Tradition of the Month: Tradition 10

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Imagine this scenario:

May 25, 2016

Overeaters Anonymous, the nation’s largest food-addiction support group has entered the increasingly divisive debate around whether sugar is addictive. OA’s World Service released a statement which indicated its position. “A vast majority of our members claim sugar as one of or the major food substance to which they are addicted. We are sympathetic with those who argue for increased attention to its addictive qualities.” Sugar industry representatives called the statement “irresponsible,” and one shrugged off the statement, wondering whether OA would have the government classify sugar with cocaine or heroin. Medical and nutritional leaders told reporters that the organization was overreaching its mandate by commenting on the controversy and suggested that OA’s recovery program is not scientifically based.

In this entirely fictitious scenario, we can understand the motivation for OA issuing a statement about sugar like this. It would raise awareness of the problem, provide an avenue of hope for those who read it. It would be a way to carry the message to those who are suffering.

Our fifth tradition tells us we have one primary purpose, to carry the message, and anything that might keep us from that purpose is probably a bad idea. How could telling the world about the addictive properties of a substance that many of our members know to lead to compulsive eating damage our primary purpose?

For one thing, internally, OA is not exclusively composed of people who identify as sugar addicts. By sending a message to the world about what part of our fellowship experiences, are we excluding others? Would that affect our OA unity (tradition 1)? Why would we even want to find out?

For another, once we enter any fray publicly, we are stepping into advocacy. When we take a side, we tell others they are wrong. Wouldn’t that possibly limit our ability to attract newcomers?

As the scenario above suggests, when we take a position, we also open ourselves up to being stigmatized by others who have a differing agenda or those who are simply ignorant of OA’s program and principles. Many people and organizations in the world are far less principled than OA is, and when we oppose them, we are providing opportunities for them to spread misunderstandings. Clearly, negative press coverage or publicity could inhibit our ability to carry the message of recovery to those swayed by news reports.

Perhaps most importantly, getting involved in controversy takes our focus off of recovery. If we are busy debating the merits of OA’s position on an issue, we aren’t busy getting better or helping others get better. If we are busy crafting position statements, we aren’t busy setting up workshops and other valuable events. Then there’s the whole issue of managing public relations in the face of public position statements. What a vortex of time, work, and personality!

The whole point about controversy is that it separates people. If, as Bill W. wrote, we are an ever widening circle of peace on Earth and good to will toward our fellow man, then why would we allow divisiveness into our fellowship? Even if it seemed like it was for a good cause.