The Twelve Concepts

The Twelve Concepts for World Service

How Bill W. explained the spiritual principles that undergird A.A.’s structure and how the parts work together.

This article is about the Concepts; it is NOT the Concepts themselves. They are found in the book The A.A. Service Manual/Twelve Concepts for World Service, and should be read by every “trusted servant.”

As A.A. grew up, it began with the groups — first only a few, then hundreds and then thousands. Very early an Alcoholic Foundation, later renamed The General Service Board, was formed to be responsible for our affairs. And with Dr. Bob’s death and Bill’s facing up to his own mortality, a General Service Conference assumed the leadership which had fallen to the co-founders. Meanwhile, a tiny publishing operation and service office had grown in size and importance to the Fellowship, and a monthly journal, the AA Grapevine, was being published.

Which of these entities was supposed to do what? Little wonder there was confusion! What was their relationship? Who was in charge? What were their responsibilities — and what were their rights? Bill W. himself was sometimes part of the pulling and hauling that took place, and so he saw the need to “reduce to writing” his concepts of the “why” of the whole structure, the lessons to be drawn from experience, the relationships and, above all, the spiritual principles.

As Bill set them down, the Twelve Concepts are a potpourri: Concepts III through V, IX and XII deal with spiritual principles; the remainder, though they have spiritual overtones, are devoted to describing the relationship of the various service entities and how they work together.

What follows in this pamphlet is an illustrated introduction to the Twelve Concepts. If it is answers or guidance you are seeking, go to the Concepts themselves. Throughout this pamphlet, wording from the Twelve Concepts themselves (subject to some editing for clarity) is indicated by quotation marks; the rest of the text is either descriptive or explanatory.

Concept I

Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been called an upside-down organization because the “ultimate responsibility and final authority for . . . world services” resides with the groups — rather than with the trustees of the General Service Board or the General Service Office in New York.

In Concept I, Bill traces how this came to be. The first step in 1938 was “the creation of a trusteeship,” first called the Alcoholic Foundation, renamed in 1954 the General Service Board. Why? To perform the services the groups could not do for themselves: e.g., uniform literature, uniform public information about A.A., helping new groups get started, sharing with them the experience of established groups, handling pleas for help, publishing a national magazine, and carrying the message in other languages and in other countries. A service office was formed to carry on these functions under the board’s direction. Both the board and the office looked to the co-founders, Bill and Dr. Bob, for policy leadership.

In the midst of the “exuberant success” of early A.A., Dr. Bob became fatally ill and Bill asked, “When Dr. Bob and I are gone, who would then advise the trustees and the office?” The answer, Bill felt, was to be found in the collective conscience of the A.A. groups. But how could the autonomous, widely scattered groups exercise such a responsibility?

Over great resistance by trustees and members devoted to the status quo, Bill managed to “sell” the idea of calling an A.A. General Service Conference (see Concept II), and eleven years later Bill was able to declare, “The results of the Conference have exceeded our highest expectations.” This Concept is rooted in Tradition Two, which states:

“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

The principles of Tradition Two are crystal-clear, Bill asserts: “The A.A. groups are to be the final authority; their leaders are to be entrusted with delegated responsibilities only.” The outside world cannot imagine an organization run this way, but Bill calls it “a spiritualized society characterized by enough enlightenment, enough responsibility, and enough love of man and of God to insure that our democracy of world service will work . . . .”

Concept II

When, in 1955, the A.A. groups confirmed the permanent charter for their General Service Conference, they thereby delegated to the Conference complete authority for the active maintenance of our world services and thereby made the Conference — excepting for any change in the Twelve Traditions or in Article 12 of the Conference Charter — the actual voice and the effective conscience for our whole Society.

Concept I establishes the “final responsibility and ultimate authority” of the A.A. groups; but, in actual practice, how are they to manage A.A.’s service affairs? By delegation, Concept II declares.

