The first tradition states, “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.” The three pillars of the program are Unity, Service and Recovery. Two of these pillars appear in this tradition. It is also listed as the first tradition so it must be important right? You are correct.
This tradition is telling us that if we aren’t all on the same page our personal recovery doesn’t stand a chance. If we aren’t unified, there wouldn’t be any meeting to attend so our personal recovery becomes somewhat moot.
As stated in the Twelve and Twelve, Tradition One does not in any way disregard the individual. That would not only be impossible but also demoralizing to all involved. We understand that in a group of people of varying demographics, background and life experiences they are going to be differences of opinion. What Tradition One does do is steer us back towards the overall health and well-being of the group rather than the opinion of one or a few individuals. It is the roadmap on which we find our way back from differences of opinion to a consensus.
As you will see, some of the other traditions are much more specific in their wording that Tradition One. We believe this is intentional. The founders may be saying in the broad statement of Tradition One, this is the foundation upon which the other eleven traditions will stand. Unless we are unified we have nothing. If the group is not cohesive, it won’t be around for very long. And there will be no meeting for the newcomer in need to attend. We must think of ourselves as the newcomer. We must think of ensuring that the program remains as welcoming, helpful and constructive as it was when we first began as it will be for the next generation of alcoholics in need.
Another important facet to consider with regards to unity is the method in which the twelve step program administers the steps to newcomers. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous contains very specific instructions on how to work the steps. Yes are the different approaches and workbooks that have developed over the years. However, they all stem from the initial spirit set forth in the Big Book. Most recovering alcoholics will admit to sitting in a meeting, gazing upon the steps, and considering their own rewrite that might just be a little better. Without Tradition One in place, different groups could say hey we’re going to tweak this language a little bit here. Oh yeah, that step, we don’t think that is as important anymore. We’re going to combine these two into one. And then we’re adding this new one. As you could see this would not be a good thing. All of a sudden because of the will of some, you would see different versions of the twelve step program everywhere that you went. Tradition One helps to ensure that we are unified in our approach to how we carry the message to the newcomer.
So, to summarize the first traditions helps us both to remain cohesive as a group and to also have a certain standard to which the program adheres. The ultimate goal being that anyone anywhere can attend an AA meeting and know that it’s going to be essentially the same. The mere fact you can walk through the doors of an AA meeting on either ends of the country or world for that matter and not feel like you have traveled at all is a testament to Tradition One.