Tradition 4 – All Four One

Tradition Four – All Four One

Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or SCA as a whole.

All Four One by Philip E (NY)

In the five years that I have been an active member of SCA, I have had the opportunity to do service with New York City Intergroup and as a NYdelegate to our International Service Organization (ISO). In my experience, doing service is indeed, as stated in the Fourfold, "…a way of helping ourselves by helping others." In the course of Intergroup and ISO meetings in which I've participated, I've been able to experience the broad spectrum of emotions that only a business meeting populated by recovering addicts (and of course I include myself in that description) can evoke. From the sublime to the ridiculous – and I don't use that phrase facetiously. Actually, it would be more to the point to say from the ridiculous to the sublime. 

Initially I would suffer through these meetings, my stomach in knots, my blood boiling, telling myself that if only these people would behave the way I felt they should, see things my way, act as I did (or at least imagined myself to), everything would go so much smoother. We could quickly solve all manner of problems. It was at times so disturbing that I was beginning to consider dropping out of my service commitments altogether; I'm glad today that I didn't follow that impulse.

As time went by, I gradually began to awaken to the fact that there was real value in these experiences. I realized that I needed to stay not only because of the work that was so often accomplished, but more because of the spiritual message being offered. Yes, we recovering addicts could get out of control and self-righteous, and many times there were people who I wanted to throttle (many of whom probably wanted to return the favor). But time and again, just when it looked as though nothing would ever get accomplished, or worse yet some insanely inappropriate motion was about to be passed, miracles could happen. Someone would suddenly speak out (sometimes it was someone that I would least expect). In the clearest and most sober voice he/she would bring us all back to our senses, reminding us to place principles before personalities, and helping me personally to remember that our primary purpose is to stay sexually sober and to help others to achieve sexual sobriety. Not to win an argument or make others see it my way. In spite of our character defects, in spite of our control issues and neurosis and bad manners, we as addicts — when push came to shove — are often able to rise above our short-comings and, with God's help, act out of humility and compassion, to let go of our desire to have things our way, to let go of our fear of losing something we perceive to be ours, and do the sane, sober thing. Often, this means trusting the program and trusting that others are able to rise above their short-comings as well. Which brings me to Tradition Four. 

I've heard it said that the Steps protect us from our addiction, and the Traditions protect us from each other. This speaks eloquently to the temptation those in service positions may sometimes feel in response to something that may be happening within an individual meeting. I can think of several occasions at New York Intergroup when someone would bring up a concern about how things were handled at a particular meeting: cross-talk, not following the prescribed format set up by a meeting, sudden use of graphic language, etc . The response from someone might be "Let's tell the meetings that they have to do X Y or Z". Tell the meetings they can't allow cross-talk, or graphic language. Tell the meetings that they have to read the preamble. Tell the meeting they have to say this isn't group therapy, tell the meetings people should only talk about recovery. Usually this sort of response would, I think, come out of a place of fear; fear that if we didn't somehow "take control", the meeting would become unsafe, or inappropriate, or ineffective. The desire to protect our own recovery, which in many cases is vital to our own survival, lead some of us to be tempted to try to mandate what we consider to be the "right" way to run an individual meeting. But such action is not in keeping with the words of Tradition Four, or in the spirit of individual responsibility fostered by recovery. Fortunately, inevitably someone would remind the group that each meeting is autonomous, and we have no business butting in if the issue in question didn't effect the rest of the program. What the fourth tradition tells us is that the only way for our fellowship to remain safe and effective is if we trust each meeting to take care of itself. As it says in the commentary on this tradition in the AA Twelve and Twelve, "Every group has the right to be wrong". By having each group stand on its own we allow ourselves to take responsibility for our own recovery. Unless what happens at a meeting is directly effecting another meeting, or the fellowship as a whole, we must stand back and let those attending a meeting determine what works for them and respond to whatever problems arise. These are the real lessons of this tradition: letting go of control, getting out of the way of the recovery of other addicts, and trusting in the process of the program. 

In my four years on New York Intergroup and three years on ISO, we have never once come across a meeting that was engaging in some action that affected another meeting or SCA as a whole. Whatever problems meetings have had, they have been quite capable of handling on their own. The Twelve & Twelve says we must have "the courage to declare each group an individual entity, strictly reliant on its own conscience as a guide to action". This is a fundamental principal of how the 12 Steps work. They and the Traditions are models for us, to help us relearn how to live a sober and spiritual life.

Essentially, this is what the fourth tradition says to me: Let go. Stop trying to control what doesn't concern you. Trust that the grace of God, or HP, or humanity, or however you want to say it, is in all of us. All will be well.