Tradition Nine

Tradition 9

AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

At first glance, the ninth tradition appears paradoxical: AA ought never be organised, but it may create boards and committees. Boards and committees sound very much like organisation does it not?

Two ways of thinking through this apparent contradiction relate to the phrase ‘as such’, and to the unique factor that bids AA’s together – their alcoholism.

Bill did not write that, ‘AA ought never be organised’, but that, AA, as such, ought never be organised’. There is a slight, but important distinction here. AA, taken as a totality, is not organised in the sense that ‘organisations’ usually are. That is, there is no governing body policing the membership and issuing edicts from above in accordance with a firm set of membership rules. Similarly, there exists no sanctioned processes whereby members (or groups of members) can be punished or expelled for not adhering to the demands and rules of the organisation.

So, in this sense, AA is not organised. Members (and groups of members) may do as they wish without risking either punishment or expulsion (Traditions 3 and 4).

Within this unorganised organisation, what AA does have, is Traditions and a service ‘structure’. This structure does not function as a hierarchical means of maintaining authority (Trad. 1), but as a practical means of authorising and enabling people to serve – those who serve been accountable not to a single point of governance, but to AA’s membership in general. And it is necessary for AA’s to serve in accordance with the literature – the Traditions and Concepts.

But without any form of organisation or governance, how can AA be confident that the Traditions will be acknowledged? The simple fact is, as Bill warns, that just as disobedience to the 12 Steps may result in death for the individual, failure to largely conform to the 12 Traditions will result in deterioration for the group, and in tern, the fellowship itself. We remember, ‘that there are only two disciplinarians in AA, great suffering and great love.’

Similarly, why would AA’s submit to serve in accordance with our service structure? For the same reason: If the message is not carried, the telephone answered and the meeting not available for the newcomer, then individual sobrieties and the fellowship upon which they rely, will surely die.

AA’S maintain the ultimate imperative for sustaining unity through adherence to the 12 Traditions. No form of organised governance is required. Nor would it work. Experience has shown that the organised structures bring with them the risks of power and prestige – dangerous ground indeed for the alcoholic. And besides, in AA, alcoholics cannot, and should not, be dictated to.