Big Book Recovery

Working the 12 Step Programme

Traditions 10 & 11

The long form of Tradition 10 reads: No AA group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate AA, 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.

This Tradition is unusual in that it wasn’t included because of what happened within AA, but because of what happened to another organization that was successful for a while in stopping people drinking, and then collapsed. The literature tells us of a 19th-century temperance movement called the Washingtonians. More than 100,000 people sobered up. However, giddy with success, it decided to turn it’s attention to other matters (campaigning on the slavery issue and the temperance movement). The process of trying to decide exactly what the Washingtonians stood for caused so much disunity that within two years, amidst the squabbling, the organization had destroyed itself. Most of those thousands drank again. Learning from this example, AA doesn’t comment on any outside issue, and AA groups don’t form opinions on anything except those things that pertain to their own primary purpose or affect AA as a whole. However, those who enjoy a good argument, will be pleased to learn that there is still lots to disagree about in AA. Any visit to a group conscience or service committee, such as intergroup, will quickly demonstrate that we have differences of opinion on almost any service matter. And those disagreements are not always expressed graciously. This sort of disagreement does not represent disunity. The difference is that all the discussions are about how we can best carry the message. For all the disagreement, we are united behind the idea that we should carry the AA message. It might seem at times to be an uncomfortable state of unity, but it is unity nonetheless.

It is worth noting that as individuals we are entitled to hold opinions on any outside issues. Of course, its not always appropriate to share them in an AA meeting and wherever we do happen to express them, we should ensure that we are not seen to speak for AA, but only for ourselves.

AA does not avoid all communication with the rest of society: it can talk to others about itself. But when it does so, it is vital that it does so in a spirit of humility. We cannot rely on any of us doing anything with humility if left to our own devices. Tradition 11 is there to help us with this.

The long form reads: Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think AA ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as AA 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.

There are a number of considerations regarding personal anonymity. First, people shouldn’t break others’ anonymity at any level unless they are sure that they have permission to do so. And we should not break our own or anyone else’s anonymity ever at the level of radio, TV, film, publishing, and the internet. If we do either of these it discourages new people from seeking help, for they are afraid that we couldn’t be trusted to protect their anonymity too.

It is often argued that AA should make more use of its famous members and indeed, there are occasional high-profile anonymity breakers. Some do so because they mistakenly think they are helping AA. Others appear to be trying to gain publicity for themselves by trying to kick-start flagging showbiz careers on the back of AA. Often, when famous people break their anonymity the telephone services do receive more calls. But in the long run, the bad publicity of some just-as-high-profile subsequent relapses, has always outweighed the previous good publicity.

The principle of attraction rather than promotion is the one, more often than any other, that people want to change. They argue that humility is a handicap in public-information work. We should be much more active saying what a great job we do, they say. However, when we feel this, it is worth remembering that the Traditions are guidelines that will enable us harness the power of a loving God. So the best way to get people coming to the fellowship is to adhere to the Traditions as closely as possible, and trust God to do the work for us.

According to this tradition, AA can advertise but only to let people know that it has helped its members to overcome alcoholism and to supply contact details. If we were giving a PI talk, we might, depending upon our audience, include a little more detail about how we have stayed sober, perhaps even talking about the steps. But at no time should we make claims about what we think it might do for anyone else in the future.

Just to illustrate, there was a case of a planned advertising campaign which included a slogan something like: “Drinking Problem? Try Alcoholics Anonymous, It Works”. After much deliberation, the last phrase, “It Works”, was dropped. It was felt that to include the phrase would have been showing off. They trusted in the traditions.

We can let our friends praise us, however. And the Big Book itself encloses a non-alcoholic doctor’s recommendation of AA and reference to an award given to AA in the US by the medical fraternity called the Lasker Award. However, even in reproducing these, the writers are very careful to do so in a spirit of humility. We never want to come across as bragging about what we do, even when quoting others.

We said earlier that we should aim to follow the traditions and let God do the rest. It might be worth considering just how God does work for us. As with many other things He seems to work through people. Surveys show that the single greatest reason for people coming to AA is personal contact with a recovering alcoholic, or a recommendation based upon such contact. This shows that as we go about our daily lives we should be looking for opportunities to break our anonymity. People can’t know we are in AA unless we tell them. And provided we don’t do it at the level of press and broadcasting, we are not breaking the traditions. When the opportunity presents itself, many of us quietly mention that we used to have a drinking problem and going to AA solved it. Sometimes they want to ask questions and talk about it. Often they say little or nothing. That is fine. We have sowed the seed. We hope that by trying to live our lives according to the principles of the AA program, we can be an example that will attract others to the fellowship.

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