A Study of Tradition 2

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

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In 12-step groups, there is no such thing as individual authority. No one member "directs" or "controls" the actions of the other members of the group.

Tradition 2. 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.

Group decisions are just that, group decisions. After a discussion of all aspects of a given situation, including the minority opinion, the group votes on the issue and an agreement is reached with the majority vote. This vote is called a "group conscience."

Each group is a fellowship of equals. No matter what an individual member's background, education, or professional expertise, no member has authority "over" the group. In this way, the fellowship reaches out to all who would seek its comfort and provides the atmosphere of a sense of "belonging" to all members.

But there are leaders...

This tradition has been misquoted many times as "we have no leaders." But it clearly states that each group does have its leaders, they just have no authority over the rest of the group. Whether they be the group's representative to the area or district, or the secretary or treasurer, they have been entrusted with the responsibility to serve the group, not make decisions for it.

Groups clearly have other "leaders" also. There are those, who by sharing their wisdom and strength in the meetings, who are quietly recognized by the group as "spiritual leaders." There are those members, who are so well-founded in the principles and traditions of the program, the group turns to when questions arise involving possible violations of those principles and traditions. These too are leaders, but they do not govern either.

Here are the stories of visitors to this site who have shared their experience with tradition 2:

A Sense of Belonging

Before I came into Al-Anon I never really felt that I "belonged" to any group. No matter what committee, board of directors, steering committee, or whatever group I was a member of, I always had this feeling that everybody else "belonged" there, but I was somehow just visiting—or intruding even.

To compensate for my low self-esteem, I usually overcompensated. I always had to be the one who sold the most tickets, raised the most money, volunteered the most time or whatever.

This was my way of trying to get to the point where my membership in the group was "justified." So that I would feel that I was truly a part of the team. But, it never really worked.

It was in Al-Anon that I learned the concept that the "meeting" did not belong to anyone, except those who showed up and participated. There was nobody who "ran" things. Nobody was "in charge." Our leaders were but trusted servants, they did not govern.

As I kept coming back to the various meetings, I discovered that Al-Anon really meant what it said. Every meeting I ever attended was just as much "my" meeting as it was anyones.

It took a while to sink in, but I finally got that sense of belonging and it has carried over to other areas of my life. I now know that just by being a member and showing up and participating, I am just as much a part of the group as the oldest "old-timer." And my opinions are given just as much consideration, and are just as welcome, as anyone's in group discussions.


A Group Conscience as Necessary

It was one of those memorable meetings that we are sometimes privileged to attend. In Australia, people do not volunteer to speak at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting but are called by name or are pointed to by the chairperson. A few pass by simply saying that they will "just identify" with their name and the fact that they are an alcoholic, but most come up to the front and have a go at sharing.

The person in the chair was an Aussie bloke who called mostly males only to speak. After the first few men spoke the females were getting restless after the next few guys spoke, some of the women got really agitated, and then after a few more mostly male calls, one of the women literally exploded.

She stood up and shouted "No! That's it, you sexist pig! Are we invisible? Not worth hearing?" Our chairperson said: "Look, I'm in the chair and I'll call whoever I am moved to pick and it isn't you so sit down and respect the meeting!"

An old-timer jumped up, raised hands high and yelled "Group Conscience, Group Conscience..." like a chant. A few others picked up the chant and a momentary silence fell.

"Tradition two on the banner there indicates that I was a member of this group can call for a Group Conscience meeting at any time and I call for one right now!"

The woman was asked: "Please state your case to us all". She did. She said that fairness required that women speakers alternate with men until the females had all had a chance to either pass or speak.

The man in the chair was then asked to please state his case. He said that he had determined that there were five times more men in the room than women so he thought that it would be fair to call on women one-fifth of the time.

Others were asked for any other comments. There were a few more women who felt slighted and only one friend of the chairman who agreed with him. A moment of silent reflection was called for, to ask our respective higher powers to guide us in voting and then all were asked to close their eyes except for the aggrieved woman and the chairman who would together count the raised hands for each method.

The woman's "boy-girl" alternative method was obviously overwhelmingly approved and we all settled down for a lovely second part of the meeting.

It's not the first time I have seen a "Group Conscience" called for during a meeting but it was the most dramatic.

Aussie Chuck

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.