Traditions War: a pathway to peace
There is a viewpoint that leaders do the dirty but necessary work of running an organization. In the case of Narcotics Anonymous, there must somehow be enough of the Spirit to move and impress our membership more than disappoint and depress them. Addicts are not your ordinary people to begin with so extraordinary leadership and showmanship are appreciated more than diligence and severity. By taking members out of the loop of leadership and reducing their say
to a minimum, a Fellowship that is not informed and unaccustomed to reaching workable solutions is brought into existence. The Basic Text was a great effort and it welded the membership into a coherent whole. The waves of inaccurate or incomplete information have assaulted the Fellowship mind and one of the ways many members cope is to simply stop paying attention. The yearly Fellowship Report which had been used to share information with the fellowship was abused and then abandoned. The NA Way Magazine was turned into a propaganda machine and absorbed into the ‘corporation’ along with all the functions and offices of the World Service Conference and World Service Board. Now, it is all one thing with ten or twelve members at the top. The notion that the Group and member represented the highest level of service has been completely replaced at the official level so that the Fellowship has become distanced from what happens at the decision making level. Many members try to believe that no harm has been done. But a severe lethargy and a widespread belief that there is nothing we can do about it has had a dampening effect on the Membership. Many members do not believe the World Service estimates of how many groups and members exist in NA today. While NA is large and healthy in many areas and regions, this has more to do with the Twelve Steps and Traditions than anything positive or encouraging coming from World Services. The stream lining of World Services has had the collective affect of silencing the fellowship voice and led to the disenfranchisement of the general Fellowship.
In NA we have the right to a vote, we distribute our literature and group supplies, and we control what happens within our Fellowship by our support or non_support. We have been disenfranchised by changes that break the ties between what members vote at the group level and what votes are made at our World Service Conference. By changing our ‘representatives’ to ‘delegates’ we change the nature of our structural organization from one that is rooted in group conscience to one that is rooted in ‘those who know best.’
Example of disenfranchisement: Fifty people are in a bus going along a road. The management company plans several stops for necessary items but has an onboard facility for using the restrooms and even a cold sandwich and chips luncheon service. This keeps the bus rolling and gets everybody to their destination most efficiently. If you want to stretch your legs, you can do so like the other passengers _ up and down the aisle. The catch is you don’t know where you are going. You go ask the driver and he/she explains there is a problem with the radio and the destination is not really clear right now. Well, let me off the bus, you say. He/she explains that there is nothing but jungle out there and passengers who get off delay the bus and are never heard from again. You begin to question other passengers about how they got on the bus and where are they going? With pleasant comments you figure out that they don’t know any more than you do. You press them with stronger questions and they begin to snap back at you, some may call you a trouble maker. After the first few months, you begin to wonder just where the bus is taking you. You have no ‘franchise’ or right to know where the bus is going or a say in setting its course.
Many modern corporations are waking up to the principle that involving people in the business and including their ideas makes good sense. Also, when the company makes extra profits, they let some of the profits go to those who made it happen. In NA, the good feeling of worthiness is the coin of the realm. When WSO officials started the business of trying to maneuver themselves into the leadership roles, they undid something they did not understand. They took something from the membership that rightfully belonged to the membership. The Fellowship had written a book and founded a whole new Program based on principles of inclusion and routine information channels to inform and encourage each and every member. This resulted in an explosion of new members and meetings. NA went from a few thousand members in widely separated little communities in LA, San Francisco and Philadelphia to hundreds of thousands of members and ten of thousands of meetings everywhere. No corporation can account for this explosive growth. Friendliness and counting people in on things developed a network of members world wide that is still in place. Damage has resulted in the relapse and death of many originating members from the seventies and eighties. Some members who saw unethical happenings and observed the staging of corporate games were dismayed to the point of dying. Members who recognized the negative changes of policy were terrifically let down. Their hope smashed, many quickly fell prey to their addiction. Many others just will not have anything to do with structured service. Keeping the Faith and Hope alive is our main goal here.
How it got this way can be reviewed in this chapter. The biggest growth in NA history occurs in the 1980's with the writing and publication of the Basic Text, Narcotics Anonymous. We grew to fifty thousand members, then one hundred, then two hundred and fifty thousand. This rapid growth added so many addicts to our Fellowship during a short time that the numbers were overwhelming. Our capacity to meet the communication and service needs of the Fellowship fell short and created confusion that complicated matters.
