Concept Ten

Concept Ten

“Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority – the scope of such authority to be always well defined whether by tradition, by resolution, by specific job description, by appropriate charters or by legal instruments.”
(from Twelve Concepts for World Service – Bill W.)

Just like many others, I was not keen to get into the Concepts. The Steps were fine, I had recovered as the result of being guided through them by my sponsor. The Traditions were clear enough, I could see that they were important to the survival of AA. But the Concepts! What was all this about Committees and General Service Board and Conference? It all sounded pretty dull. I did service, I did not need Concepts to make a cup of tea for the other alkies or to sweep up at the meeting.

However, as I progressed in service I was encouraged by my sponsor and other members of my homegroup just to read a bit, and they said some of it will stick. When I tried to relate what Bill was saying about the relationships between Conference and the GSB to our group conscience and our group service committee, I began to understand. I could start to see what an amazing set of principles Bill had given us.

These principles, when understood, make good practical sense in many areas of life but, for our AA service structure, they are – like the Steps for Recovery and the Traditions for Unity – indispensable guidelines. They ensure our service activities do not dissolve into chaos and confusion. Concept 10 is a crucial part of this. Unsurprisingly it follows on from Concept 9 which looks at service leaders and the need for them. To me Concept 10 says we need to give people the authority to do the job we have asked them to do but they can’t just do what they want. Their duties must be defined and they need to be accountable.

The idea is that the trusted servants we elect to perform responsible service roles, and to lead others in their footsteps, are equipped with the authority to do our work effectively. If responsibility and authority are unequal then tyranny, buck-passing, and general slapdash service can be the result. As Bill says, ‘When delegated authority is working well it should not be constantly interfered with’. With this in mind, we must ensure that the people we elect to represent us at these levels are the best we can find. Not just our mates but people who will do a great job for AA and the still-suffering alcoholic. We can all help in this by encouraging other members and our sponsees to get involved in service. Many of us have discovered abilities in ourselves in recovery that have led to levels of responsibility we could never have dreamed possible. And enjoyed the experience!

Concept 1 states that our whole Fellowship has the final authority and ultimate responsibility; however, we cannot direct the General Service Board and General Service Office in every single activity. Therefore, we delegate service authority through our GSRs, through Intergroups, through the Region Reps to Region, and give authority to Conference Delegates to act for us at Conference. Just as we delegate authority to our GSR to act for us at group level.

The General Service Board in Great Britain carries out the recommendations of Conference. And from there the day-to-day business of AA is run by the General Service Office in York. Now this may seem a long way from the average AA but the decisions being made are very important. When our group contacts GSO with a question about how to do something, we have delegated that authority through the service structure to GSO and act on what they advise us.

The Conference Delegates are given authority to act on our behalf and have the “Right of Decision” (Concept 3). This is necessary for them to discharge their responsibility in making decisions that affect the whole Fellowship and the future of AA itself. It means they are not just a rubber stamp but carriers of the conscience of the members of their region. They may also have to act on knowledge of the Traditions and Concepts that had not been considered at local discussions. This principle is essential at all levels throughout AA.

The Conference Charter, the AA Service Handbook and the General Warranties in Concept 12, all help to define the scope of the authority of Conference. As we, the membership, are the ultimate authority in AA, we have the responsibility to withhold funds or petition our representatives and if necessary elect new ones if our objectives are not being met. We have the “Right of Appeal” and “Right of Petition” (Concept 4), to ensure that all are heard and their views considered. The Trustees of the GSB have a legal right of veto over Conference in the unlikely event that Conference tries to put through something obviously damaging to AA. There is also the principle of accountability that if we are given the authority to make decisions on behalf of those who voted for us, we have to be able to stand up and explain ourselves with reference to the Traditions, Concepts and Guidelines that define our work and guide our decisions.

An important tool in the balance between authority and responsibility is clear guidance on what works and what does not. Agreed guidelines at every level serve to define the responsibilities of that position and to give the person doing service the assurance that they are doing it right and maintain a level of authority to get the job done.

Some of this may make sense to you, some of it may not. You may not quite agree with the way I have put things. But in reading this article I can assure you that you are on a great path in trying to get to grips with the Concepts. They are well worth the effort. I have learned most about the Concepts by trying to explain them to someone else. As always, I get the benefit of trying to give it away. But to end I will let Bill W. have the last word on Concept 10.

“To sum up: Let us always be sure that there is an abundance of final or ultimate authority to correct or to reorganize; but let us be equally sure that all of our trusted servants have a clearly defined and adequate authority to do their daily work and discharge their clear responsibilities.

All of this is fully implied in A.A.’s Tradition Two. Here we see the ‘group conscience’ as the ultimate authority and the ‘trusted servant’ as the delegated authority. One cannot function without the other. We well know that only by means of careful definitions and mutual respect can we constantly maintain a right and harmonious working balance.”  (Quotes from Twelve Concepts for World Service – Bill W.)

Chris S, Road to Recovery, Plymouth.