Tradition of the Month: Dissenting opinions

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.

No one runs OA. That’s what Tradition 2 reminds us of. It also reminds us that we should make decisions that affect our group purpose carefully. When it comes to matters of carrying the OA message to still-suffering food addicts, there may be ten, fifty, a hundred or more Higher Powers represented in the making of a single decision. Our group conscience, then, arises from the commonalities among the spiritual direction we each receive as we discuss an item of business.

And dissent is good for OA, so long as it comes from a spiritually guided place.

In the Twelve and Twelve, Bill Wilson goes to great lengths to encourage groups to hear every voice, especially dissenters. Often those seeming contrarians save the day with a simple question or statement that catches the larger body off guard. While the rest of us are already steaming along mentally toward dramatic, positive results that leap quickly into the view of our mind’s eye, our contrarian friend spots a tragic flaw in our plans. Perhaps they have experiences that suggest unintended consequences the group hadn’t yet identified. Or they recognize where our designs may compromise one of the Traditions and make us less effective at working on our primary purpose.

We addicts range from the overconfidence man whose big ideas and sureness mask a squishy self-esteem to the mousy wallflowers who dare not speak lest their inner doubts take root in someone else’s mind. We are prone to the same social dynamics that all organizations are. Groupthink, follow-the-leader, squeaky-wheel syndrome, circular decision making. All the familiar thinking that leads to bad decisions out there are present in OA. But unlike the outside world, we trust and rely on the God of our individual understandings as a check on our worst tendencies. Whereas outside of OA, we might feel the need to silence dissension as a matter of time, efficiency, or simple ego, inside OA, we must listen to it because every one of us is an equal in Overeaters Anonymous. None of has a superior Higher Power than another. We are not leading monocultural prayer groups, we’re getting the message out to those affected by our illness.

But dissent can be a burr in the saddle of a smooth-running organization if it comes from a place of pride, ego, or attention-seeking. We are encouraged in OA to decline taking part in the fights that used to fuel our anger. We are encouraged to be humble and not lord our mastery of logic and persuasion over others. We are encouraged to seek freedom from self-seeking behaviors and avoid the high associated with capturing the eyes and ears of others. We don’t argue to argue or to stand out.

We must always carefully weight our motives in speaking up whether in favor or opposition to the matter at hand. We must always monitor whether we are trying to play the hero or the spoiler rather than listening to our spirit. And we must do what the Serenity Prayer suggests and find the wisdom to know the difference between our inner voice and our Higher Power’s voice. But especially in dissent, we must take care that our position is carefully presented to avoid judgment, take-it-or-leave-it language, or anger. Just as those who respond to us should do.

So long as we take our Higher Power’s suggestions, it’ll be OK.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition Two

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

If you’ve been to an OA meeting, especially a business meeting, you know that while abstinence and experience in the 12 Steps moderates our behaviors, we do have the tendency to run to extremes. For example, there’s the controller who wants to run everything and their polar opposite who wants everything run for them. The legalist who tsk tsks when someone strays just one word from the meeting’s format and the improviser for whom the format is a merely a nice suggestion. The codependent who just just wants everyone to get along and the iconoclast who riles everyone up. The idea man who is brimming with suggestions others should implement and the overly responsible person who takes on every single job “for the good of the group.” There’s the frightened mouse who has no opinion and sneaks out before anyone can greet them and the limelight seeker for whom every meeting is a chance to soak up attention. In fact, many of us embody several of these tendencies!

How in the world, then, can an OA meeting survive when its leadership is drawn from such a motley assortment? The answer is anarchy, with a twist.

That’s right, OA is essentially anarchist in its structure. We have no fixed hierarchy, and we don’t trust anyone to stay in a leadership role too long. At all service levels, we believe in a process of rotation whereby everyone takes service roles on a rotating basis. No one individual, therefore, exerts too much influence. No one person gets to imprint the group or OA with their interpretation of the Steps and Traditions.

Tradition Two tells us that we have “trusted servants.” Consider how they become trusted. Typically trust develops through a process of our getting to know someone, watching them recover from our disease, and seeing them grow into consistent OA service. We know too many instances where service positions are filled by the eager but never fulfilled. That’s the nature of the disease of addiction, and until we see consistency and commitment, we know that we cannot put too much stock in someone’s well intentioned volunteerism.

We also recognize that human beings are flawed, and while we may trust them as humble servants once we see their track record, we cannot put full faith in them. Our disease is too cunning. Many years ago now, the treasure of an entire OA region is said to have “lost” or absconded with the funds they were charged with keeping. In less dramatic instances, normally trustworthy members have simply been unable to perform a service for reasons having to do with their outside life. We are all people, and we are all vulnerable to the inconsistencies and troubles of being human. So we carefully allot our trust, we rotate service, and we maintain a certain flexible anarchy so that no one person or group can cause the downfall of the others.

We mentioned there was a twist to this mostly anarchical setup. The twist is God. The only true hierarchy in OA goes like this:

God > us

For those among us with the inclination toward religion, this may seem natural. For those of agnostic or atheistic temperament, it may feel discomfiting. But if rephrased, it might read like this:

The good of OA > us

From either point of view, our actions as groups and leaders are guided by the group conscience, and the group conscience is arrived at carefully through prayer, meditation, and/or deliberation. The big mouths in the room don’t get to dictate. If a complicated situation arises, we don’t jump into action. We seek clarity and consensus. If a situation seems dire, we don’t despair, we ask that we be shown the way through it so that we can continue to carry the message of recovery through the 12 Steps.

In this way the group conscience guides us where no one person or oligarchy could. The responsibility and pressure are lifted from our shoulders so that we can take the required action without concern for our selves, our own skins. We can, as a group, let go and let God. We practice as a collective, the very precepts the 12 Steps recommend for individuals. Neat, huh?

Human anarchy with Greater purpose. That’s OA, and, strange as it may seem, it really does work.