Group conscience was never just ‘how members felt.’ Group conscience has to do with how NA members, who are working their 12 Steps, and have some history of involvement with NA, feel on matters of policy and procedure in NA. Our policies are our planned reactions as members of NA to routine concerns and problems that arise with some regularity. Our procedures have to do with the way we do things in NA. For instance, we advise openness and fair play in all matters having to do with service efforts and maintaining our system of service committees so that they stand as a whole structure. Allowing members who are inexperienced with the NA way of doing things to change the structure invited disaster. It is a sign of weakness and insincerity to allow our Traditions and Service Structure to be altered or revised by people whose only qualification for voting on issues is that they used drugs to the point where they surrendered to the NA First Step. Other qualifications like a working knowledge of our 12 Steps and 12 Traditions should not be taken lightly. Going from a few hundred meetings to ten thousand meetings definitely put a strain on things.
Along with this surge in NA membership came a sea of new trusted servants who had experience in politics, industry, treatment and other organizational efforts. The members who were already here had participated in the writing of the Basic Text and had an understanding of the spiritual process of group conscience. They were not threatened by these new trusted servants and felt no need to control NA. Much administration had been done by agreements on what the 12 Traditions said and the protocols of courtesy mixed with a strong follow through. When a question arose that involved major issues members were asked for answers repeatedly until they responded. A tug of war developed between the new world level trusted servants who wanted to streamline the NA service structure and make service more business like and trusted servants who wanted to continue our application of spiritual principles and group conscience. During this struggle a few of the new trusted servants, saw the opportunity to enforce their beliefs on the Fellowship of NA. They were unaware that this struggle was a part of the learning curve for many members learning how to do service in NA. We take time and trouble to explain things to our new members in service and it is often difficult and confusing.
As soon as the book came out in 1983, changes were introduced at the World Service Conference. The structure up to that time had separate boards with the idea of ‘balance of power’ and ‘double_checking’ so that no one service board or committee would ‘take over’ NA. Each had its own Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer as outlined in the NA Tree. First to go was the position of WSC Secretary. Then the WSC Finance Committee was discontinued. Once the Fellowship had real financial concerns, it lost its sub_committee for finance! Then the Board of Trustees surrendered its Secretary and Treasurer later in the 1980's.
In every case, WSO assumed responsibility for those duties. The Office typed and mailed reports and correspondence to the Fellowship for the Board of Trustees (WSB). The Office handled hotel accommodations and air travel arrangements for WSC Officers and members of the Board of Trustees. After a few years, the discussions among Trustees as well as attempts to conduct business in the World Service Conference seemed increasingly irrelevant and philosophical. The issues were philosophical in the sense that they didn’t really seem to make any difference and were more a matter of petty personal preferences rather than real spiritual issues. The word philosophical became a way to dismiss a concern or issue as rhetorical or academic. Running the business of NA at WSO became the important thing and getting more literature to sell as WSO product was quietly accelerated to become the main mission of WSO. As the terminology of the business office began to sound more and more corporate, spiritual issues and concerns which reflected years of Fellowship debate and discussion began to seem very blurred and were being presented more as a matter of form than experience, strength and hope. Those who agreed with the business office came to be seen as intelligent and agreeable. Those who took exception or lodged complaints were portrayed more like sick addicts who just needed to work their Steps and get with the Program!
In an effort to get more marketable literature, the Office hired a professional author to write and finish a book on the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. This was quite a shock to the general membership. After years of involvement in the writing of the Basic Text and working on other recovery materials and newsletters, the Fellowship expected direct involvement in the Literature process. The business office seemed shocked by the vigorous and general disapproval of the move to hire out the writing. While this was very much NA private business, many people in the outside world knew about it. NA members were appalled.
Back in the Fellowship, members in Miami and Washington, DC were getting busy making low-cost copies of the recovery text from Book One of Narcotics Anonymous. Many of these low cost books were given to newcomers instead of a key tag or poker chip at their first NA meeting. Grateful Dave, a member from West Virginia, developed a plan to force perceived negative forces at WSO out into the open. He printed a booklet form of the 3rd Edition Revised with the 4th and 9th Traditions restored as approved by the Fellowship in the White Approval form. It worked. Even though Grateful Dave told Greg Pierce - who told others what he was doing - WSO still sued Grateful Dave to stop his activity. At the end of the 1st day in court on January 2, 1990, the Federal Court Judge Pollack took a position that NA had lost sight of its primary purpose and admonished both Grateful Dave and WSO. Judge Pollack then ordered Dave and WSO to work out over the next few days specific accommodations to one another with the idea that the initial accommodations would lead to further accommodations. He further stated that both parties could regard him as the enemy if necessary. The ‘accommodations’ were agreed to and approved by the court over the next few days. This was quite a shock to the business office on the West Coast! Grateful Dave never printed another book but WSO did not complete their part. Possibly as a result of the lawsuit, the WSO launched a diversion that curtailed the WSC as a functioning service body and resulted in an eight year inventory. This inventory diverted the Fellowship attention from fulfilling the obligations of the lawsuit as well as allowing serious changes to be made in our service structure. Once it was disclosed that Dave had AIDS, the wheels stopped turning. The case died with Dave but the issues live on.
