Tradition of the Month: Our Primary Purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

The fifth tradition reminds us to keep it simple, silly. When we get into grand planning and big ideas, we addictive personalities often go astray. We can overreach and find ourselves diverting our individual and collective energies away from what we do well and into what we think we might do well. And that gets us in trouble.

After all, we’re still living with the faulty mind that needed OA in the first place. When we write our fourth step inventory, we see how our mind can twist things around. We see how we can at different times be grandiose or unreliable, generous or selfish, well meaning or indifferent. With this kind of brain, we often take on projects we can’t deliver on, get resentful with our inability to complete them, and find ourselves frustrated that the fruits of our brainstorms don’t inspire commitment and devotion to our ideas in others. As the Big Books says, the addict is, “even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony.”

As individual OA members, if we don’t make it simple, we’re simply not going to make it. The same is true with our meetings and at the intergroup level. In our individual lives, when we focus, laser like, on what our Higher Power guides us toward, we usually feel purposeful. Inside we probably feel calm, or at least we sense a lack of conflicting emotions. When we act out of selfish interest and ignore our Higher Power, we will likely feel torn—our spiritual Spidey Sense will tell us that we’re not aligned with God’s purpose.

As a meeting or an intergroup, whenever we work to carry the OA message of hope, we feel assured. We are doing the work our Higher Power has set out for our organization at every level. When our motives and activities align with this goal, locating the group conscience doesn’t feel like grasping for the walls in a dark room. Instead it sometimes feels as though the answer was apparent all along, and we merely had to confirm it. In situations such as this, divisive votes need not be taken because substantial unanimity will be obvious to all participants.

Many situations, typically minor ones, arise that test the fifth tradition, and almost always with the finest intentions. Perhaps a book produced by an outside organization appears on the literature table, photocopies of a trusted (non-OA) food plan circulate during meeting time, or someone requests the intergroup to place an outside event on its website. In none of these cases has anyone gone about trying to harm OA or its members. But in such cases, it is the duty of our members to gently ask whether our primary purpose is reflected in these actions.

As the above examples suggest, tradition five is closely related to tradition six, which tells us to avoid doing anything that aligns us with an outside enterprise. Tradition five, however, goes a little further, by alerting us to potential dangers with inside enterprises. It is not, for example, our job to dispense nutritional advice or to host workshops on how to eat well. Most of us may well have the same trigger foods and dietary needs from our food plans, but we are not a diet-and-calories club. Those clubs have their job to do, and OA has its, which is to carry the message of hope.

We can make it simple for ourselves, our groups, and OA when we focus on carrying the message. When we sense division among members, we might lean on tradition five and ask whether everything we are doing is leading to the single goal of getting this message to compulsive eaters.