The Second Tradition
The essence of this tradition is that we do not have any bosses in AA but we do have leaders, and that decisions will be made by the overwhelming majority.
When one alcoholic works with another a group is formed. These two then carry the message of recovery to others and the group numbers multiply. At the start the two founders will naturally be the ones with the ideas, who do the service and direct others to enable the group to stay alive and continue to grow, as they are the ones with the experience and knowledge. However as time passes and more people recover they will have ideas and want to get involved in service and the running of the group.
What then transpires is that the founders find that they then need to listen to the views and wishes of the other group members or else resentments will start and the group could ultimately disband. Committees may be formed and elections and votes take place. This is where the group conscience comes into existence. It means that no individuals can continue to run the show, as it were. The views and wishes of every group member are taken into consideration when decisions are made that affect the group. However in order to be an effective group conscience it needs to make sure that any decisions or votes that are taken are sound and in the best interest of the group and to the service of the still-suffering alcoholics. This is where the founders or longest-serving members come into the fold again.
The group will need guidance and advice on the best things to do to effectively carry the message, run committees and plan for the future etc. This advice will naturally come from the people who have been around the longest and have the most experience on such matters. The Twelve and Twelve describe how the responses of these people can fall into one of two categories, either ‘bleeding deacons’ or ‘elder statesmen’. The bleeding deacons will insist on dominating proceedings and having their way, feeling only they know the best thing to do, which will lead to resentments. The elder statesmen will take a back seat and let the others get on with things. When the group is in doubt or needs advice they will naturally turn to these experienced members. In this sense they are described as the true voice of the group conscience and of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they are trusted servants – they do not govern.
My own experience of the loving God expressed in the group conscience was in one of my home group's twice-yearly group consciences a couple of years ago. The subject of having a topic meeting was on the agenda and we were asked to vote to say whether we wanted one meeting a week (we are a multi-meeting group) turned into a topic meeting. The topic would be related to some aspect of recovery and chosen by the speaker that night. I didn’t want to change the format I was used to and liked so much, so I voted against the proposal. Looking around the room I realised that out of a room of about 70 people I was one of three voting against it. The group conscience had definitely spoken, and with humility I accepted the vote. The strange thing is that after having the meeting in this format I very quickly came to enjoy it and realise how relevant the topics were to people ranging from 1 day sobriety to over 15 years sobriety.
Ben B, Road to Recovery, Plymouth