Literature and Service
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill
Churchill’s quote presumably referred to weighty matters of war and peace. However we in AA are also on “a life and death errand”, as Bill W’ call’s it. But with all the original old-timers – who made those original mistakes and had that original experience – dead and gone, how are we – the present and future generations of Alcoholics Anonymous – able to tap into that past experience and avoid the condemnation of repeated mistakes? Well the answer is obvious: the AA Literature.
We don’t have to re-design the wheel to recover from alcoholism in AA – just implement, and then continue to use, the actions in the Big Book. And in the area of Service much of what we need to do has already been done somewhere by somebody else. Their experience has been collected and written down in pamphlets like The AA Group, Twelve Traditions Illustrated, AA Service Handbook for GB, Speaking at Non-AA Meetings, etc.
While Bill and Bob saw AA go from a handful of alcoholics helping each other, to 40 to 80, to 1000, to 100,000 members, they realised that new principles and structures needed to be forged, and that these needed to be fortified by the experience of the Fellowship’s past trial-and-error. And this structure and fortification is what is found in our service literature. In AA we don’t have any special “service officer” members. All service in AA is done voluntarily by ordinary members. I know that I cannot sit back and let everyone else do the rowing – I need to help out doing tea, treasurer, secretary, GSR, Intergroup PI Officer, etc.
However this is only one part of my responsibility. My responsibility in total is to do the job and to do the job as well as I can. That doesn’t mean being perfect – humans make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. But am I being responsible if I become group secretary or treasurer without reading the pamphlet The AA Group, or if I get involved in PI Talks without reading “Speaking at Non-AA Meetings”, or become a member of intergroup without reading the guideline on Intergroups? If I do that then I’m really just throwing up my hands and saying “O somebody will show me what to do!” I am nowhere near doing the job as well as I can.
Bill W. bust a gut getting the Traditions accepted by the Fellowship. He fell out with a significant part of AA’s executive committee in trying to get the principles of the 12 Concepts accepted. Some of you reading this are maybe thinking “What are the 12 Concepts”, what’s the “executive committee”? You may be thinking that it’s okay to let someone else worry about these. But Bill was convinced of the usefulness of the 12 Concepts (evolved through trial-and-error and failure) at all levels of service – there is a Group Concepts Checklist available! And the way to learn about these is: read the service literature.
There is a large amount of AA service literature and the way I’ve done it over time is to read a bit every day. Based on the experience of my sponsor, Wayne P., here’s one way to order my reading over time:
1. The Big Book
2. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
3. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
4. The AA Group and The Traditions Illustrated before becoming a group secretary
5. The UK AA Service Manual before going to Intergroup
6. The US AA Service Manual once nominated for a position at Intergroup
7. All the other AA Conference-approved books
Once I’d read all these, I continued to read a page of the UK AA Service Manual every day until I rotated out of service. It’s amazing how much you can get through with that small commitment of reading each day. I became of far more use to the Fellowship, and therefore to the still-suffering alcoholic. I also found, once I started, that I developed a deep fascination for the structure and service principles of AA – something it’s clear Bill had as well. I began to enjoy my service reading, and to start to see how I could apply the knowledge of the past to the problems of the present and future.
Another reason that reading the literature is so important is that as soon as AA had more than 100 members it needed to develop a structure. If I am going to participate in service I need to understand how that structure works, and not waste the time (a precious voluntary commodity) of other people involved having to deal with my lack of knowledge and easily-avoidable mistakes.
And, looking at the simplest level of the structure: my home group has the meetings I want to go to and the people I feel comfortable with – it is attractive to me, and keeps long term sobriety and recovery attractive for me. A group where people are reading the literature is protected from the mistakes of groups that have died in the past. So I will always lobby for the service officers in my home group to be reading their service literature “to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us”.
“When experience is not retained…infancy is perpetual”. – George Santayana
AK, Road to Recovery Group Plymouth, 11 Feb 2010