Tradition of the Month: #4 Autonomy

  1. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

What’s this mean in our meetings? Well for starters, Bill W. explains it this way in the AA 12 and 12:

Autonomy is a ten-dollar word. But in relation to us, it means very simply that every AA group can manage its affairs exactly as it pleases, except when AA as a whole is threatened.

So we can all do pretty much whatever we want, however we want, right? Well not quite. After all, the traditions, themselves, represent guidelines of conduct for meetings just as the steps do for individuals. The OA 12 and 12 says it pretty clearly:

Groups which ignore one or more of the twelve traditions bring discord to the fellowship.

But how can it be the business of one group what another does when we are autonomous? Think, for example, of the kind of heated discussion that what would happen at an intergroup meeting or just over the phone among friends if a local meeting started insisting its members use the diet regimen of an outside organization. This isn’t so hard to imagine for many of our program elders who witnessed the schism of OA over food plans. To this day, the wounds of that time affect how long-time members view their progress through OA.

How do we deal with groups that stray a little off the reservation? “An infraction of an OA tradition does not result in a group being summarily ejected from the Fellowship,” says the OA 12 and 12, ”we might not have any OA Fellowship at all if that were the case!” Groups that consistently ignore a tradition are usually, the 12 and 12 reminds us, not doing so out of hostility to the traditions, but more likely out of ignorance of them. Those well versed in the traditions have a responsibility to bring the matter to the group’s attention at a business meeting, lest the meeting lose its connections to the traditions and cease being effective at helping its members find recovery.

But what about the group that flaunts the traditions? The one that tells the traditions to stick it in their ear? Again, the OA 12 and 12:

In extreme cases…the group may be dropped from OA meeting lists which are published by intergroups and other OA service bodies. However, the service body taking such an action should do so only after much soul-searching. It is far too easy to use the power of the majority against groups in in the minority.

In other words, even service bodies need to recognize that their actions affect other groups and OA as a whole! The traditions and the steps counsel patience and dialog, not carrots and sticks. The offending meeting is likely to disappear if it doesn’t stick to OA principles because those principles are founded on the hard-won experience of twelve-step groups worldwide—they represent the collective wisdom of 75 years of helping addicts recover.

What about in our personal lives? How does tradition four help us live happy, joyous, and free? The slogan “live and let live” is embodied in this tradition. If someone doesn’t do things the way we think they should, we don’t have to resent them or release our anger on ourselves or others (through food or misbehavior). We don’t control anyone, and when we think the next right step is demanded, we might pause and talk the matter over with a trustworthy person and our Higher Power before taking any action.