- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- 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.
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
- 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 only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Our A.A. experience has taught us that:
- Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
- Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
- 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.
- Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose—that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A.—and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.
- The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we may otherwise have to engage nonalcoholics. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual A.A. "12 Step" work is never to be paid for.
- Each A.A. group needs the least possible organization. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and the groups of a large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our A.A. General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our A.A. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our over-all public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the A.A. Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.
- No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.
- Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
- And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.
The 12 Steps tell us how the program of AA works and the 12 Traditions tell us why it works.
The 12 Traditions are vital principles upon which the survival of AA depends. They are to group survival what the 12 Steps are to each member's sobriety and peace of mind. They are just as necessary to the life of our fellowship as the Steps are to the life of each member. Page 119 of AA Comes of Age says: "unless each AA member follows to the best of his ability our suggested 12 Steps of recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant. ... We must obey certain principles, or we die... The same stern threat applies to the group itself. Unless there is approximate conformity to the AAs 12 Traditions, the group too can deteriorate and die".
The basic ideas for the Traditions came from early correspondence with AA headquarters. In 1945, it was suggested that the mass of AAs experience be codified into a set of general principles which could offer tested solutions to all of our problems of living and working together and of relating our fellowship to the outside world. The idea was that if, indeed, we had become sure enough of where we stood on such matters as membership, group autonomy, singleness of purpose, non-endorsement of other enterprises, professionalism and public controversy and anonymity, then a set of principles should be written. This code of Traditions could never become rule or law, but it might act as a guide for our Trustees, groups, and members.
At first they were called the "12 points to assure our Future". It was under this title that they were first published in the long form in the Grapevine in April 1946. They were later shortened to match the length of the 12 Steps and were re-named the 12 Traditions. In 1950, the 12 Traditions were unanimously adopted at the International Convention in Cleveland - as the permanent platform of unity and function on which our fellowship would hence forth stand. early AAs were smart to name them Traditions. Had they been called rules, laws, bylaws, regulations, they might never have been accepted by the membership.
When first published, the Traditions received a mixed reception at best. Only groups in dire trouble took them seriously. Some groups, who had long lists of protective rules and regulations, had near-violent reactions against the Traditions, while some groups were just indifferent towards them. As Bill traveled around the country telling his story, most groups wanted to hear his experience with staying sober - not about the Traditions. Time has changed all that and it is now generally accepted that the Traditions are just as necessary to the life of our Fellowship and the Steps are to the life of each member.
Each of the Traditions can been seen as an exercise in humility that can guide us in everyday AA affairs and protect us from ourselves. For the welfare of our society, the 12 Traditions ask every individual, group and area in AA to put aside all personal desires, ambitions, and actions that could bring division among us. They ask each of us to put aside pride and resentment for the survival of the group. They ask us to put aside personal power and glory and they guarantee the equality of all members and the independence of all groups. They ask us to refuse outside financial support and to pay our own way. Thy teach us to co-operate with practically everyone, yet not to marry our fellowship to any outside entity. They ask us to abstain from public controversy and teach us how not to quarrel among ourselves about such things as religion and politics. They show us how to best relate to ourselves to each other and to the outside world. And, they teach us that we have but one purpose - and that is to carry the message to the suffering alcoholic who wants it.
It's difficult to talk about Tradition #1 without talking about all the freedoms that are afforded to us in AA. AA, unlike any other fellowship has only one requirement for membership - that we have a desire to stop drinking. No other requirements for membership and no alcoholic can be denied membership. AA doesn't prescribe any punishments for behavior - no matter how grievous. AA grants individuals the greatest possible liberty of belief and action. AA itself has no musts for membership. There are no requirements to conform to anything. The individual is the judge of his own conduct. AA has no authority to govern the individual members or groups. We can do as we please, because we know that there is no human authority to restrain us.
Because AA is guided by the 12 Traditions, we have not been split apart by politics, religion, money, or individual egos. It is our Traditions that prevent our egos from running after money or fame at AAs expense and prevent us from exploiting AA for our personal advantage. What that really means is personal and group sacrifice for the benefit of all. Our 12 Traditions ask us to give up personal desires for the common good. It is this spirit of sacrifice, that is symbolized by our anonymity, that is the foundation of all our Traditions. And, it is the proven willingness of AAs everywhere to make these sacrifices that helps ensure our future as a fellowship.
In the beginning, we sacrificed alcohol. We had to or it would kill us. But, we also learned that we had to make other sacrifices and rid ourselves of over-inflated egos, self-justification, self-pity, stinking thinking, personal prestige, financial rewards, and the destructive power of anger. We had to take personal responsibility and quite blaming others. To gain enough humility and self respect to stay alive we had to give up what had been our closest relationship - alcohol - and what had been dear possessions - ambition, fear and pride. And, we had to learn to sacrifice time, energy and even our own money to carry the AA message to other alcoholics. Otherwise we could not keep what we had been freely given from AA. We also have to learn how to make willing sacrifices for the AA group - sacrifices for our common welfare. The group in turn has to sacrifice many of its own rights for the protection and welfare of each member and for AA as a whole. The survival of AA depends upon our continual willingness to give up our personal ambitions and desires for our common welfare. Just as sacrifice means survival for the individual, so does sacrifice mean survival for the AA fellowship. Viewed in this light, AAs 12 Traditions are little more than a list of sacrifices which experience has taught us we must make - individually and collectively, for our common welfare to be served and for AA as we know it to stay alive and healthy.
- Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.
- The General Service Conference of A.A. has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole society in its world affairs.
- To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of A.A. – the Conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives – with a traditional “Right of Decision.”
- At all responsible levels, we ought to maintain a traditional “Right of Participation,” allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.
- Throughout our structure, a traditional “Right of Appeal” ought to prevail, so that minority opinion will be heard and personal grievances receive careful consideration.
- The Conference recognizes that the chief initiative and active responsibility in most world service matters should be exercised by the trustee members of the Conference acting as the General Service Board.
- The Charter and Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments, empowering the trustees to manage and conduct world service affairs. The Conference Charter is not a legal document; it relies upon tradition and the A.A. purse for final effectiveness.
- The trustees are the principal planners and administrators of over-all policy and finance. They have custodial oversight of the separately incorporated and constantly active services, exercising this through their ability to elect all the directors of these entities.
- Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety. Primary world service leadership, once exercised by the founders, must necessarily be assumed by the trustees.
- Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.
- The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.
- The Conference shall observe the spirit of A.A. tradition, taking care that it never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds and reserve be its prudent financial principle; that it place none of its members in a position of unqualified authority over others; that it reach all important decisions by discussion, vote, and whenever possible, substantial unanimity; that its actions never be personally punitive nor an incitement to public controversy; that it never perform acts of government; that, like the Society it serves, it will always remain democratic in thought and action.
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