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VI The Twelve Traditions
 
3) Tradition Three
 
 


TRADITION THREE

“The only requirement for R.A. membership is a desire to recover.”

1. In the Third Tradition, on page 139, in the first paragraph, in the middle of the second line, it says:

“‘You are an A.A. member if you say so. You can declare yourself in; nobody can keep you out.’”

2. The Third Tradition did not always read as it currently does. The original wording as it is in the Foreword to the First Edition in the Multilith Big Book, on page S, says:

“The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.”

3. In 1949, A.A. dropped the term “honest” from the tradition, although sometimes you still hear it used at some meetings in other fellowships.

4. In the original version of Not—God by Ernest Kurtz, published by Hazelton, this decision is discussed. On page 106, it says:

“The clearest statement of this sense of limited control, for the individual as well as for the fellowship, came in the statement and history of A.A.’s membership requirement. Set forth first in the ‘Foreword’ to Alcoholics Anonymous, it ran: ‘The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.’ There was no imposition of nor even request for any action, not even the negative one of not drinking alcohol. No one who presented himself or herself as wishing help could ever be challenged on the right to be there. The fundamental for A.A. membership could thus never be under the control of any other person. Nor need it - nor could it - even be under the complete control of the alcoholic, for the ‘honest desire to stop drinking’ could surely co-exist with a desire to drink - something to which many even long sober alcoholics could readily testify.

“Yet asking even this limited control proved in A.A.’s continuing experience to be asking too much. The qualification ‘honest’ or ‘sincere’ was dropped in 1949 at the time of the publication of the ‘short form’ of the A.A. Traditions. The official explanation revealed A.A.’s continuing openness to learn from continuing experience:

“‘As A.A. has matured, it has been increasingly recognized that it is nearly impossible to determine what constitutes an “honest” desire to stop drinking, as opposed to other forms in which the desire might be expressed. It was also noted that some who may be interested in the program might be confused by the phrase “honest desire.” Thus…the descriptive adjective has been dropped.’”

5. So it is not a part of the program that someone need an honest or sincere desire. As we just read, you are a member if you say so. You can declare yourself in; nobody can keep you out.

6. That wasn’t always the case.

7. In the 12 & 12, on page 140, starting in the top line, it says:

“Our Foundation office asked each group to send in its list of ‘protective’ regulations. The total list was a mile long. If all those rules had been in effect everywhere, nobody could have possibly joined A.A. at all, so great was the sum of our anxiety and fear.”

8. A.A. did away with all rules and regulations, because they recognized that they did not have the means to enforce them. They also recognized that they did not have a right to play God, and that everyone had a right to be there.

9. Moving down to the last full paragraph on that page, the next to last sentence of that paragraph, it says:

“After all, isn’t fear the true basis of intolerance?”

10. Bill wrote that A.A. had all those rules and regulations because of fear, which is one of our primary character defects. But again, if we trust God, it doesn’t matter if somebody says something or does something we don’t agree with.

11. Moving on to the next page, page 141, in the middle of the second line, it says:

“Could we then foresee that troublesome people were to become our principal teachers of patience and tolerance?”

12. We need to welcome people who offer a different point of view because experience has shown that contrast is one of the most effective ways of making a point. We believe that most people have the innate ability to recognize truth when they hear it. Therefore, at meetings we need to try to base our sharing in these books.

13. Very often when someone shares a different opinion, we need to recognize that what they’re sharing is just that: their opinion. Sometimes someone may pull a quote out of context in such a way as to drastically change its meaning. Quotes, just as easily as statistics, can be juggled, can be pulled out of context to make any point someone cares to make.

14. For instance, someone once mentioned that the Bible says, “there is no God.” The Bible actually does say that there is no God! Of course in context it says that “Anyone who says ‘there is no God’ is a fool.” But the Bible does have those words in it: there is no God.

15. Pulling quotes out of context can certainly change the meaning. This is why we so strongly recommend that everyone pre-read all of this material in context and come to your own conclusions before we share.

