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Web Exclusive: Let's Work Together

An AA member suggests some helpful guidelines to keep in mind while doing service.

Arriving late for my first business meeting with my new home group, I was only seated a few seconds when I remembered why I had quit going to business meetings. It was like being in a bar, stepping out for a couple years and returning to find the conversation the same. Intergroup and money was the dominant topic for discussion as it had been at the last business meeting I attended in this area.

AA's rotation of service is a wonderful idea but it means that we recycle old problems with each new crop of twisted servants (I mean trusted servants). The desire of those seeking to re-invent the wheel is compounded by bleeding deacons who have taken ownership of service positions until things are done their way. Simple problems with obvious answers in our experiences can become bogged down in resolution.

While our group link to AA World Service is very defined in the various brochures and a manual, the guidelines for intergroup are vague. Our service arm is provided by the gamut from those large urban centres with staffed offices to remote areas served only by district. Each approach has successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses. Geography further compounds the problem locally as our district encompasses a major urban centre and several smaller rural areas with the majority of meetings taking place outside the city limits.

On the money side of the coin, there are those who were taken to their first meeting by a relative or friend. They were given a Big Book (now collecting dust). They argue that their experience shows that we need not spend any money on service.

At the other end are those still clinging to delusions of grandeur. They would have us fund raise to support all manners of initiatives from detox centres to clubs to offices and meeting halls to luxury conventions. They are truly willing to go to any length for someone else's sobriety but look at you askance when the issue of financial responsibility is raised.

I am reminded of a talk by Dr. Bob's son Bob and his reference to our founders. If it had been up to Bill W., AA would have been franchised like a fast food restaurant. If it had been up to Dr. Bob, AA would never have left Akron, Ohio. Group conscience moves us to the prudent and responsible middle ground.

Over the next year budgets and service will be cussed and discussed. This need not be an obstacle but rather an opportunity. The Tenth Step advises us to continue to take personal inventory. Periodic review of our service functions is also wise even if it is to confirm the status quo. There will be those trusted servants who see such examinations as an affront to their perceived authority. The concepts are quite plain. Our leaders are but trusted servants. Ultimate authority rests with the groups. Sound familiar?

In my case, principles and personalities will be an issue. It can be so tempting to vote against a valid principle just to make a point to a particular personality. Old habits die hard.

 What are some of the questions we need to be asking?

What are my responsibilities to my fellow alcoholic? An answering service? Literature? Workshops? Clubs? A social life? What service functions locally do we really need? If there is no intergroup, are we as a group or district prepared to pick up the slack? Are we being responsible in the professional services we deem necessary? Do we need what we are getting and are we getting what we are paying for?

Why do we need a prudent reserve and how much is reasonable? Do our trusted servants understand that they are accountable or are the groups simply a cash cow to be milked with each flight of fancy? Can we as members accept the decisions about money and service are rarely unanimous and that the minority has a right to their view?

The most important of all principles in the upcoming discussions is the right of participation. Will those leading the meetings ensure that everyone is asked to voice an opinion or will they simply yield the floor to the cliques or those who speak loudest and longest? Whether we have been sober 40 days or 40 years, we have an obligation to participate. It is part of the price of our sobriety? We learn through participation at business meetings to express our views and truly develop a group conscience.

Grumbling in the cigarette crowd after the meeting is not participation. This is what we did when we were drinking, sitting on the sidelines of life, perched on our barstools, quick to criticize and condemn. Contrary to our egos, the world failed to notice our protestations.

There will be three common objections to participation—apathy, irrelevance and ignorance.

Apathy says who cares, as this has nothing to do with me. If I am putting money in the Seventh Tradition, how it is spent is my business. Ask those who raise the apathy objection to set fire to a five-dollar bill the next time the Seventh is passed. See what they say!

The second objection is relevance to my sobriety. Balderdash! Show me an alcoholic who was financial responsible when they took their last drink and I'll wager that they haven't had it yet! AA can teach us how to manage money within our group and service functions. We can then take what we learn and apply it to our personal finances. I don't think I am the only alcoholic who needed to get this part of his life in order during recovery.

The third common objection is ignorance or simple lack of understanding. I'd like to participate but I don't know what you are talking about. Try your sponsor. Don't have one? Get one! Sponsor doesn't know this stuff? Push them to ask their sponsor! Sponsorship should be more than a parrot on the other end of the phone when we call to bemoan our latest pity trip. Your GSR should definitely know this stuff. Maybe you need the DCM or alternate to come and speak to your group about money and service. When was the last time either of these two was at your group? Maybe it is long overdue.

In the year ahead, the discussions at some groups will be lively. We will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can listen, learn and share becoming richer from the experience. Unfortunately, this won't be the last time for these concerns to be raised. Maybe next time though the discussions need not be as long or as heated as we can share our experience, strength and hope gained from this one. A stepping stone or a stumbling block? It is our call.

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