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Tradition 1

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 comes first."

"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 whole."


Tradition One - From "The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions"

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 stay
whole, or A.A. dies. Without unity, the heart of A.A. would cease to beat; our
world arteries would no longer carry the life-giving grace of God; His gift to
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. the individual
doesn't count for much? Is he to be dominated by his group and swallowed up in
We may certainly answer this question with a loud "No!" We believe there
isn't a fellowship on earth which lavishes more devoted care upon its
individual members; surely there is none which more jealously guards the
individual's right to think, talk, and act as he wishes. No A.A. can compel
another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled. Our Twelve Steps
to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee A.A.'s unity
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. Every
newcomer, every friend who looks at A.A. for the first time is greatly puzzled.
They see liberty verging on license, yet they recognize at once that A.A. has
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 common
welfare first? What in Heaven's name holds them together?"
Those who look closely soon have the key to this strange paradox. The A.A.
member has to conform to the principles of recovery. His life actually depends
upon obedience to spiritual principles. If he deviates too far, the penalty is
sure and swift; he sickens and dies. At first he goes along because he must,
but later he discovers a way of life he really wants to live. Moreover, he
finds he cannot keep this priceless gift unless he gives it away. Neither he
nor anybody else can survive unless he carries the A.A. message. The moment
this Twelfth Step work forms a group, another discovery is made - that most
individuals cannot recover unless there is a group. Realization dawns that he
is but a small part of a great whole; that no personal sacrifice is too great
for preservation of the Fellowship. He learns that the clamor of desires and
ambitions within him must be silenced whenever these could damage the group.
It becomes plain that the group must survive or the individual will not.
So at the outset, how best to live and work together as groups became the
prime question. In the world about us we saw personalities destroying whole
peoples. The struggle for wealth, power, and prestige was tearing humanity
apart as never before. If strong people were stalemated in the search for
peace and harmony, what was to become of our erratic band of alcoholics? As we
had once struggled and prayed for individual recovery, just so earnestly did we
commence to quest for the principles through which A.A. itself might survive.
on anvils of experience, the structure of our Society was hammered out.
Countless times, in as many cities and hamlets, we reenacted the story of
Eddie Rickenbacker and his courageous company when their plane crashed in the
Pacific. Like us, they had suddenly found themselves saved from death, but
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 needed
to consider the others, and in abiding faith they knew they must find their
real strength. And as they did find, in measure to transcend all the defects
of their frail craft, every test of uncertainty, pain, fear, and despair, and
even the death of one.
Thus has it been with A.A. By faith and by works we have been able to build
upon the lessons of an incredible experience. They live today in the Twelve
Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, which - God willing - shall sustain us in
unity for so long as He may need us.


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