at stake, we needn’t compete for titles or praise–we have complete freedom to serve as we are needed”.

AA Grapevine, September 1992

“But then I began to see rotation in action, and i learned the difference between ruling and serving. Rotation is one of the ways we use to make sure we serve and don’t rule…AA’s tradition of rotation ( even if it permits some inexperience and even ignorance ) was a bit shocking. Could such a structure stay intact? Wouldn’t it finally fall apart? The answer, i discovered, was this: AA is unified and strong, because we are not organized…we’ve insisted that all those serving AA derive their authority from a loving god expressing himself within the informed group conscience.”

Do we practice rotating leadership assuring anonymity in service or do we have leadership exhibiting personal endeavors and individual personalities?

NA, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 213

“Almost All our groups, service boards, and committees rotate different members through their service positions, rarely asking one individual to serve in a particular position of responsibility more than one or two terms in a row. The Practice of rotation emphasizes our fellowship’s belief in the value of anonymity in service. NA service is not primarily a personal endeavour; rather, it is the collective responsibility of our fellowship as a whole. This doesn’t mean we do not appreciate the care, experience, and insight individuals offer in carrying out their service duties. However, we place the principle of anonymity in service before the personalities of our individual trusted servants. Collective responsibility, not personal authority, is the guiding force behind NA services”.

Do we practice transitory and rotating leadership allowing dependence on the god of our understanding to lead, via group conscience, or do we govern through fixed and official leadership?

Bill Wilson, AA Grapevine, October 1947

“AA may be able to function upon the power of its own fundamental principles rather than upon the prestige or inspiration of a highly personalized leadership. Thus the whole can become of transcending importance over any part; continued unity and success can then mostly depend upon god as we understand him working vitally in thousands of hearts rather than a few. Deep down, I think we in AA have begun to sense this magnificent possibility. The widening conviction that active leadership ought to be transitory and rotating; that each AA group with respect to its own affairs need be accountable only to its own conscience; that our committees and boards are really servants, not officials; that we, as a movement, ought to remain poor, so avoiding the risks of disrupting wealth…such concepts certainly leave little room for a prestige-clothed leadership.”

Do we experience through rotating leadership at all service levels, a kind of democracy rarely possible elsewhere or do we experience an authoritarian and fixed leadership interfering with our true ultimate authority?

Bill Wilson, AA Grapevine, January 1948

“We humbly hope and believe that our growing AA tradition will prove to be the will of god for us… and we need not depend overmuch on inspired leaders. Because our active leadership of service can be truly rotating, we enjoy a kind of democracy rarely possible elsewhere…therefore we of AA are certain that there is but one ultimate authority, “a loving god as he may express himself in our group conscience.”

Do we believe as individual members that our service committees govern and cannot get along without us and our directions, advice or orders and do we connive for re-election, unwilling to step aside quietly allowing god, through our group conscience to lead?

AA, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions p.134/5

“…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…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…the bleeding deacon is one who is just as surely convinced that the group cannot get along without him, who constantly connives for reelection to office…”

Do we selflessly serve as leaders, guided by group conscience, or do we exert authority to seek power, property or prestige through governance?

NA, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.113

“…in the way we structure our service organization. Our fellowship has no authoritarian hierarchy. We create boards and committees solely to serve us, not to govern. The various elements of our service structure are guided by the primary purpose and collective conscience of our fellowship are held accountable for the service they do on our behalf. Those who serve on our various boards and committees are expected not to seek power, property or prestige for themselves, but to selflessly serve the fellowship that has made their recovery possible.”

AA Grapevine, September 1992

“In setting up services and make sure they worked well, it was tempting to forget the principle of rotation…how much more difficult it was to hold on to the principle of rotation and make sure humility (rather than power building) was at the center of our efforts. We learned that even though it was more difficult to rotate and have to constantly move through a period of learning, this was good for the individuals involved and for AA…no one person or small group of people, needed to stay in particular serving positions…many people got a chance to serve rather than just a few.”

Do we manipulate the traditions through uninformed, ill informed or manipulative opinions, exerting personal leadership or do we remain open minded, actively learning about tradition and willing to change our minds to achieve unity?

CA Newsgram Article, Third Quarter, 2002

“In my travels over the past two years as a trustee I have uncovered a discouraging, but not surprising, discovery of property and prestige issues amongst many of our trusted servants. Through our implied definitions of what our responsibilities are to this fellowship and the implied direction of the traditions and/or concepts, I fear that many of our trusted servants have manipulated these definitions and directions into some sort of warped manifesto of discrete leadership intent. I believe the traditions dictate that our fellowship needs as little organization as possible on matters that may affect the CA fellowship as a whole. I also believe that our primary purpose should never be superseded by our ambitious need to expand our service structure beyond the immediate needs of the membership.”