16. We also suggest and hope that at some point you’ll read all of our suggested literature. This selection of books includes the histories of the program and the pioneers and also some of the books that they used to read and recommend in the early days of the program.

17. These include: A.A. Comes of Age, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, ‘Pass it On’, Lois Remembers, The Sermon on the Mount, Greatest Thing in the World, Art of Selfishness, the Multilith Copy of the Big Book and the Book of James in the New Testament. These will all help to put this program into context for you, if you read them.

18. on page 141, the second paragraph says:

“Why did A.A finally drop all its membership regulations? Why did we leave it to each newcomer to decide himself whether he was an alcoholic and whether he should join us? Why did we dare to say, contrary to the experience of society and government everywhere, that we would neither punish nor deprive any A.A. of membership, that we must never compel anyone to pay anything, believe anything, or conform to anything?

"The answer, now seen in Tradition Three, was simplicity itself.”

Skipping to the last sentence of this paragraph, it says:

“Who dared to be judge, jury, and executioner of his own sick brother?”

19. When we start playing God, when we start compelling people to pay something or believe something or conform, we’re being judge, jury and perhaps executioner.

20. In the early days of program, they weren’t always so tolerant. At one point someone showed up who had more than one problem and the group didn’t know whether to admit him or not.

21. Dr. Bob had the answer. He asked one very simple question which is shared on page 142, in the next to last paragraph, at the end of the third line. It says that he asked:

“‘What would the Master do?’”

22. With that question, all conflict was stilled, and of course, the newcomer was allowed to join. As part of living a spiritual life, we can also use this criteria to resolve many of our dilemmas.

23. It continues by sharing in the first sentence of the next paragraph:

“Overjoyed, the newcomer plunged into Twelfth Step work. Tirelessly he laid A.A.’s message before scores of people. Since this was a very early group, those scores have since multiplied themselves into thousands.”

24. We’ve been asked, “What can be done about individuals who are disruptive? What can be done about individuals who don’t follow the format, or who don’t adhere to spiritual principles?”

25. Others have complained that they didn’t hear a lot of recovery at one Discussion or another because of an individual who was sharing in a disruptive way.

26. The answer is that in these situations the recovery needs to be demonstrated by how the recovered people at the Discussion react to whatever disruption is going on. A Discussion where a disruptive individual is present may need a demonstration of recovery rather than perhaps a sharing of it.

27. Early A.A. meetings were not spared from the dilemma of those who did not conform. One of these was a gentleman named Ed. Please remember that at this point A.A., as they put it, was “quite pious.” It was a very spiritual program based on the principles of the Oxford Group.

28. And yet here was Ed who, very vocally, said that the program would be better without this God nonsense.

29. On page 143, the second full paragraph, starting with the third line from the bottom, describes how, at a meeting, Ed cried:

“‘I can’t stand this God stuff! It’s a lot of malarkey for weak folks. This group doesn’t need it, and I won’t have it! To hell with it!’

Skipping to the next paragraph, it says:

“The elders led Ed aside. They said firmly, ‘You can’t talk like this around here. You’ll have to quit it or get out.’ With great sarcasm Ed came back at them. ‘Now do tell! Is that so?’ He reached over to a bookshelf and took up a sheaf of papers. On top of them lay the foreword to the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” then under preparation. He read aloud, ‘The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.’ Relentlessly, Ed went on, ‘When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?’

“Dismayed, the elders looked at one another, for they knew he had them cold. So Ed stayed.”

30. And as with the previous examples, since this was a very small group, when he did recover, when he did have his spiritual awakening and did carry this message to others, they multiplied his efforts into the thousands.

31. And at the bottom of page 145, starting in the first full paragraph, it says:

“‘What if we had actually succeeded in throwing Ed out for blasphemy? What would have happened to him and all the others he later helped?’

“So the hand of Providence early gave us a sign that any alcoholic is a member of our Society when he says so.”

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