Bill and Dr. Bob, entrusted by the early groups to get the program going and to spread the message, found non-alcoholic friends to help them. They formed a trusteeship and delegated to it the responsibility for finances, the Big Book and other literature, public information, the service office and the AA Grapevine. However, as the trustees constantly looked to the co-founders for advice and guidance and the groups also continued to hold them accountable, it was evident that the leadership should be transferred to the A.A. groups as a whole.

But if the groups were to carry on their primary purpose, they would have to delegate their leadership role to a General Service Conference. They do this by electing a General Service Representative for each group. These G.S.R.s meet regularly in area assemblies and every two years elect a delegate from among their number. Every April, the delegates from the 93 areas in the U.S. and Canada meet for six days with the trustees of the General Service Board, the staffs of the General Service Office and AA Grapevine and certain other service workers. Thus, this General Service Conference of A.A. is “the actual voice and effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.”

Concept III

As a traditional means of creating and maintaining a clearly defined working relation between the groups, the Conference, the A.A. General Service Board and its several service corporations, staffs, committees and executives, and of thus insuring their effective leadership, it is here suggested that we endow each of these elements of world service with a traditional “Right of Decision.”

You should be familiar with the Conference Charter and the Bylaws of the General Service Board as background for this Concept, both of which are found in The A.A. Service Manual. For, except for the specific directions in these documents, every trusted servant and every A.A. entity — at all levels of service — has the right “to decide . . . how they will interpret and apply their own authority and responsibility to each particular problem or situation as it arises.” That is, they can “decide which problems they will dispose of themselves and upon which matters they will report, consult, or ask specific directions.” This is “the essence of ‘The Right of Decision.”

But this right also means the Fellowship must have trust in its “trusted servants.” If the groups instruct their G.S.R.s rather than giving them a “Right of Decision,” then the area conference is hamstrung. If the G.S.R.s instruct the area delegates rather than giving them a “Right of Decision,” then the General Service Conference is hamstrung. As Bill points out, “our Conference delegates are primarily the servants of A.A. as they should . . . cast their votes . . . according to the best dictates of their own judgment and conscience at that time.”

Similarly, if the General Service Board, acting through its subsidiary boards, “were to attempt to manage” the General Service Office and the AA Grapevine “in detail, then . . . the staff members . . . would quickly become demoralized; they would be turned into buck-passers and rubber stamps; their choice would be to rebel and resign, or to submit and rot.”

Bill warns against using “The Right of Decision” as an excuse for failure to make the proper reports of actions taken; or for exceeding a clearly defined authority; or for failing to consult the proper people before making an important decision. But he concludes:

“Our entire A.A. program rests squarely upon the principle of mutual trust. We trust God, we trust A.A., and we trust each other.”

Concept IV

Throughout our Conference structure, we ought to maintain at all responsible levels a traditional “Right of Participation,” taking care that each classification or group of our world servants shall be allowed a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.

The principle of “Right of Participation” is built into the General Service Conference through the Conference Charter. Voting members include not only delegates, but also the trustees, and the directors and staff members of A.A. World Services (i.e., G.S.O.) and the AA Grapevine.

In the same way, the boards of these two operating entities include as voting members not only trustees, but also nontrustee directors and paid administrators and staff members.

The chairperson of the General Service Board appoints nontrustee members to the standing committees in order to have the advantage of their expertise, and staff members serve as committee secretaries.

“There are no ‘superiors,’ no ‘inferiors,’ and no ‘advisers.’” New trustees on the General Service Board and new directors of the A.A.W.S. and Grapevine boards are sometimes surprised to see paid executives, staff members and outside accountants attending the board meetings. They are invited because of A.A.’s “Right of Participation.” Thus, the trustees and directors “are put into direct communication with these workers, who. . . feel wanted and needed. Although they do not vote, these workers may freely participate.”

Bill warns against the possibility of new delegates or trustees trying to “weaken, modify or toss out” the “Right of Participation.” He cites arguments by delegates to take away the trustees’, directors’ and staff members’ vote at the Conference. “Certainly,” he says, “our trustees and service workers are not less conscientious, experienced and wise than the delegates.”

