Twelve Traditions of AA

Principles for How AA Should Function

The 12 Traditions of AA are a set of guidelines for how the organization should function. They were developed by the early members in response to problems as they arose. The 12 Traditions first appeared as a set of principles in 1946. It is unlikely that AA could have survived so many years without these guiding regulations. The success of these principles has encouraged other groups to adopt them.

The 12 Traditions

These guiding principles for AA include the following:

* Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity. Protecting the group is more important than individual interests. If AA were to fail as an organization it would be harmful to all the members who depend on it. This means that personal squabbles and opinions need to put to one side in order to ensure the survival of the group.
* 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. This tradition is to prevent members from attempting to gain power and leverage within the group.
* The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. This tradition ensures that the group is open to anyone who needs it.
* Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole. AA is made up of many different types of individual. It is also a global organization that involves people from almost every culture. Insisting that every group follow a certain model could lead to a lot of disharmony. Giving individual groups a lot of autonomy means that they can provide the most appropriate format to suit their members. This is why in some AA groups they may recite the Lord’s Prayer, but this doesn’t happen in groups that are less influenced by Christianity.
* Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers. If AA groups lose sight of their main goal it will mean that they won’t be there for the people who really need these meetings. Individual members might try to pull the group in different directions if the primary purpose is forgotten.
* 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. If AA were to become involved in many other activities it could take away from the primary purpose.
* Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions. There is a well known saying that, they who pays the piper name the tune. If AA were to accept outside contributions it could put the organization in a position of being beholden to the entity providing the donation. The self-supporting aspect of AA also gives members a sense of personal pride.
* Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers. Service in recovery is viewed as vital element to success. Once money enters the equation it changes everything. The vast majority of work in AA is carried out for free by members.
* A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. The idea here is that the less organization there is the better. It encourages group autonomy and prevents AA from being caught up in too much bureaucracy.
* Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy. This is to ensure that the group remains open to as many people as possible. If they were to align themselves with any political or social causes it would alienate some members, and prevent some people from joining the group.
* 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. This is focus on anonymity at the media level means that individuals are less likely to bring the name of the group into disrepute or to act as spokespeople for the group.
* Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. This final tradition once again emphasized the importance of anonymity so that no one member can have too much influence on the group.

The Effectiveness of the Twelve Traditions

There have been many groups that have disintegrated due to internal squabbles and bad publicity. AA does have its critics, but it has survived remarkably well for over seven decades. The Twelve Traditions have certainly played a part in the continued success of the organization.

These guidelines help dampen any power struggles that occur when people get together in groups. Anonymity has helped protect the organization from any bad behavior of its members, and not having a spokesperson means that it is able to stay out of the limelight much of the time. The fact that AA is self-supporting and doesn’t align itself with any other causes has also turned out to be a wise founding principle.

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