Tradition of the Month: Let’s keep this thing simple

7. Every OA group ought to be self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

Dr. Bob’s last words to his AA confounder Bill W. were an admonition:

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

Bill had been in the world of high finance. In the high towers on Wall Street making a mint’s worth of paper proceeds, only to see them all dissolve in the market meltdown that kicked off The Great Depression. In fact, what brought Bill to Akron where he met Dr. Bob was an investment scissor fight. He involved himself in a vicious proxy battle with a tire manufacturer’s board of directors. Complicated, political, protracted dueling among the lords of that particular realm.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bob practiced proctology.

The pull and drag dynamic of their relationship served AA amazingly well. Bob could provide a realistic assessment of Bill’s more grandiose ideas. Bill could spur the more conservative Bob toward practices that would give AA the ability to reach a regional then national audience. By the time of Dr. Bob’s death in 1950, AA had blossomed across America and well beyond, so his last words to Bill were important. They had been big fish in a little pond. Now they could choose to see themselves as big fish in a vast ocean if they wished.

Bob wisely counseled against it. Addicts have enough problems with grandiosity and ego that they don’t need to see themselves as kahunas of some burgeoning world power. Stay small in your own mind, he seemed to be telling Bill. AA’s Twelve & Twelve published just a year or three after this famous encounter. In it, Bill frequently warns against big-shotism and repeatedly reminds us of the importance of humility and humbleness.

All of this relates in profound ways to Tradition Seven. The AA 12×12 analogizes Tradition Seven to a vow of poverty. As a former financier, Bill knew quite well the ups and downs of markets as well as of the accumulation and management of wealth. He understood how complex the issues around it are. If you’ve ever visited a retirement planner, run your own company, or been in accounting, you probably have some idea how complicated money can be. By taking a metaphorical vow of poverty, AA ensured that the money intake itself would be modest, posing less risk of profiteering motives. Just as important, placing that vow of poverty in the context of Tradition 5 (our primary purpose) and Tradition 8 (AA should remain forever nonprofessional…) created a bulwark against the corporatizing of AA’s message of hope. The fellowship was to use the money for one purpose (helping drunks) and not paying guys like Bill to do it.

Experience taught AA the necessity of its vow of poverty. Arguments about money divert  from the primary purpose. The endless decision making around money and the finger pointing that occurs when investments don’t pan out create disunity in a fellowship whose first Tradition stresses its importance.

So what’s this history lesson got to do with our food and OA’s fellowship? Everything. We hear in many rooms the phrase “Keep it simple.” Why? Simply because we addicts can complicate an egg timer. That adage is often used to describe our food planning, but it’s also true of the fellowship in its entirety. If we don’t keep things simple, we simply won’t be able to keep OA healthy.

Food plans are a lot more complicated than sobriety from alcohol. We have to let the tiger  out of the cage three times a day, and our deal is on every street corner. We do not have the time to deal with the complications that arise from handling money, attracting donations or capital, and making big plans for how to use it. We have just two things we need to do: stay abstinent and help others. Anytime our focus drifts away from those tasks, we are vulnerable to this vicious disease.

We take our vow of poverty so that we can find the richness of recovery from compulsive eating.


Tradition of the Month: Tradition 7

7. Every OA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

There’s nothing like money to spoil a perfectly good program of recovery. Its accumulation, handling, and dispersion lead to more fights in society than nearly anything else. Look at how marriages dissolve over it, how towns can be factionalized by it, how companies can be ruined by it. Multinational money crises occur all the time with countries demanding certain reforms of other countries, pitting peoples and countries against one another.

In other words, money divides people and institutions. That’s a big problem for a fellowship like ours. Our individual recoveries, says the first tradition, “depend upon OA unity.” Luckily, we also have a primary purpose, courtesy of the fifth tradition:  “carrying the message of recovery to those who still suffer.” The 7th tradition, therefore, shows us how to deal with our fellowship’s monies in a way that avoids disunity and helps us move our funds in the direction they are needed.

When we pay the rent or buy the literature for a meeting, it’s obvious what the money is going to: our primary purpose. Rarely do matters such as these cause any friction in the least among our members. In fact, they seem sometimes so utterly mundane that we might wonder why we stayed for the business meeting to begin with. Meetings in the Seacoast area are, however, quite small. Consider a group from a big city that might take contributions in one night that our bigger meetings receive in one month. These meetings could run considerable surpluses, and if so, what do they do about the money?

Luckily OA’s service structure and 7th tradition work together. OA’s World Service, which performs numerous crucial tasks related to carrying our message (especially, creating literature and operating, depends upon contributions from OA’s Regions. The Regions, which coordinate the activities of the Intergroups within them, in turn depend upon donations from their Intergroups. Finally, the Intergroups depend upon donations from their local meetings. In order to continue to enjoy the benefits of OA’s World Service, meetings are encouraged to only maintain a balance sufficient for operating expenses. The rest goes to the Intergroup, which either spends it on workshops and other ways of carrying the message or sends the money onward. Because our fellowship has taken a vow of poverty, because it ultimately depends upon local contributions, we need never keep extra funds on hand at the local level. To do so would curtail OA’s primary purpose. So we pay our group’s operating expenses, then send the rest on.

When we follow these suggestions, we rarely or never have to negotiate matters such as:

  • Which bank is giving the best rates?
  • Is the money safe with that institution?
  • What kind of account should we open?
  • What do we do with the interest money or dividends?
  • Who in this group do we trust to handle all this money?

We avoid suspicion of profit motive, hysteria about whether to buy or sell an investment vehicle, and worry about the liquidity or illiquidity of our money. We also have reassurance that the money is being used in a way that benefits people who need help (us!) rather than sitting idly without a primary purpose.

Money is often said to be the root of all evil. That may or may not be true, but it brings with it a host of decisions and consequences that can distract us from our primary purpose. Just like our food plans give us freedom from food obsession by structuring our relationship with food, the 7th tradition does the same for our meetings around money. We are free to think about how we can help others find abstinence and recovery instead of ever thinking about the status of our funds.