Grapevine, December 1947
"Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery
depends upon A.A. Unity"
Our whole AA program is securely founded on the principle
of humility -- that is to say, perspective. Which implies, among other
things, that we relate ourselves rightly to God and to our fellows;
that we each see ourselves as we really are -- "a small part of
a great whole." Seeing our fellows thus, we shall enjoy group harmony.
That is why AA Tradition can confidently state, "Our common welfare
"Does this mean," some will ask, "that
in AA the individual doesn't count too much? Is he to be swallowed up,
dominated by the group?"
No, it doesn't seem to work out that way. Perhaps there
is no society on earth more solicitous of personal welfare, more careful
to grant the individual the greatest possible liberty of belief and
action. Alcoholics Anonymous has not "musts." Few AA groups
impose penalties on anyone for nonconformity. We do suggest, but we
don't discipline. Instead, compliance or noncompliance with any principle
of AA is a matter for the conscience of the individual; he is the judge
of his own conduct. Those words of old time, "judge not,"
we observe most literally.
"But," some of us argue, "if AA has no
authority to govern its individual members or groups, how shall it ever
be sure that the common welfare does come first? How is it possible
to be governed without a government? If everyone can do as he pleases,
how can you have aught but anarchy?"
The answer seems to be that we AAs cannot really do as
we please, though there is no constituted human authority to restrain
us. Actually, our common welfare is protected by powerful safeguards.
The moment any action seriously threatens the common welfare, group
opinion mobilizes to remind us; our conscience begins to complain. If
one persists, he may become so disturbed as to get drunk; alcohol gives
him a beating. Group opinion shows him that he is off the beam, his
own conscience tells him that he is dead wrong, and, if he goes too
far, Barleycorn brings him real conviction.
So it is we learn that in matters deeply affecting the
group as a whole, "our common welfare comes first." Rebellion
ceases and cooperation begins because it must; we have disciplined ourselves.
Eventually, of course, we cooperate because we really
wish to; we see that without AA there can be little lasting recovery
for anyone. We gladly set aside personal ambitions whenever these might
harm AA. We humbly confess that we are but "a small part of a great
Tradition One - From "The Twelve Steps and Twelve
The unity of Alcoholics Anonymous it the most cherished
quality our Society
has. Our live, the lives of all to come, depend squarely upon it. We
whole, or A.A. dies. Without unity, the heart of A.A. would cease to
world arteries would no longer carry the life-giving grace of God; His
us would be spent aimlessly. Back again in their caves, alcoholics would
reproach us and say, "What a great thing A.A. might have been!"
"Does this mean," some will anxiously ask, "that in A.A.
doesn't count for much? Is he to be dominated by his group and swallowed
We may certainly answer this question with a loud "No!" We
isn't a fellowship on earth which lavishes more devoted care upon its
individual members; surely there is none which more jealously guards
individual's right to think, talk, and act as he wishes. No A.A. can
another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled. Our Twelve
to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee A.A.'s
contain not a single "Don't." They repeatedly say "We
ought..." but never
" You must!"
To many minds all this liberty for the individual spells sheer anarchy.
newcomer, every friend who looks at A.A. for the first time is greatly
They see liberty verging on license, yet they recognize at once that
an irresistible strength of purpose and action. "How," they
ask, "can such a
crowd of anarchists function at all? How can they possible place their
welfare first? What in Heaven's name holds them together?"
Those who look closely soon have the key to this strange paradox. The
member has to conform to the principles of recovery. His life actually
upon obedience to spiritual principles. If he deviates too far, the
sure and swift; he sickens and dies. At first he goes along because
but later he discovers a way of life he really wants to live. Moreover,
finds he cannot keep this priceless gift unless he gives it away. Neither
nor anybody else can survive unless he carries the A.A. message. The
this Twelfth Step work forms a group, another discovery is made - that
individuals cannot recover unless there is a group. Realization dawns
is but a small part of a great whole; that no personal sacrifice is
for preservation of the Fellowship. He learns that the clamor of desires
ambitions within him must be silenced whenever these could damage the
It becomes plain that the group must survive or the individual will
So at the outset, how best to live and work together as groups became
prime question. In the world about us we saw personalities destroying
peoples. The struggle for wealth, power, and prestige was tearing humanity
apart as never before. If strong people were stalemated in the search
peace and harmony, what was to become of our erratic band of alcoholics?
had once struggled and prayed for individual recovery, just so earnestly
commence to quest for the principles through which A.A. itself might
on anvils of experience, the structure of our Society was hammered out.
Countless times, in as many cities and hamlets, we reenacted the story
Eddie Rickenbacker and his courageous company when their plane crashed
Pacific. Like us, they had suddenly found themselves saved from death,
still floating upon a perilous sea. How well they saw that their common
welfare came first. None might become selfish of water or bread. Each
to consider the others, and in abiding faith they knew they must find
real strength. And as they did find, in measure to transcend all the
of their frail craft, every test of uncertainty, pain, fear, and despair,
even the death of one.
Thus has it been with A.A. By faith and by works we have been able to
upon the lessons of an incredible experience. They live today in the
Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, which - God willing - shall sustain
unity for so long as He may need us.