Saturday, 27 April 2013

Is it AA?

I have often heard it remarked that, wherever you go in the world, you can walk into a meeting and be at home. This is very valuable for the individual, and what underlies this is what assures the unity of AA as a whole.

Sometimes people vociferously defend the use of non-Conference-Approved Literature at meetings, citing the wide range of literature read at early AA meetings, the lack of explicit prohibition in the Traditions, etc. These arguments are legalistically sound but miss the point.

The reference to early AA meetings is to a fellowship that was a long way from growing from what it was to what it is today. The Traditions and the Concepts both have played a major role in ensuring sufficient unity that AA has grown into a single worldwide fellowship. Both sets of principles are built on what went wrong in the first twenty or thirty years. Citing a phenomenon as dating from the early days of the late 1930s does not necessarily legitimise it as part of AA in the 2013. There are plenty of things that went on in early AA that it was realised were mistakes and were discarded, e.g. membership rules. The appeal to the false authority of early AA is misplaced.

People cite the autonomy of groups to do what they want. Absolutely: except where it affects other groups as a whole. If a group gives an impression to newcomers that it is Christian, or even a particular brand of Christian, this affects AA as a whole as it feeds into public opinion and distorts the public perception of AA. AA groups must therefore, under Tradition Four, be very careful in what they present AA as being.

It is really clear at an AA meeting that individuals sharing are sharing their own experience. The wide range of views and experiences heard at a single meeting would strike most visitors as being just that: the expression of an almost alarming diversity. As soon as the group itself reads from a piece of literature, the impression is very different, as the activity is shared, and the literature effectively appears sanctioned by the group, just as a reading in a church or a school will appear to be sanctioned by those institutions.

The beauty of the concept of Conference-Approved Literature is that the fellowship as a whole has expressed its view that the material in question is kosher AA. Whilst we sell AA magazines on literature table whose contents have not been approved, the distinction to the onlooker is clear: the AA books set out as spiritual texts or guides are clearly setting out AA's message, whilst the magazines are clearly AA members' experiences, and would not necessarily seek to appear to represent AA as a whole.

Consequently, AA need never have an argument about whether a particular piece of literature is acceptable at an AA meeting, and a huge amount of controversy is avoided: either it's Conference-approved, or it is not. It would not do to allow all sorts of, I'm sure, worthy Christian or Buddhist spiritual literature but then for Intergroup to have to intervene when a group starts reading racist, xenophobic, or morally censorious literature (e.g. about single mothers, sex before marriage, or minority sexual persuasions). AA would be in a constant state of alert, and there would be no court of appeal to resolve such matters.

Very often, when people argue in favour of other materials being used, they are approaching the matter from the viewpoint of the particular, not the general: they want their favourite book, or material they themselves have written, to be used as part of the format. Sometimes people feel slighted that AA is telling them what to do. What AA is certainly doing is suggesting that we consider the common good and the good of AA as a whole.

This is where the freedom comes in: there is a wide range of AA literature, most of it never touched in AA meetings as part of the meeting format. The full range of topics and experience in relation to alcoholism and recovery therefrom in AA is broad enough to provide any group with sufficient material in perpetuity. There is no paucity of material, both Conference-approved and in terms of members' experience. There is simply no need for other materials.

Other materials are certainly quite valuable. I use other materials with sponsees and on my own. I have been tempted in the past to want to introduce such materials into meetings. I have held workshops for AA members on The Sermon On The Mount and on other materials, and wanted to advertise these in AA meetings. Really, I wanted to do this, as the network of AA meetings seemed the perfect marketing structure for my endeavour. And that is the issue: the endeavour was mine, not AA's; no one in AA had mandated me as its servant to undertake these workshops or to produce these materials. As such, I was acting on my own account, not AA's.

I did not advertise such workshops, however, and I did not introduce such materials. I have no right to bring other materials into AA (for reasons explained above) but AA also does not prevent me from holding such workshops or producing such materials, provided that I do not pass them off as official AA events or materials.

Just because something (a piece of written material or an event) is by AA members, for AA members, and about AA matters does not make it AA. AA, to preserve itself, has the principle, in Concept I, of accountability to the group through the service structure. This, ultimately, serves as the mechanism of checks and balances to ensure that whatever purports to be AA (whether a piece of written material or an event) is accountable to AA, so that, if the material or the event is likely to bring AA in disrepute or divert us in some way from our primary purpose (see Traditions Six and Ten), the fellowship of AA as a whole can do something about it.

Again, this simple principle—that AA events are events sponsored by an Intergroup, or Region, or GSO, with the attendant financial and operational accountability to AA as a whole on the part of its servants—saves endless arguments about what is and what is not AA. No AA entity need therefore express an opinion on other events; all we need to do is determine whether or not we are sponsoring the event, which is a point of fact, not a point of opinion. This produces clarity and simplicity.

So, I am a fan of the principle that only Conference-Approved Literature be used in meetings and only events sponsored by an entity in the structure be announced at meetings or advertised through the structure. Here, the vision is for the AA of the future. I would like anyone transported forward in time, in one hundred, two hundred years, to recognise the AA they find.

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