A Study of Tradition 10

The 12 Traditions of A.A. and Al-Anon

By not expressing opinions on "outside issues," 12 step groups hope to avoid controversy, both publically and within the fellowship itself. This policy also helps members keep the focus on their common purpose.

Tradition 10: Alcoholics Anonymous (and Al-Anon) has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

As Al-Anon's preamble to the twelve steps and traditions says, "Al-Anon is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization or institution. It does not engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any cause."

Likewise, Alcoholics Anonymous does not lend it's name to outside organizations, such as professional treatment facilities. You might see advertisements for treatment programs that claim to be "12-step based," but you won't see any that say they are affiliated with A.A.

Applying Principle to Personal Lives

If this tradition is followed, it works to keep the fellowship as a whole from engaging in public controversy, but the principal can also be applied to "all the affairs" of individual members.

For example, if Al-Anon members apply this principle to their lives then someone else's recovery -- or more importantly, lack of recovery -- becomes an outside issue, allowing them to "detach" from the problems of others and focus on their own recovery process.

Visitors to this site have taken the time to share their experience, strength, and hope on Tradition 10. Here are their observations:

Sticking to the Book

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is like The Bible if we follow the message as it was clearly laid out there would be no need to bring in controversy, or outsiders trying to change what it is (along with insiders).

Through the years many churches have come up with different opinions as to what was written, leaving society with all sorts of new and improved ways to change the Word of God that they supposedly understood -- and in those changes we have seen a multitude of different churches arrive. In AA, although not perfect, in its 10th Tradition tries harder than any other fellowship I've seen to stay with the message exactly as it was written.

It may have some cracks, but I have yet to see it split apart as I have seen so many churches do, based on public controversy and opinions, and I believe because we value our 10th Tradition, and do our best to protect our fellowship, because our hereafter is now -- not when we die due to the devastating effects of our disease. We as a whole know we are responsible for keeping AA for ourselves just as it is or we are doomed before we could ever think of a place such as heaven, so we will continue to uphold our 10th tradition.


Keep it Simple

Alcoholics Anonymous could do nothing but die if it was not for this tradition. If AA "officially" held opinions on various issues outside the program that could serve to alienate members who disagreed. I have heard many misinformed folks refer to AA as a cult, if not for tradition 10 it could develop into just that with policy set in New York and the rest of us expected to mentally follow. We would be like a political party.

I believe this tradition is important for individual AA members as well. Sometimes "opinions" or treatment center jargon get passed off as AA lore, things like "anyone who smokes cigarettes isn't really sober" or when we attempt to be untrained medical doctors dealing with other members health and medication issues. I even read in the most recent Box 459 about a member whose sponsor told her she had to take a new sobriety date because she had surgery and had to have pain medication.

These sorts of opinions can get passed on to newcomers like important parts of the program when in fact they are outside issues. I feel that it is important for me to keep tradition 10 in mind when I share in meetings, the man or woman with the least knowledge of what this program is about is after all the most important person in the room.


Tradition 10: An Oxymoron?

In theory, it is a wonderful Tradition. In reality, there are many controversial issues and opinions that Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS) becomes involved in.

As the old saying goes, by not making a decision you are making a decision. The same goes for not having an opinion.

By not taking sides, in theory, AA cannot put itself in a position other than that of neutrality. When neutral, there is no right or wrong nor is there a chance of problems diverting AA from its primary purpose of helping alcoholics recover if they (the alcoholic) desire to do so.

This Tradition is also some sort of oxymoron. Take 10 alcoholics and ask their opinions. You will probably get at least 12 opinions. All alcoholics have opinions, most of them strong ones. Controversy is what makes AA grow and prosper in a spiritual sense. It has been that way ever since AA began. All one needs to start a meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot.

AAWS itself goes into the public courts litigating to protect property. By doing so, AAWS violates the confidentiality and anonymity of individual AA members and thus invites public controversy.

AA the Fellowship and AAWS - the business and publishing empire - are different entities. As a Spiritual Fellowship, AA members, meetings, and groups help carry on this Tradition as it was intended by our founding members. As a business, AAWS has often violated this Tradition and places AA in jeopardy. Just a personal opinion.


Back to The Twelve Traditions Study

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.