Tradition of the Month: Keeping OA Homey

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

As OA members, the organization of our lives comes from the actions that are suggested we take each day to stay on the beam:

  • Pray and meditate in the morning, and keep in touch with our Higher Power throughout the day (Step 11)
  • Review our conduct in the moment and at night and be ready to set right any wrongs (Step 10)
  • Do our best to keep in mind how we can be helpful to others, and then actually help them
  • Help others, carry the message to those who still suffer from compulsive eating, and live the principles of the 12 Steps as fully as we can
  • And of course, not eat compulsively.

But beyond these overarching ideas, OA doesn’t get specific. We addicts with our controlling ways love to make rules, get angry when others break them, and then break other people’s rules to boot. There’s no need for all that fuss. After all, our HP will gently show us how to live, provided we relax our grip on the world and our life.

Like its individual members, for OA to stay on the beam it too needs some little bit of organization, but not too much. Who has time for niggling rules when the important business of helping others is afoot? We can’t be waylaid on this mission by protracted discussions of who does what and when. And why. And how. And by whose authority. And how many votes it takes to make that authorization. And how to remove people from authority whose actions we don’t like.

In this way, organizations are somewhat like houses. Perhaps we start with a comfy, cozy little home. We decide to add onto it to just a little more space. But we need permits to do that. We need to be careful of the easements for our property, and also where the sewer, water, and gas lines are buried. Oh, and we’ll need to ascertain whether our circuit breaker can handle enough of the additional load or whether we need a bigger box. We’ll need to figure out the plumbing if we want a bathroom, and code may demand one if we increase to a certain square footage. Of course, our taxes will go up what with the additional room in the house and all making its assessment go up. Things get complicated fast. Now imagine taking care of a mansion. All seventeen rooms need upkeep. Just cleaning them all would exhaust a person. The gardens need tending. Make it big enough and a home turns into a house.

OA is our home. The more we put additions on it, the more we’re going to be dealing with the management of organizational structures. We’ll spend time worrying about how to keep nonessential things going to the detriment of our one primary purpose: Carrying the message to compulsive eaters.

We can look to our current or former workplaces for further examples. Most people at some time complain about the bureaucracy of their workplace. It takes so long to hire someone due to the layers of approval. It takes so long to get product to market because of design-by-committee. There’s too many managers and not enough people to do the actual work. Everything has a required form. Can’t just go across the hall to ask a colleague to help with something without first asking their boss who then has to ask their boss….

So OA as a fellowship needs to keep it in the day just as we members do in our daily lives. We have no choice. If OA were to fall apart, so would we. We need the support of the fellowship, and we need to support the fellowship in order to stay alive. We’re just a bunch of food-drunks trying to stay free from compulsive eating, we’re not organizational geniuses. It’s like Dr. Bob’s said the last time he saw AA cofounder Bill Wilson: “Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.”

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.