“It is vital,” he continues, “to preserve the traditional ‘Right of Participation,’ in the face of every tendency to whittle it down.”

Finally, there is a spiritual reason for the “Right of Participation.” All of us desire to belong. In A.A., no members are “second class.” The “Right of Participation” therefore reinforces Tradition Two, that no member is placed in “ultimate authority” over another. We perform our service tasks better “when we are sure we belong — when our ‘participation’ assures us we are truly the ‘trusted servants’ described in Tradition Two.”

Concept V

Throughout our world services structure, a traditional “Right of Appeal” ought to prevail, thus assuring us that minority opinion will be heard and that petitions for the redress of personal grievances will be carefully considered.

Newcomers to A.A.’s General Service Conference are often surprised at the pains taken by the presiding officer to make sure the minority has a second opportunity to present its views. Even after extensive debate on an issue, followed by a vote in which a “substantial unanimity” is reached, those opposed are polled individually to see if they wish to speak further to their minority view. In fact, numerous instances can be cited in which this minority view is so compelling the Conference has then reversed itself.

This is A.A.’s “Right of Appeal” in action, and Bill says the same principle should apply to meetings of our area committees, trustee committees and boards. On an issue of grave importance, the minority has the actual duty of presenting its views.

This “Right of Appeal” recognizes that minorities frequently can be right; that even when they are in error they still perform a most valuable service when they compel a thorough-going debate on important issues. The well-heard minority, therefore, is our chief protection against an uninformed, misinformed, hasty or angry majority.

“Trusted servants,” according to Bill, “do for the groups what the groups cannot or should not do for themselves.” And in exercising their “Right of Decision” (see Concept III), trusted servants are almost always “a small but truly qualified minority” — whether in the form of area committees, staffs, boards or even the General Service Conference itself. It is incumbent upon them, therefore, in their own meetings, to pay special deference to the minority voice.

This Concept also warns us of “the tyranny of the majority” and points out that in A.A., a simple majority is seldom sufficient basis for a decision. That’s why we usually require at least a two-thirds majority. Lacking this, it is preferable to delay the decision; or in the case of an election following the “Third Legacy Procedure,” to “go to the hat.” (See Service Manual, Chapter I.)

The “Right of Appeal” also permits any person in the service structure, whether paid or volunteer, to petition for redress of a personal grievance. He or she can complain directly to the General Service Board, without prejudice or fear of reprisal.

Concept VI

On behalf of A.A. as a whole, our General Service Conference has the principal responsibility for the maintenance of our world services, and it traditionally has the final decision respecting large matters of general policy and finance. But the Conference also recognizes that the chief initiative and the active responsibility in most of these matters should be exercised primarily by the Trustee members of the Conference when they act among themselves as the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous.

We have seen that the “final responsibility and ultimate authority” for A.A.’s service activities rest with the A.A. groups (Concept I), but to carry out this responsibility they must delegate to the Conference (Concept II). The Conference, in turn, must delegate administrative authority to the General Service Board of Trustees. Again, it is helpful if you are familiar with both the Conference Charter and the Bylaws of the General Service Board to understand this relationship and the freedom of action that the trustees must have.

The trustees have the legal and practical responsibility for the operation of A.A. World Services, Inc. (which embraces A.A. publishing as well as the General Service Office) and of AA Grapevine, Inc. These entities have a combined cash flow of many millions of dollars annually. The trustees are also responsible for A.A.’s public information activities. They are the guardians of the Twelve Traditions. They are responsible for carrying the A.A. message to other countries around the world. They are A.A.’s “bankers,” overseeing the financial operations and investing A.A.’s substantial Reserve Fund. (Read the text of Concept XI for a more detailed account of their functions.)

