Tradition of the Month: Tradition 9

9. OA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Tradition 9 is kind of buried, and it seems like on of those boring things about how we set up shop. Yeah, yeah, so we can have an Intergroup and a World Service, isn’t that special…who wouldn’t have thought of that? But imagine if the opposite were true! What if tradition 9 said:

OA ought to be highly structured and hierarchical. Every local group’s mission is to serve the greater good as determined by OA’s leadership.

Imagine the clawing and ladder-climbing that would ensue as we control-freak OAs try to manage our way up the hierarchy. All so that we can show everyone the “right” way to run the program. Imagine the hurt and resentment, the bitterly contested power struggles. The hammers coming down all over the country on groups that didn’t run their meetings precisely as “OA’s leadership” told them to. The rebellions, factionalism, and anger. We’d last about as long as an Eskimo in the Amazon. If we were lucky.

With tradition 9, we are guaranteed freedom from…our own power driving, domineering, and the worst of our bright ideas. The truth about people like us is that we are in OA because we couldn’t run our own lives. Now we have to run OA? Like in most human endeavors, among our party are some who, if given a little taste of authority will unduly enjoy its exercise. Some of us are very good, indeed, at telling others what to do (and not necessarily doing, ourselves, what we say others ought to). We’re good at plotting and planning, and not so good at cooperating to get things done.

Tradition 9 gives us guidance about how to get things done locally and more broadly. We form service boards that report to those they serve. That’s right, in OA, the Intergroup is not the boss! The Intergroup is a collection of hopefully humble servants who act on behalf of its local meetings to carry the message in the broader community. Intergroups don’t make rules for meetings, because their job is to serve meetings. In some instances, that can mean challenging meetings that have gone astray of the traditions. In protecting the traditions, an intergroup protects the meeting too, because meetings that don’t mind the traditions often fail.

There’s an important feature of tradition 9 that deserves one final mention. In tradition 5, we are counseled that every OA group’s primary purpose is to carry the message and help other compulsive eaters. The ninth tradition enables individual meetings to focus on their primary purpose. If individual meetings were constantly trying to plan uncoordinated events, they would drown in the details, but an intergroup can support that sort of wide-reaching event more simply. Another example: Individual meetings pass money through the intergroup where it then disperses money across the service structure of OA. Can you imagine what a pain it would be if at each business meeting, a local group had to go through the treasury in that kind of detail?

OA works because it is not organized. There are no stars or VIPs that rise through a power structure to tell us all what to do. But being not organized isn’t the same as being disorganized, and tradition 9 facilitates getting the work of OA done without dissolving into chaos.