If we want to create a sustainable society, we have to overcome many dysfunctional practices that dominate our existing organizations. We will need to create healthy organizations that have new focuses. A proven model for creating a healthy organization was developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and other Twelve Step groups have a history of demonstrating a power to help their members to become healthier. They also have a history of sustenance, they have been around for many generations, and most likely they will be around for many more. Typically, these groups utilize some form of the Twelve Traditions written by the founding members of AA as operating guidelines for the groups. Practicing the Traditions keeps the groups healthy and functioning to achieve their purpose, in the same way that the Twelve Steps keep the individual members of the group healthy.
The traditions embody a number of universal concepts that are requirements for any healthy community to embrace. These concepts include 1 - common good, 2 - deeper meaning, 3 - inclusiveness, 4 - autonomy, 5 - purpose, 6 - respect, 7 - self-sufficiency, 8 – cooperation, 9 -creativity, 10 - focus, 11 - attraction, and 12 - anonymity. The Traditions can be refined, combined, or better defined to fit the specific needs of the community, but their core concepts need to be retained for community to be sustained. What follows is a suggested generic version of the Twelve Traditions that could be used as a starting point for guidelines for any community or organization. The Traditions described below are based on writings contained in the Alcoholic Anonymous publication Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (PDF Version of the book available here )and the Al-Anon Family Groups publication How Al-Anon Works.
Tradition One: Our common good should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.
This is the tradition that requires that the purpose of the group needs to come before the individual desires of the group members. It is about working for the common good. Diversions often times prevent healthy growth or productivity in organizations. This roadblock to real productivity can come from dominating leaders or members. The First Tradition reminds us to stay focused on what the group is really about, and to avoid diversions by personal agenda’s. Private agenda’s may have a place in our personal lives, but when we choose to participate in a community, it needs to be because we believe in the power of working together. The synergistic power of the group can accomplish exponential results as compared to one-person agendas. Consensus builds unity. A clear mission and focus as defined in the Fifth Tradition is required in order to implement this and the other Traditions.
Second Tradition: We are called to a higher meaning or purpose in life - expressed in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
This tradition could simply say, “We practice servant leadership guided by meaning.” What makes this Tradition different from many other groups is the focus on being led a higher meaning or purpose, and the freedom individuals have to express what it is they hear their higher calling to be. What is important is not how you define the source of this calling, but simply that you acknowledge its existence. This purpose as expressed through the individual members is the group conscious. All members are equal, junior members and senior members bring equal value to the group; all are capable of expressing wisdom to inspire. Rotation of leadership roles occurs throughout the membership. The primary role of leadership is to carry out the group conscience, not to dictate it. There is no dictator; there is cooperation.
Tradition Three - The only requirement for membership is a desire to participate in the purpose of the community.
Only an individual member has the authority to decide if that individual will belong to the group. If the individual wants to belong, they belong. There are no requirements, credentials, gender limitations, income limitations, ethnicity restrictions, religious preferences, or any other restrictions. No applications are filled out, no dues are paid, no membership lists are kept, and no attendance is taken. Participation is equivalent to membership.
Tradition Four: Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting the community as a whole.
For individuals to achieve autonomy, the groups to which they belong must also be autonomous. Real change in organizations occurs through self-governance, not outside control. Restrictions, rules, dictations, and governance from outside the community restrict creativity. Autonomy empowers the individuals that make up a group to speak their mind and participate in the creative process. This is the tradition that grants freedom of choice to the groups to meet their own needs. This tradition also links back to the first tradition in that the only time group autonomy is overruled is when the common welfare that guides the whole community is threatened.
Tradition Five – Each community has but one purpose: to help the members to reach their full potential.
There needs to be clarity about why the group has come together and what it is the group hopes to accomplish. This Tradition is the glue that holds the community together. This is the tradition that reminds us that neglecting those who still suffer is a threat to our own sanity and that the essence of all healing is compassion; compassion of not only others, but also ourselves. Compassion is about respect, tolerance, and acceptance of ourselves, others, and those who may have wronged us. Carrying the message of healing to others (who are receptive to hearing it) allows us to hear the message ourselves as we see it reflected in others. When we help others to reach their potential, we in essence reach our own.
Tradition Six: A community ought never endorse, finance, or lend the community name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
Affiliation with outside groups can lead to distraction from the primary purpose of the group. Staying focused on the goal of the group is what makes accomplishments possible. Group supports of external organizations can be the downfall of purpose. It can also be a form of manipulation or control of these outside groups. Respect for others and focus on the group’s goals are required.
Tradition Seven: Every community ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
A self-supporting organization, one that relies on its members for sustenance, will be self-sustaining and self-sufficient. It will exist as long as its membership exists. Funding provided from outside the community cannot distract the community from its primary purpose. The corrupting power of excessive wealth, beyond what is needed to meet essential needs, does not come into play in organizations that practice self-support. Self-supporting organizations create interdependence amongst the members, not dependence on outside influences. This tradition also goes beyond the monetary aspects of support in that the membership also takes responsibility for the service work that is needed to keep a community functioning. The members step up to perform duties needed to keep the community intact. The members are the organization.
Tradition Eight: The work of the community should be done by the community, not outside professionals or organizations. At times special workers may be needed to assist.
The work of the community is the glue to holds it together and that gives it its meaning. Therefore, it needs to be done by the community members, not outsiders. There may be times when specialized knowledge or assistance is needed to help reach the goal of the community, and in these cases it is alright to utilize outside help. Cooperation is what is needed to form community.
Tradition Nine: The community as such, ought never be organized: but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
This is the tradition that prevents the implementation of rules and regulations that restrict creativity and community building, and that place the power of control into the hands of a few. Instead, the group needs to be empowered to accomplish great things. Creation from the heart cannot occur with hampering restrictions. This does not mean there is no guidance or order that guides the group. The Traditions are examples of guidelines that encourage meaningful creation to occur through nourishing creativity. Dis-organizing is what allows organization to evolve.
Tradition Ten – The community has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the community ought never be drawn into public controversy.
Like Tradition Six, this tradition is designed to avoid diverting attention to issues that are not directly related to the group purpose. It helps avoid the self-righteousness that can overcome groups that try to take on other issues, or force their views on others outside the organization. And it can help to avoid the trap of symptom chasing - trying to deal with the symptoms of what is wrong with society, rather then helping the community (and the membership) to become all that it can be. This Tradition requires neutrality on controversial topics like religion and politics; for focusing on these charged issues can alienate those, we hope to serve, and divert us from our common cause. This does not mean that individual members give up their rights and responsibilities to act on issues or causes that they believe in. The group does not have the answers for everyone; the path we choose to follow is one that works for us.
Tradition Eleven – Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather then promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity in the media.
Organizations need to be able to share what they have to offer. A successful community does not need to sell itself; its success speaks for it. As the members of the community find meaning through participation in the organization, that meaning reflects in their interactions with others. No one member of a successful community can speak for the whole organization. The community is not about one person; it is about the whole. The failures or actions of one individual acting as a spokesperson for the community can bring down the whole organization. Charismatic leaders do not build successful organizations; cooperation among the membership does.
Tradition Twelve – Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
The work produced by the community is important, personal ambitions are not. Successful organizations outlast the personalities that make them up. Anonymity is what keeps us humble; it is what keeps us equal; and it is what reminds us who we are. Giving up personal desires for the common good is the foundation of all the traditions. Depending on the type of organization, there may also be a need to protect the anonymity of the membership, in order to allow the membership to thrive.