Bill makes the point that although “our objective is always a spiritual one,” nevertheless our world service is a “large business operation.” “Indeed,” he says, “our whole service structure resembles that of a large corporation. The A.A. groups are the stockholders, the delegates represent them, like proxy-holders, at the annual meeting; the General Service Board Trustees are actually the directors of a ‘holding company.’ And this holding company (the General Service Board) actually owns and controls the two ‘subsidiaries’ (A.A.W.S and AA Grapevine) which carry on the . . . services.

“This very real analogy makes it . . . clear that, like any other board of directors, our trustees must be given large powers if they are to manage the . . . affairs of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Concept VII

The Conference recognizes that the Charter and the Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments: that the Trustees are thereby fully em powered to manage and conduct all of the world service affairs of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is further understood that the Conference Charter itself is not a legal document: that it relies instead upon the force of tradition and the power of the A.A. purse for its final effectiveness.

This Concept attempts to clarify the relationship and “balance of powers” between the Conference and the General Service Board. “This . . . may look like the collision of an irresistible force with an immovable object.” On the one hand, “the board is invested with complete legal power over A.A.’s funds and services; on the other hand the Conference is clothed with such great influence and financial power it could overcome the legal rights of the board.

“Thus, the practical power of the Conference is, in the final analysis, superior to the legal power of the board. This superior power derives from the traditional influence of the Conference Charter itself; from the fact that the delegates chosen by the groups always constitute more than two-thirds of the Conference members”; and finally from the ability of the delegates to cut off financial support by the groups. “Theoretically, the Conference is an advisory body only; but practically speaking, it has all the ultimate power it may ever need.”

The Conference “recommends” — though its recommendations have the force of directives to the board. The board executes these recommendations. The board does have the legal authority to veto a Conference recommendation — but in actual practice, it never has done so. As Bill tactfully puts it, the trustees “simply refrain from using their legal right to say ‘no’ when it would be much wiser, all things considered, to say ‘yes.’

“If . . . the Conference will always bear in mind actual rights, duties, responsibilities and legal status of the General Service Board, and if the trustees . . . will constantly realize that the Conference is the real seat of ultimate service authority . . . neither will be seriously tempted to make a ‘rubber stamp’ out of the other . . . In this way, grave issues will always be resolved and harmonious cooperation will be the general rule.”

Concept VIII

The Trustees of the General Service Board act in two primary capacities: (a) With respect to the larger matters of overall policy and finance, they are the principal planners and administrators. They and their primary committees directly manage these affairs. (b) But with respect to our separately incorporated and constantly active services, the relation of the Trustees is mainly that of full stock ownership and of custodial oversight which they exercise through their ability to elect all directors of these entities.

This Concept deals with the ways the General Service Board “discharges its heavy obligations,” and its relationship with its two subsidiary corporations: A.A. World Services, Inc. and AA Grapevine, Inc.

Long experience has proven that the board “must devote itself almost exclusively to the larger questions of policy, finance, group relations and leadership . . . . In these matters, it must act with great care and skill to plan, manage and execute.”

The board, therefore, must not be distracted or burdened with the details or the endless questions which arise daily in the routine operation of the General Service Office or the publishing operations, including Grapevine. “It must delegate its executive function” to its subsidiary, operating boards.

“Here, the board’s attitude has to be that of custodial oversight . . . . The trustees are the guarantors of good management of A.A. World Services, Inc. and AA Grapevine, Inc . . . . by electing the directors of these service arms, a part of whom must always be trustees . . . . The executive direction of these functions is . . . lodged in the . . . service corporations themselves, rather than the General Service Board. Each corporate service entity should possess its own bylaws, its own working capital, its own executives, its own employees, its own offices and equipment.”

Bill draws from earlier mistakes by the General Service Board in trying to run the service functions directly and warns repeatedly against “too much concentration of money and authority.”

Concept IX

Good service leaders, together with sound and appropriate methods of choosing them, are at all levels indispensable for our future functioning and safety. The primary world service leadership once exercised by the founders of A.A. must necessarily be assumed by the Trustees of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous.

