Tradition of the Month: Specialness from inclusivity

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Remember those mens jackets from the 1980s that had the epaulet-like straps on their shoulders? No? What if I asked you to remember a Members Only jacket? Of course! Now you remember with ease. Those little bits of fabric served zero useful functions for the wearer of the jacket, but they sure did a lot for the manufacturer’s brand awareness. Why every time you saw one of those coats, you knew exactly what company’s jacket it was.

The name of the brand was chosen to give shoppers a sense of belonging to an exclusive club. Exclusivity in our culture tends to be held in greater esteem than inclusivity. If everyone can join, what makes a club special?

Tradition Three, however, turns that idea upside down. Instead of making OA a chummy old-boys network, a fraternity with hazing rituals, or an underground scene for hipsters in the know, our founders and AA’s founders before them, chose to accept members with open arms. People suffering from the misery of addiction don’t have time for secret handgrips, they need a solution now before the rest of their life turns into their death. When we are foggy with food, the window of willingness might not stay open long enough for us to learn arcane truths that allow us to pass onto the next level of mastery.

So in OA, we throw our arms around the whole world. If we want to stop eating compulsively, we41 can join. We don’t even have to want it all the way. Even a wisp or fleeting notion does the trick. Anything to get us into a seat at our first meeting.

We often hear members open their sharing by saying, “I want to claim my seat.” From the point of view of Tradition Three, we are never obligated to claim anything other than our desire to stop eating compulsively. And even that claim need only be to ourselves. No one in OA will be quizzed about that desire. The desire, though shared by many, is ours alone. The very act of sitting down at an OA meeting is claim enough on our seat.

While a desire to stop eating compulsively is all we need to get in the door, it’s easy to get off track and walk back out the door. Tradition Three ensures that when we return, we will once more be taken in lovingly and without question. We will not face a panel of questioners when we come back through the door. No one can tell us that by leaving we forfeited the claim to our seat. Quite the opposite! Typically, returning members find their seat kept warm for them by their OA friends.

Of course, this Tradition carries with it responsibilities. Individual members must uphold this Tradition so that future members will be similarly welcomed. To do so, we greet newcomers warmly and give them some sense of how OA operates. Just as was done for us. At the group level, when tensions arise at a business meeting or out of the behavior of a single member, we do our best to observe principles, not react to personalities. We remember that are all chronically ill, and that we once displayed behavioral difficulties, just as the disruptive member may be doing. We avoid legislating members out of our group or putting up psychological walls between “us” and “them.”

Because in the end, thanks to the imperative magnanimity of Tradition Three, we all have an equal claim on our seat, and no claim against anyone else’s.