Unity, Diversity, Inclusion

2018 SWRAASA Presentation by Rick W, Area 65, Panel 67 at the 2018 Southwest Regional A.A. Service Assembly (SWRAASA) in Branson, MO on October 6, 2018.

Hello family, my name is Rick, and I’m an alcoholic.  My sobriety date is November 17, 1987 and it is my honor and privilege to serve as the GSR for the Grapevine Unity Group in Grapevine, TX in the Northeast Texas Area 65.

I want to start off with a blanket statement:  “The capacity of Alcoholics Anonymous to accept change – has been central to its ability to remain relevant.”

So, what does a statement like that really mean?  In short form, it means that we have a responsibility to the future of our Society, it’s trusted servants, it’s members, and it’s potential members – to not only be well-informed about who we really are as a people, but who we wish to become, through supporting & sustaining a Fellowship that reflects the diversity found with in it – in all it’s corners.

The very fabric of success in our 12-Step program is founded on our ability to accept change.  When Bill Wilson gave us his two-word definition of what aSpiritual Experienceis on page 567 of our Big Book –“personality change” –in that sentiment alone, we were called to embrace and begin the process of accepting change in our personal lives.  So, I ask you, how is the Fellowship any different?

In Bill’s closing comments at our 1955 Convention in St. Louis, he stated, “Our growth as individuals has depended upon a healthy process of trial and error.  So will our growth as a fellowship.  Such is the universal penalty for the failure to go on growing.  Just as each A.A. must continue to take his moral inventory and act upon it, so must our whole society do if we are to survive and if we are to serve usefully and well.”

Long have we been a group of people that have both embraced change – AND railed against it at the exact same time!  The more activist natured of us want to change everything – whether it be the brand of coffee we use in the pot, or the kinds of toilet paper we use AT the ___!  Conversely, we go to great lengths to make sure that we are making our home groups as consistently welcoming as they can be – creating no barriers of any kind for that sick and suffering alcoholic who’s about to come through our doors.

Our willingness to look at the topic of Unity, Diversity and Inclusion today ALSO calls us to be willing to have the hard conversations.  We need to be willing to talk about those things that have long been a source of fear for so many of us.  We fear those things we don’t understand – so we don’t talk about them.  So, I have a question for you.  Show of hands, how many of you know the REAL source of our Third Tradition, the real source?  Years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of Barry L., author of “Living Sober” when he spoke on “The Origin of the Third Tradition” at the 50th Anniversary Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Montreal in July 1985.

Barry talked about how Bill wrote in the 12×12 these words,“On the A.A. calendar it was Year Two. In that time, nothing could be seen but two struggling, nameless groups of alcoholics trying to hold their faces up to the light.  A newcomer appeared at one of these groups, knocked on the door and asked to be let in. He talked frankly with that group’s oldest member. He soon proved that his was a desperate case, and that above all he wanted to get well.  “But,” he asked, “will you let me join your group? Since I am the victim of another addiction even worse stigmatized than alcoholism, you may not want me among you. Or will you?”

Barry then talked about who that man was and what his other addiction even worse stigmatized than alcoholism was.  How many of you knew that our Third Tradition, that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking was built squarely on the back of a gay man?  We have been having this diversity conversation for years – and we need to continue to have it today.  Not just about gays, lesbians and transgendered members in the Fellowship, but also about accessibility issues for our otherly-abled members, for our young people (which are the future of our Society),for members in the armed services, and the list goes on ad infinitum.  We need to have these conversations at our Areas, our Districts and our home groups so that we are developing practices that help us remain a welcoming lot – or I suggest – relevant.  (Side note: isn’t that what group inventories are, or should be used for?  Think about it!)

I found it interesting that when I looked up the definition of UNITY in the dictionary, it gave two very different definitions.  The first was, “the state or fact of being united or combined into one”,but the second was, “absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character.”  By God’s grace, the Fellowship of A.A. has informally adopted the first definition.

Bill Wilson tells us in Tradition One, “the unity of Alcoholics Anonymous is the most cherished quality our Society has.  Our lives, the lives of all to come, depend squarely upon it. We stay whole, or A.A. dies.” He goes onto say, “Does this mean that in A.A. the individual doesn’t count for much?  Is he to be dominated by his group and swallowed up in it?  We may certainly answer this question with a loud No! There is none, which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk and act as he wishes.  No A.A. can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled.”

