“A.A. as such ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those the serve.”
The twelve traditions of AA is basically a set of rules or bylaws that restrict and constrain AA to a single focus – individual recovery within a group of other alcoholics.
The Traditions section of The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is a fun and interesting read because it is filled with “war stories” illustrating how AA got to an understanding of each tradition. The chapter on Tradition Nine is no different. The chapter defines “never be organized” as lacking a power structure, as lacking “vested authority”. To illustrate a normal AA’s distrust of authority it alludes to how poorly received is a new chapter member with many years of sobriety elsewhere who “views with alarm for the benefit of AA”. What a great little phrase, “viewing with alarm for the benefit of AA”. It is so natural for people to assume and attempt to exert authority, especially subtle authority. Tradition Nine wants none of it.
The description of the ninth tradition in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is short, just four pages, but it contains a powerful vision. Like most of the Traditions, the Ninth Tradition is a description of what AA does not do. It doesn’t collect dues, take attendance, have membership rules, enforce belief, or kick people out. AA relies entirely on an individual’s desire to stop drinking as its organizing principle.
This principle is so radical and powerful that it is easy to miss – an idea that is too big to see. It took me a while to understand that really, actually nobody is in charge. There is a strong set of norms, and oral and group traditions, but there really isn’t a power structure or a career path. It is all and only about individual alcoholics meeting as a group. The more I understood this, the more I liked AA, and more importantly, the more I trusted AA.
Nobody’s going to make you stay sober. Not your mom, your wife, your bishop, or your judge. Not your AA group. Nobody can make you stay sober. We all make a personal decision every day to do the things we need to do to stay sober. We go to meetings. Every single person at a meeting is there because they made a decision to be there (some nudges-from-judges excepted). Meetings feel a certain way because there is so little sense of either coercion or authority. I felt it quickly when I got to AA. People are there because they need and want to be. The Ninth Tradition helps ensure it.