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By Jim H.

This happened many years ago at my home group; at the time I lived in Seattle. It occurred at a business meeting, so the few people who had stayed after a large meeting were already grumpy. Nor was this a meeting that had a lot of spiritually advanced Old-Timers—just the usual ragtag assembly of self-absorbed, judgmental drunks.

The issue we were voting on came down from a considerable altitude, I think all the way from New York. As I remember it, someone in upstate New York was demonstrating his entrepreneurial style by reprinting the Big Book and selling it for a profit. The groups were asked to decide whether A.A. should seek legal redress for this outrageous activity.

I’ve stressed that we were all run-of-the-mill alcoholics to underline how remarkable what followed was. Our first reaction, predictably, was “Yeah, sue the [expletives]! They’ve got a lot of nerve trying to make a quick buck at A.A.’s expense.” But the more we talked about it, the more a very different spirit crept into the room. I don’t recall how the change began, or who said what, but ever so slowly we moved to a different point of view.

Somehow it dawned on us that getting into a public legal battle with someone wasn’t in the best spirit of A.A. Perhaps someone called our attention to Tradition Ten, which says that we don’t get involved in public controversy. I don’t know if someone mentioned non-violence, but somehow that concept began to shape our discussion. Maybe someone recalled the line in the Big Book about not fighting anyone or anything.

However it went down, by the time we had reached a decision we had travelled to a completely different place. The last point someone made underscored our conclusion by noting that the offending guy was actually helping us to achieve our primary purpose. Whether it was from A.A. or from this guy’s basement printing press, the message was being carried. We finally decided, just as unanimously as we first thought we should sue him, that A.A. should take no action at all. So this very ordinary group of alcoholics reached what I thought then and think now was a gorgeous group conscience.

For me this was just as remarkable a change as we see in one another as we work Steps and change as individuals. Even groups can grow quickly and intensely along spiritual lines by invoking Traditions like Two (“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority…”), and Ten (“Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues…”). And Tradition Five (“Each group has but one primarily purpose…”), come to think of it.

Jim H.’s home group is Old Timers which meets on Mondays at 12 noon in Oakland, currently meeting only on Zoom.