Tradition of the Month: Tradition 6

6. An OA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the OA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

To understand how OA’s sixth tradition operates, imagine yourself at an OA event such as a workshop, retreat, or convention. You see a sign for a raffle, and it says: Prize: Relaxation-themed gift basket. That’s nice, our program encourages us to relax and take it easy, and someone in the group has thoughtfully put together a gift that can help us do so.

But what if the sign on the same gift basket instead read this way? Prize: Ultimate Relaxation Suite, donated by Luxury Bath Products of the Seacoast. You might still think it’s a nice basket, but the questions start boiling up fast:

  • Why would a for-profit company donate to an anonymous fellowship that claims a no-promotion policy?
  • Can I rule out the absence of a profit motive? Or a marketing motive?
  • Why OA would accept this gift from one company but not from another?
  • Is there some relationship between OA and this company?
  • Does the presence of this basket mean that OA endorses the company?
  • If so, will the company be collecting my name, phone number, and email address from our phone lists in return?
  • Is someone in OA receiving some kind of personal benefit from this association?

It’s amazing how quickly our focus can be diverted from gratitude for some help with relaxation (in accordance with our program) to wondering about money, power, and influence.

And this was just a small example.

Relationships are always a two-way street, and if OA or any of its groups enters one with an outside organization or enterprise, it will be transformed, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, into something that no longer makes carrying the message of the twelve steps to compulsive eaters its primary purpose.

This is even true of other twelve-step groups. As The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous points out:

Members who put too much emphasis on other fellowships in OA meetings leave compulsive eaters with the impression that these programs and the problems they address are more serious or more important to the compulsive overeater, than OA” (157).

As individual OA members, keeping tradition six could take many forms. We can refrain from mentioning outside organizations, including religious and spiritual ones, by name. We can avoid mentioning the titles of books or materials from non-OA-approved sources (including other fellowships and spiritual organizations as well as for-profit publishers). We can avoid sharing that digresses at length about the principles, practices, or influence of outside groups. If we, ourselves, have created such materials or are in the business of supplying them, we can leave our business affairs outside the program.

If we hear ourselves prefacing our comments with “not to talk about outside enterprises…” then we can pause, even in mid-share, and assess whether what we are about to say can be phrased without mentioning or elaborating on an outside organization.

And lastly, if we hear sharing that obviously does not comport with this tradition, especially if it is repeated over time, we can calmly and gently ask that member to observe the tradition. Remember, they may not even know they haven’t been keeping tradition six!

As ever, the point of the traditions is not to control members but to create boundaries so that simple, everyday actions that are often done with fine intention don’t lead to foreseeable problems that experience has painfully demonstrated can splinter OA groups. That way, we have the freedom to keep on getting better and keep on carrying this life-saving message of hope and recovery. After all, it’s our primary purpose!