The a new crowd of people came in to replace the members who had experience with group conscience in the world service structure prior to 1990. Many of these NA pioneers left either NA or the service structure or both as a result of the court case and being made to feel generally unwelcome. The WSO Executive Director was not renewed with the possible idea that he would not have gone along with the super board. Bob Stone for all his shortcomings believed in the WSC group conscience system. The members coming into service in the 1990s had never seen the WSC as a potent service body. The members orchestrating the so_called inventory were in place long before the super board was approved as NA policy. By the end of the 1990's, the new system allowed for a super board to administrate everything. The new structure did away with the Fellowship representative system, replacing it with a system of delegates who were free to vote as they pleased at the WSC. Naturally, the Fellowship was largely unaware of the depth of change. While some may have voted the ‘conscience’ of the members in their home regions and areas, the letter of the service documents no longer required them to do so. The paperwork relating to the WSC and world service in general became so convoluted and difficult to follow that most members gave up in disgust. This was seen as one more example of Fellowship incompetence, rather than poorly prepared Conference material. The voices that were raised against the needlessly complex paperwork and the moves by the business office to streamline our service along corporate lines were ignored as out of date and unworkable fundamentalism. Any potential conflict of interest was overlooked and somehow never came up.
One of the attractive parts of the Program of NA as described in the NA Tree from the 1970's is the incorporation of democratic principles into our service structure. This original service structure was approved by the Board of Trustees (WSB) in 1975. From that time forward, members worked to implement the service structure as described in the NA Tree. The conscience of individual members was passed on by voting at the group level. This was carried forward by a system of representatives voting at the area, regional and world level on issues facing the Fellowship. By carrying the important feelings of the membership, the representatives were almost a priest class in NA service. God as expressed in Group Conscience. The young Fellowship very quickly learned the structure and implemented the service boards and committees directly responsible to those they serve. Egotism and interpersonal maneuvers to get friends elected or push motions through may have happened but it was frowned on and generally did not happen. Many members worked quietly and unofficially to make the system work. Egos were stroked, feelings mended and information given before conflicts where ever possible. As members, everyone felt they had a stake in NA and took their responsibility seriously. The study of bureaucracy and government can be helpful for those seeking to understand. We can say here, that there is an underlying pattern of human involvement and personal reaction that insures that we will always have a degree of democracy in NA. It is simply that people, expected open and fair dealing and have an innate way of effecting their will. For instance, if a motion is carried by some manipulation or hidden agenda, and members don’t really understand it, they act is if they are unaware of the motion _ as indeed they are. If a fraudulent election takes place, the membership works out some other way to cover the job going undone by an incompetent appointee, or they do without. If a piece of literature is forced past normal procedures of review and input prior to approval, the Fellowship just doesn’t like the work and will not buy it or recommend it to their newcomers.
Many members felt that at last they were a part of a group of people who gave them the recognition and a chance to make a positive contribution that they needed to help learn to live life new and clean. Working the 12 Steps of recovery gave them ways to change past habits of lying, cheating and stealing. They were able to make a living and honesty was becoming a friend. Democratic principles seemed to fit in with the spiritual nature of NA. Every member should be heard and policies and procedures should be tailored to the needs and wants of the membership. No other consideration should be allowed to enter into a service structure based in group conscience. The Fellowship totally underestimated the power of corporate zeal and a wave of persons with other ideas flooded into the structure through the 1990's. Eventually, these people took over and began to change the way things were done in NA. Compared with the multi_million dollar cash flow at the business office, the feelings and methods of gathering group conscience were viewed as cumbersome and backwards. Though the Fellowship outcry was great at junctures, the changes were so demoralizing that many just left NA for more spiritual surroundings. Many of the changes voted in during the 1990's were so out of keeping with our approved structure that members still do not know what happened. With each change, the Fellowship distanced itself and many members stopped reading the Conference Agenda Report and participating in discussions about the annual Conference. Today, many members cannot tell you how our world service structure is organized and have adjusted to not knowing what is happening in NA.
As sad as this may seem, there is a bright side. As the business Office under the name of NAWS (NA World Services, Inc.) has distanced itself, it has also taken itself ‘outside the loop,’ which means the membership has no knowledge of wrongdoing or lessened democratic principles in NA. By a simple shift of emphasis, NA members readily undertake projects and as ever rise to the level of expectation when asked to do something. Many of the principles that guided our service efforts in the late seventies and early eighties are as potent today as ever. When a person cares about you and how you feel, you feel an uplift. When a group gives you this lift, it is affirming, strengthening, and encouraging. It feels great. It takes away some of what was lost in active addiction. Our addiction made us run from people and people run from us. The new people in our lives, the clean addicts, are not running or making us run. They are sitting with us, hearing us out. This rejoining with humanity, makes us whole again over time. While working the 12 Steps we often discover ourselves sharing the answers we were looking for when sharing our experience with others. Extending the validation to the larger body of the Fellowship, we find ourselves feeling good about a much larger number of people. When we travel, attend conventions and participate in conferences, we get additional assurance that our surrender is well founded and we feel good about being able to do our part to help things along.