“No matter how carefully we design our service structure of principles and relationships, no matter how well we apportion authority and responsibility, the operating results of our structure can be no better than the personal performance of those who must man it and make it work. Good leadership cannot function well in a poorly designed structure . . . . Weak leadership can hardly function at all, even in the best of structures.”

Due to A.A.’s principle of rotation, furnishing our service structure with able and willing workers has to be a continuous effort. The base of the service structure — and the source of our leadership — is the General Service Representative. The G.S.R. is the service leader for his or her group, the indispensable link between the group and A.A. as-a-whole. Together the G.S.R.s are A.A.’s group conscience — and together, in their areas, they elect the area committee members and ultimately the delegates and the area’s candidates for trustee. Groups who have not named G.S.R.s should be encouraged to do so. And as the G.S.R.s meet in area assemblies, care and dedication are required. Personal ambitions should be cast aside; feuds and controversies forgotten. “Who are the best qualified people?” should be the thought of all.

“No society can function well without able leadership in all its levels, and A.A. can be no exception. Fortunately, our Society is blessed with any amount of real leadership — the active people of today and the potential leaders of tomorrow as each new generation of able members swarms in. We have an abundance of men and women whose dedication, stability, vision, and special skills make them capable of dealing with every possible service assignment. We have only to seek these folks out and trust them to serve us.

“A leader in A.A. service is therefore a man (or woman) who can personally put principles, plans and policies into such dedicated and effective action that the rest of us want to back him and help him with his job.

“Good leadership will also remember that a fine plan or idea can come from anybody, anywhere. Consequently, good leadership will often discard its own cherished plans for others that are better, and it will give credit to the source.

“Good leadership never passes the buck. Once assured that it has, or can, obtain sufficient general backing, it freely takes decisions and puts them into action forthwith, provided of course that such actions be within the framework of its defined authority and responsibility.

“Another qualification for leadership is ‘give and take,’ the ability to compromise cheerfully whenever a proper compromise can cause a situation to progress in what appears to be the right direction . . . . We cannot, however, compromise always. Now and then, it is truly necessary to stick flat-footed to one’s convictions about an issue until it is settled.

“Our leaders do not drive by mandate, they lead by example. We say to them, ‘Act for us, but do not boss us.’ ”

Concept X

Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority — the scope of such authority to be always well defined whether by tradition, by resolution, by specific job description or by appropriate charters and bylaws.

Our service structure cannot function effectively and harmoniously unless, at every level, each operational responsibility is matched by a corresponding authority to discharge it. This requires that authority must be delegated at every level — and that the responsibility and authority of every entity are well defined and clearly understood.

As we have seen (Concept I) “final responsibility and ultimate authority” reside with the A.A. groups, and they delegate this authority to the Conference (Concept II). The Conference, in turn, delegates to the General Service Board the authority to manage A.A.’s affairs (Concept VI) in its behalf. The board is in authority over its subsidiary operating corporations — A.A. World Services, Inc. and AA Grapevine, Inc. — but it delegates to the directors of those corporations the authority necessary to run these service entities. The directors are in authority over the executives of the corporations, but delegate to these officers the authority needed to carry out their administrative responsibilities. And finally, the executives delegate to the G.S.O. and Grapevine staff members and other employees the authority necessary to carry out their important service jobs.

“It is perfectly clear,” says Bill, “that when delegated authority is operating well, it should not be constantly interfered with.” Otherwise, he warns, “those charged with operating responsibly will be demoralized.” For example, the General Service Board owns the two operating corporations and its authority over them is absolute. “Nevertheless, so long as things go well, it is highly important that the trustees do not unnecessarily interfere with or usurp the operating authority of these entities.”

“To sum up: Let us always be sure that there is an abundance of final or ultimate authority to correct or to reorganize; but let us be equally sure that all of our trusted servants have a clearly defined and adequate authority to do their daily work and to discharge their clear responsibilities.”