Do we as “elder statesmen” govern by exerting power or influence, controlling newcomers, and building political alliances or do we serve by sharing service and rotating out of leadership allowing God, through our group conscience to lead?

CA Newsgram Article, Third Quarter, 2002

“…our so called elder statesmen are often perceived to have power and/or influence. Through the development of down line representation (e.g. Sponsees) at the district or area level, these elders maintain their influence, which may be so permanently established at the district or area level that newcomers often surrender. This stifles change and growth for these local fellowships.”

Do we serve through rotating leadership and never command or exert authority, acting only to understand, explore and carry out the conscience of the group?

Bill Wilson, AA Grapevine, 1947

“Nowhere in AA is there to be seen any constituted human authority that can compel an AA group to do anything…each leader soon discovers that while he can always guide by example or persuasion he can never boss…the majority of AA groups do not even choose leaders. They prefer rotating committees to handle their simple affairs. These committees are invariably regarded as servants. They have only the authorization to serve, never to command. Each committee carries out what it believes to be the wishes of its group. That is all…heavy handed assertion of my personal authority always created confusion and resistance”.

CA Approved Literature, 7th Tradition Pamphlet

“Cocaine anonymous features limited terms of service at all levels of service. According to Tradition Two,’our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.’ Once our term of commitment has expired, we step down and a replacement is elected. Even our trustees step down after serving for four years. Their are no leaders in CA; We are all trusted servants.”

Do we remained fixed in various service positions believing we achieved or maintain our personal sobriety through service and if so, how is this practice aligned with tradition five?

The AA Group Pamphlet, p.23

“Each AA Group determines the minimum length of sobriety for members to be eligible for any position or office…these jobs may have titles. But titles in AA do not bring authority or honor; they describe services and responsibilities. And it has generally been found that giving members jobs solely to help them stay sober does not work”.

4 thoughts on “Tradition Two: The Principle of Rotation

  1. The Principle of Rotation is now found on Page 28 of The AA Group. Also, the verbiage appears to have been changed by the General Service Conference.

    • Having a problem here in Pahrump Nevada. Talking Stick AA Meeting was founded by a particular lady 20 years ago. She is still secretary of the meeting.
      I have 28 years, hubby has 7 years, from Cali. I introduced spirit of rotation, set a date with business meeting.
      Most of Members of business meeting voted in 2 years for secretary.
      Now most of meeting members angry, and hardly speaking to me because, they have known secretary for last 20 years, she sponsers a lot of them, they are very resistant to change. Meeting members, and esp. Secretary have lashed out at me personally for dethroning secretary, and not showing gratitude for all she has done for AA. I am discouraged by all this as I am the one who brought this concept to the group.
      Most of meeting not speaking to me and my hubby.
      How should I handle further issues with this meeting.

      • Wow, God bless you for pointing out purpose over power. “Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern”. Bottom line.
        Someone in a meeting I attend on weekday mornings here in Hilo Hawaii shared that he started a meeting out in Puna and referred to it as his meeting. After a few years of him chairing it, his loving sponsor pointed out to him that just because he started the meeting didn’t mean that it was “his meeting”. He was younger in sobriety at the time, and now shared this of his past with passion and laughter! The spirit of rotation is what is supposed to keep resentments from happening. On the other hand, a share this morning pointed out how he has seen many meetings formed on resentments from people whom didn’t like certain meetings, LOL. I think it is all part of the magic and blessings of AA. I have had these resentments and thoughts many times in my journey. Maybe you can start another meeting yourself even though I know Pahrump is a smaller community like ours in Hilo, Hawaii.

      • funny how familiar this is. i see this situation in my own group. seem to have a woman of 15yrs unwilling to let go of being the group leader because she helped start the meeting. the meeting also has a large clique of people she sponsors. nothing seems to fly without her ok as far as group business goes. i have brought up the concept of spirit of rotation to her on a couple of occasions only to be scoffed. her circle seems to be contrived of people relatively new who don’t question her authority. i’ve seen some bad results because of this. a stolen treasury twice by the same newcomer. the running off of other members wise to this situation. i’ve tried to be as well balanced in my delivery as i can but it seems this has no where to go but an eventual blowout. help.

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