If this feeling is taken away from us, a real part of our common welfare is lost. Our recovery is damaged creating a serious condition for the Fellowship and member alike. This is not ‘just a notion.’ Think of a motion picture: if the audience likes the film, identifies with the story and becomes involved with the action, they stay seated, often putting off a trip to the refreshment stand or bathroom so they will not miss important parts of the movie. If the movie gets stale, or violates certain paradigms, they just get up and leave the theater. We do not want our members leaving NA, for any reason. Especially over service disorders. And the sad, enormous fact is that when all else won their hearts, service disorders alone had the power to stop recovery and give otherwise good committed members of Narcotics Anonymous a reason to identify out - and they left the program. You can say it was just their disease but many of us feel like we could have done better.
Because of our low self esteem we are attracted to service for our self worth. In a sense, all service is based on ego. Being of service we are given the opportunity to grow. Power is a drug. Powerless addicts seek power. Along with whatever services actually get provided, our service structure also allows us the opportunity to work through problems in group settings. It is part of our socialization process. Real example: a Corporal (recovering addict serving as ASC Chairperson) in the Army was promoted to Sergeant because or his ‘leadership abilities.’ We learn simple techniques of communicating and we learn to handle the emotions that come to us. We can feel great _ or we can feel left out.
It is known through out the world that knowledge is power. In these times, with all the benefits of modern communication and resources that let us see into time and what people are thinking, it is easy to see that a community in crisis contracts, with the many following the few. In peace times, the many have a chance to look around, ask questions and have a general knowledge to go along with the particular role each person plays in a neighborhood, a city, or the general population. The TV, Internet, interpersonal talks all go into forming this picture. Our spiritual Fellowship has a similar way of informing itself, examining a subject or expressing important ideas. This information helps us form a general picture of NA that may vary in details but becomes increasingly stable in overall terms. This is what we base our recovery on and forms the basis of our new understanding of life. This new understanding helps us fit in with all the other people in the world as well as get along with one another. Ego trips and power plays should have no place in all this. Holding key information to disadvantage others exhibits fear of losing control and a lack of basic surrender. While most will back off and avoid unpleasantness, it is obvious that we have to occasionally ‘get back to basics.’ And the basics of NA have to do with simplifying our lives, getting honest about our goals and amending our relationships with others, whether the harm done was intended or not.
At any given point in our recovery or in our growth as a Fellowship it is important to realize we are not powerless to express ourselves. Democratic principles may be essential to our NA way of life. The moves to streamline our world service system have removed the dynamics of many happenings from our Fellowship view. The idea of a few people at the top and everyone else in the dark is not a workable proposition. The great panoramic play of an enfeebled World Service Conference with confusing reports and a motion system that makes most members feel stupid and actually tells them how to vote is ridiculous. I doubt it would be allowed in what is called ‘corporate America.’ Talking down to people and doing as you please is not a good solution. It would not work to run any organization. It is not like having the fox guard the henhouse or the goose guard the corn, it is a few people attempting to control all our resources with little accountability and the large Fellowship having no real say. You can see how the ‘few’ might think this is a good idea, but the Fellowship feels left out. The purpose of world services is to give each and every member a window into what is going on and a say in those happenings by their vote at their home group. Without beating around the bush, this gives the Fellowship not only the final say on things but also plenty of comments along the way. Tailoring our Program to the actual members who constitute the NA world is not only a good idea, it is our heritage. The Basic Text, Narcotics Anonymous, was tailored to the Fellowship by a lengthy process that makes it one of the greatest books in the world. Group conscience is a two way street: it informs members as well as gathers individual opinion into a useful format. Reflecting actual practice in preparing our H&I, PI, Policy and Literature policies makes as much sense today as it did when the Basic Text was being written. The more people who know what is going on, the better. The more our written recovery materials conform to the actual practices in meetings and Fellowship, the better. We foster comradery, unity and cooperative effort when we are sensible and caring in our Fellowship communications. Leaving people out is no solution. It is organizational death in
When we see others in trouble, we pray for strength and guidance to help them. An NA old timer shares, “I know that there have been times when things went wrong and there was nothing I could do about it but regret that it happened. There have been members who have come to me and extended themselves to assure me that I was ok with them and that whatever happened, there was someone who understood and cared about me. Giving this to others is an ultimate act of love. It is divine and can only come from a power greater than ourselves.”
hits in 2004!
Reprinted from the
N.A. FELLOWSHIP USE ONLY
Copyright © December 2001
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.
NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA
All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.
Last update January 12, 2006