Concept XI

While the trustees hold final responsibility for A.A.’s world service administration, they should always have the assistance of the best possible standing committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs and consultants. Therefore, the composition of these underlying committees and service boards, the personal qualifications of their members, the manner of their induction into service, the systems of their rotation, the way in which they are related to each other, the special rights and duties of our executives, staffs and consultants, together with a proper basis for the financial compensation of these special workers, will always be matters for serious care and concern.

In this, the second longest of the Concepts, Bill explains in great detail the composition, functions and relationships of the standing committees of the General Service Board, its subsidiary operating boards, the General Service Office and AA Grapevine — as they existed in 1962. As A.A. has grown and changed, many of the descriptions would be different today, and some of the issues that are addressed are no longer relevant. Nevertheless, the full text is valuable as an historical document, and many of the principles still apply, as summarized below.

Underlying the service structure we have been discussing, there is another, internal structure of service consisting of the nontrustee members of the trustees’ committees; the nontrustee directors of the two operating boards, and the executives and staff members. “Members of this group,” declares Bill, “not only support the leadership of the trustees: they share leadership with them.” The following are “several principles . . . which” apply to A.A. World Services, Inc. and AA Grapevine, Inc.:

  1. The status of executives No active service can function well unless it has sustained and competent executive direction. This must always head up in one person, supported by such assistants as are needed. That person has to have ample freedom and authority to do the job, and should not be interfered with so long as the work is done well.
  2. Paid workers, how compensated Each paid executive, staff member or consultant should be recompensed in reasonable relation to the value of his or her similar services or abilities in the commercial world . . . . Cheap help is apt to feel insecure and inefficient; it is very costly in the long run. This is neither good spirituality nor good business. Assuming service money is available, we should therefore compensate our workers well.
  3. Rotation among paid staff workers At A.A.’s General Service Office, most staff members’ assignments are changed every two years. When engaged, each staff member is expected to possess the general ability to do, or to learn how to do, any job in the place — excepting for office management.
  4. Full “Participation” of paid workers is highly important We have already discussed the necessity of giving key paid personnel a voting representation on our committees and corporate boards. They should enjoy a status suitable to their responsibility, just as our volunteers do.

Concept XII

General Warranties of the Conference: in all its proceedings, the General Service Conference shall observe the spirit of the A.A. Tradition, taking great care that the conference never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds, plus an ample reserve, be its prudent financial principle; that none of the Conference Members shall ever be placed in a position of unqualified authority over any of the others; that all important decisions be reached by discussion, vote, and whenever possible, by substantial unanimity; that no Conference action ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy; that though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government; and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.

This Concept consists of the General Warranties of the General Service Conference. It is cast in stone; that is, although Bill leaves the door open for alterations and changes in the other Concepts and points out that the rest of the Conference Charter “can be readily amended,” these General Warranties — like the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions — be changed only by “written consent of threequarters of all A.A. groups” in the world!


Because “these Warranties indicate the qualities of prudence and spirituality which the Conference should always possess . . . . These are the permanent bonds that hold the Conference fast to the movement it serves.”

The Warranties also express spiritual principles which apply to all other A.A. entities as well. Let us, then, consider these principles one by one:

Warranty One: “The Conference shall never become the seat of perilous wealth or power.” The Seventh Tradition protects us against the accumulation of too much money. So long as we refuse to take outside contributions and limit individual member’s donations, “we shall not become wealthy in any perilous sense.”

And if we live by Tradition Two — that “our ultimate authority is a loving God” and that “our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern” — then we are safe from perilous power.

Warranty Two: “Sufficient operating funds, plus an ample Reserve, should be its prudent financial principle.” Although many of us as active alcoholics were free spenders, when it comes to supporting “A.A. service overhead, we are apt to turn a bit reluctant.” Yet, in A.A. the cost of the service office is relatively low in terms of the number of groups served, and if the need for support is made clear, the contributions are forthcoming. The Reserve Fund should be one full year’s operating expenses of the G.S.O. and Grapevine. The Reserve Fund comes almost entirely from income from the sale of A.A. literature, which also is used to make up the deficit between group contributions and the cost of group services.

