Traditions 4 & 5 and the Responsibility Statement

The other day before a meeting I was looking up at the Traditions on the wall and anticipating what tradition we’d be on this week (the Wednesday night meeting has a revolving schedule for what we read: 1st Week the Step corresponding to the month out of the 12×12, 2nd week the Tradition corresponding to the month out of the 12×12, third week the Chapter from Alcoholics Anonymous corresponding with the month, and the fourth week the leader gets to choose a story from the back of the book). I was looking at Tradition Four, forgetting momentarily that we had switched over to May just the day before.

 Tradition 4. Each Group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

By itself that means that a group can do whatever it wants as long as it doesn’t affect other groups or the whole of A.A. A Group can have part of its opening statement reflect on a Dead Gay Alcoholic (I’ve been to a meeting like this), or pass a second basket which gets raffled off after the meeting (I’ve been to these meetings too). Neither of those things would affect A.A. as a whole nor other groups – they may lead to morbid curiosity of other dead alcoholics or lead you to Gamblers Anonymous, but otherwise they are relatively harmless. Technically, if a meeting wanted to I suppose they could choose to study the Bible, be clothing optional, have topics that are primarily related to the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer… but I don’t know what good that would do.  As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states on page 149 “Thus it was that under Tradition Four an A.A. group had exercised its right to be wrong.”

As I was reflecting on the 4th Tradition I finally remembered that it was May and looked down to see Tradition Five.

Tradition 5. Each group has but one primary purpose-to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

I read that and it struck me as odd that the Tradition doesn’t state “carry the A.A. message” but “its message”, the groups message.

So your A.A. group could have a “message” of recovery based on the experience, strength and hope of our first 100 members as laid out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, but it doesn’t have to. Your A.A. groups “message” could be that group therapy, whining about what ails you (bad day meetings), or even what you’ve learned in a marathon – it’s up to the group.

Your group can choose to have nothing to do with the Traditions, Service Structure or contributing to the G.S.O. – even though the right to not have anything to do with those things is what Tradition Four is. We have no rules in A.A., just suggestions – like “don’t put your hand on the hot stove” kind of suggestions.

Traditions 4 and 5 also mean I should quit shaking my head at meetings I disagree with, means I should forget about hoping to educate any wayward meetings on the benefits of doing the Steps as written in the first 164 pages of our text book and I should definitely give up promoting the Traditions, obviously!  It’s each meetings right to do as they see fit, according to their collective group conscience – even when they don’t have one. 🙂

However, then I think about the Responsibility Statement. (click this to learn about the Responsibility Statement history)

I am Responsible. 

When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help,

I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. 

And for that:  I am responsible.

“…We must remember that AA will continue strong only so long as each of us freely and happily gives it away to another person, only as each of us takes our fair share of responsibility for sponsorship of those who still suffer, for the growth and integrity of our Group, for our Intergroup activities, and for AA as a whole. It is in taking responsibility that real freedom and the enduring satisfactions of life are found. AA has given us the power to choose – to drink or not to drink – and in doing so has given us the freedom to be responsible for ourselves. As we become responsible for ourselves, we are free to be responsible for our share in AA, and unless we happily accept this responsibility we lose AA. Strange, isn’t it?” from the souvenir book for the 1965 Convention, Dr. Jack Norris

I have to do what I have to do to preserve Alcoholics Anonymous for future generations. I want other people to be given a solution to our common problem, as I was. A solution that’s proven time and time again to work. That means I have options.

I can choose to stay in a group and try to change them, sharing my experience strength and hope of the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, 12 Concepts, the Service Structure and more. This might be a long journey with no end in sight, but if you choose to embark on it it might lead to others picking up the simple kit of spiritual tools you lay at their feet – it may not. I’m not this patient and my experience tells me that when there are groups that have a message pretty far away from the A.A. message with many long time members, it’s a little late to change them on your own.

Or I can find a group that is more similar in nature to my own “message”, perhaps you’ve seen it?

Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 

I always try to stress “this message” when I read How It Works or the Steps at a meeting… It’s an important point. These principles, the 12 Steps, can be done working with someone who’s done them themselves out of our text books Alcoholics Anonymous

“Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered.” page 29

or if you have to you can do them yourself, try to find a sponsor who knows something of the book besides the beginning of Chapter 5 and Page 417/449.

I should at this point try to remember Middleton Group #1. Rule #62.

“Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.”

So I wont, but I will certainly cut some other groups some slack and let them do things their way, but I don’t have to participate in that as long as I find a group who’s message is more similar to my own.

Take a moment at your next meeting, reflect on what you think your Groups message is and if that message is what you think is going to help the next drunk. Are you spreading the message, are you involved in your group, do you know that your voice in your A.A. meeting is the most important voice in the structure of A.A.? Ask about our history, ask about the Service Structure, put an extra dollar in the basket – it’s your group and you should be responsible for it.

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