Our Greatest Danger: Rigidity by Bob P.
This is my 18th General Service Conference — the first two as a director of the Grapevine and A.A.W.S., followed by four as a general service trustee. In 1972, I rotated out completely, only to be called back two years later as general manager of G.S.O., the service job I held until late 1984. Since the 1985 International Convention, of course, I have been senior adviser. This is also my last Conference, so this is an emotionally charged experience. I wish I had time to express my thanks to everyone to whom I am indebted for my sobriety and for the joyous life with which I have been blessed for the past nearly 25 years. But since this is obviously impossible, I will fall back on the Arab saying that Bill quoted in his last message, “I thank you for your lives.” For without your lives, I most certainly would have no life at all, much less the incredibly rich life I have enjoyed.
Let me offer my thoughts about A.A.’s future. I have no truck with those bleeding deacons who decry every change and view the state of the Fellowship with pessimism and alarm. On the contrary, from my nearly quarter-century’s perspective, I see A.A. as larger, healthier, more dynamic, faster growing, more global, more service-minded, more back-to-basics, and more spiritual — by far — than when I came through the doors of my first meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, just one year after the famous [July 1960] Long Beach Convention. A.A. has flourished beyond the wildest dreams of founding members, though perhaps not of Bill himself, for he was truly visionary.
I echo those who feel that if this Fellowship ever falters or fails, it will not be because of any outside cause. No, it will not be because of treatment centers or professionals in the field, or non-Conference-approved literature, or young people, or the dually-addicted, or even the “druggies” trying to come to our closed meetings. If we stick close to our Traditions, Concepts, and Warranties, and if we keep an open mind and an open heart, we can deal with these and any other problems that we have or ever will have. If we ever falter and fail, it will be simply because of us. It will be because we can’t control our own egos or get along well enough with each other. It will be because we have too much fear and rigidity and not enough trust and common sense.
If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity — the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to “enforce” our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., “banning books”; laying more and more rules on groups and members. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. One of his favorite sayings was, “Every group has the right to be wrong.” He was maddeningly tolerant of his critics, and he had absolute faith that faults in A.A. were self-correcting And I believe this, too, so in the final analysis we’re not going to fall apart. We won’t falter or fail.
At the 1970 International Convention in Miami , I was in the audience on that Sunday morning when Bill made his brief last public appearance. He was too ill to take his scheduled part in any other convention event, but now, unannounced, on Sunday morning, he was wheeled up from the back of the stage in a wheelchair, attached with tubes to an oxygen tank. Wearing a ridiculous bright-orange, host committee blazer, he heaved his angular body to his feet and grasped the podium — and all pandemonium broke loose. I thought the thunderous applause and cheering would never stop, tears streaming down every cheek. Finally, in a firm voice, like his old self, Bill spoke a few gracious sentences about the huge crowd, the outpouring of love, and the many overseas members there, ending (as I remember) with these words:
“As I look over this crowd, I know that Alcoholics Anonymous will live a thousand years — if it is God’s will.”
Bob Pearson (1917-2008) was General Manager of the General Service Office from 1974 to 1984, and then served as Senior Advisor to the G.S.O. from 1985 until his retirement. His story is in the Big Book as “AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety,” 3rd edit. (1976) pp. 554-561, 4th edit. (2001) pp. 553-559. During the 1986 General Service Conference, Bob gave a powerful and inspiring closing talk to the conference at the closing brunch on Saturday morning, April 26. It was an especially significant occasion, because he knew that he was going to retire early the next year, and that this would be his last General Service Conference. This excerpt was taken from that farewell speech, as published in the Conference’s final report: The Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous 1986 (Roosevelt Hotel, New York City, April 20-26, 1986), Final Report.