Warranty Three: “None of the Conference members shall ever be placed in a position of unqualified authority over any of the others.” This principle is discussed earlier in Concept IV, but “it is so important, we have made it the subject of this Warranty” — a “strong stand against the creation of unqualified authority at any point in our Conference structure.”

Warranty Four: “That all important decisions should be reached by discussion, vote, and wherever possible, by substantial unanimity.” This Warranty is, on the one hand, “a safeguard against any hasty or overbearing authority of a simple majority; and, on the other hand, it takes notice of the rights and the frequent wisdom of minorities, however small. This principle guarantees that all matters of importance, time permitting, will be extensively debated, and that such debates will continue until a really heavy majority can support every critical decision.”

Warranty Five: “That no Conference action shall ever be personally punitive or an incitement to public controversy.” Although practically all other societies and governments find it necessary to punish individual members for violations of their beliefs, principles or laws, Alcoholics Anonymous finds this practice unnecessary.

When we fail to follow sound spiritual principles, alcohol cuts us down. No humanly administered system of penalties is needed. This unique condition is an enormous advantage to us all, one on which we can fully rely and one which we should never abandon by resorting to personal attack and punishment. Of all societies, ours can least afford to risk the resentments and conflicts which would result were we ever to yield to the temptation to punish in anger.

For much the same reason, we cannot and should not enter into public controversy, even in self-defence. Our experience has shown that, providentially, A.A. has been made exempt from the need to quarrel with anyone, no matter what the provocation. Nothing could be more damaging to our unity and to the worldwide goodwill which A.A. enjoys, than public contention, no matter how promising the immediate dividends might appear.

Some situations which may require Conference consideration are:

A.A. may come under “sharp public attack or heavy ridicule” — perhaps “With little or no justification in fact. Our best defence in these situations would be no defence whatever — namely, complete silence at the public level. If the criticism of A.A. is partly or wholly justified, it may be well to acknowledge this privately to the critics — with our thanks.”

Public violations of A.A. Traditions.

Our own members may try to use the A.A. name for their private purposes. “Aggressive or punitive action, even in this area, must be omitted. Privately, we can inform Tradition-violators that they are out of order. When they persist, we can use such other resources of persuasion as we have. In the long run, though, we shall have to rely mainly on the pressures of A.A. opinion and public opinion.”

“Another kind of problem is the severe internal disagreement that comes to unwelcome public attention.” As G.S.O. “is not a police operation,” we can only offer A.A.’s experience as a matter of information.

Warranty Six: “That though the Conference may act for the service of Alcoholics Anonymous, it shall never perform any acts of government; and that, like the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous which it serves, the Conference itself will always remain democratic in thought and action.”

The A.A. Traditions accord the individual member and the A.A. group extraordinary liberties. In fact, we A.A.s probably enjoy more and greater freedoms than any Fellowship in the world. We claim this as no virtue. We know we have to choose conformity to A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions or else face dissolution and death.

“Because we set such a high value on our great liberties and cannot conceive that they will need to be limited, we here specially enjoin our General Service Conference to abstain completely from any and all acts of authoritative government which could in any way curtail A.A.’s freedom under God. We expect our Conference always to try to act in the spirit of mutual respect and love — one member to another.

“Freedom under God to grow in His likeness and image will ever be the quest of Alcoholics Anonymous. May our General Service Conference be always seen as a chief symbol of this cherished liberty.”

I am responsible… When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible

A Declaration of Unity This we owe to A.A.’s future: To place our common welfare first; To keep our fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depend our lives, And the lives of those to come

This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature
Copyright 2017 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
First printing 1986.
Revised 1988.
All rights reserved. Mail address: Box 459, Grand Central Station New York, NY 10163

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