So, do I get to bring MY better way to the service work I am doing?  Do I get to offer suggestions on possible alternatives to the way things have always been done?  Sure I do – BUT I need to remember to offer those suggestions from the standpoint of how it can be beneficial to the whole and not just beneficial to me.  I need to remember that there are always other points of view that are valid as well.  I need to remember that there are other very smart and talented A.A.’s who can bring wonderful ideas to the table.  I also need to remember that in A.A., there is always room for the minority or dissenting opinion, for sometimes that minority opinion could sway the group conscience in a way that we could never have dreamed of.

I love that the Traditions Checklist asks me to ask myself how I’m doing at that.  What am I doing to promote unity in the Fellowship of A.A.?  Am I allowing diversity and inclusion to be a part of A.A., or am I keeping my mouth closed in my group conscience and then campaigning against it outside the room to fellow members?

The diversity we already have in our Fellowship is one of our greatest assets.  Bill said it best when he said, “we are a group of people who would normally not mix.”

We’ve heard people say that a million times as a badge of honor, yet when given the opportunity to embrace that very same DIVERSITY– they find every GOOD reason why it shouldn’t be so.  But as Bill also said, “sometimes – the GOOD is the enemy of the best.”

One of the primary tenants and most key components of  INCLUSION is lack of judgment – or the eradication of judgment.  I would suggest that in this conversation of unity, diversity and inclusion we’re having here today – there are not just two “A’s” (A.A.), but that there are three.  For our Society to get to a point where we are doing not just enough to get by, but where we are going to great lengths, greater lengths than what has gotten us here – to THIS day – we must begin acknowledging that inclusion truly does have three A’s:

We need to accept, adapt and adjust:

  • Accept that everything DOES happen in God’s world exactly like it’s supposed to…
  • Adapt to the ever changing face of the real alcoholic walking through our doors… and
  • Adjust NOT the spiritual principles that got you and I to this point in our recoveries, but adjust our attitudes and beliefs that keep others from having that very same gift given to them.

When I had the honor of serving as Chairperson for South Eastern New York – Area 49 in Panel 65, I met some wonderful trusted servants.  One of them was Past NE Regional Trustee, J. Gary L.  Gary was given the privilege of delivering the keynote address at the 2015 General Service Conference.  In his comments to the body, he talked about some of the challenges facing Alcoholics Anonymous, and how those challenges were of a nature and magnitude that our founders could never have even imagined – specifically regarding DIVERSITY IN MEMBERSHIP and DIVERITY IN SERVICE.

This is what he said:

“While AA is no longer the collection of white males that it was in the beginning, our membership does not yet reflect the diversity of society at large.  If we believe that the disease of alcoholism does not acknowledge the boundaries of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, economics, education, disability, or sexual orientation, then we have much to do in terms of making our program attractive to those who are underrepresented in our rooms. Having said that, however, are we willing to invest the effort, the resources, and the open-mindedness necessary to create a welcoming, safe, and nurturing environment for everyone? If the only requirement for membership is simply a desire to stop drinking, then what are the impediments that are keeping so many who need us from not coming in? 

If our general membership is not reflective of society as a whole in terms of diversity, our trusted servants seem even further removed in this regard.  In 1967, Eastern Pennsylvania sent Louis R. to the General Service Conference.  Lou was the first African American Delegate to participate in service at this level.  It is said that Bill W. shed tears when he first greeted Lou.  That historic moment opened the door to at least greater racial diversity within our service structure. 

But how far have we come in the intervening years?  As far as we should?  As far as we can? I invite you to simply look around.”

So I’ll say it one last time – the capacity of Alcoholics Anonymous to accept change – has been central to its ability to remain relevant.  For us as a Society to remain relevant, we must be willing to open our hearts and minds to the possibility, the REALITY, that we are all different – AND – at the exact same time, all the same.  We are here for one purpose and one purpose only – to get, keep and give away this precious gift that has been so freely given us.

So, I challenge each and every one of us in this room today – let us SPEAK unity, diversity and inclusion with our lips – and let us REALIZE unity, diversity and inclusion through our actions, so that never again does an alcoholic come to us and not feel a part of.

Thank you for allowing me to serve.