Tradition of the Month: Keeping OA Simple

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.

Tradition Five says that we have but one primary purpose, and that’s helping compulsive eaters get better. That’s it. But we are all flawed human beings, and many of us are very sick people, so Tradition Six gets specific on how to stay focused on our primary purpose. And it boils down to this: Don’t let the outside world in.

Of course, it’s us who lets the outside world in. We keep our own vigil. The world isn’t a hoard of angry barbarians storming our ramparts, just as food isn’t hurtling into our mouths under its own power. Instead, our brains convince us to shove in another bite. Similarly, outside influences arrive in the form of our own best intentions. That’s why these were Dr. Bob’s last words to Bill W.:

“Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p. 343)

Tradition Five is simplicity itself. Our only job is to carry the message. Dr. Bob was warning Bill, a man of energy and ideas, that once things get complicated, our attention to simplicity wavers. You can’t take back the acorn once it’s grown into an oak.

Imagine an intergroup that actively courted outside relationships. Think how quickly the tangle of outside issues would consume it:

“We’ve got to keep the money coming.”

“We can’t say something our business friends will take offense to.”

“Can we give the company a few minutes to speak at our workshop?”

“This will be so good for our intergroup. The papers will run with it.”

“I don’t care if that meeting doesn’t like him, the candidate is promising us funding!”

“We should offer them a seat on our intergroup.”

Complicated? Heck, yeah. Even if this intergroup had a powerful leadership team that could keep the outside influences at bay for some time, the toll would be complete exhaustion for them and a weakening of everyone’s ability to remember the still-suffering compulsive eater. Eventually, a weaker leadership team would come along, and these once carefully managed outside relationships would come to dominate the intergroup. Think of the countless hours of meeting time and personal time this kind of thing would require.

It’s not difficult to imagine those lost hours because whether at the meeting or intergroup level, discussions like these already occur. Have you, for example, had a meeting where a member has asked about having outside literature on the table? Or inviting a non-member to provide a service? Or about a member who wants to donate a service their business provides? If so, how did that meeting go? Experience suggests that these topics tend to elicit a great deal of discussion, usually heated, even for simple yes/no questions. Now multiply that by many orders of magnitude, and you can see how quickly the outside world can derail us from our mission, how members could be turned off entirely from OA, and how nasty it could all become.

So keeping it simple isn’t just a way, it’s the only way. We constantly remind ourselves of the need for complete autonomy from the outside world. Here we are food addicts, out there we are consumers, members of demographic subgroups, or an opportunity. The only opportunists we can afford to have in OA are those who see a chance to recover from the killing disease of compulsive eating.