Friday, March 18, 2011
What Does 'Anonymity' Really Mean, Anyway?
WHAT DOES 'ANONYMITY' REALLY MEAN, ANYWAY?**********************************************
TRADITIONS OF AA
11.) Our public relations policy is based on attraction
rather than promotion; we need always maintain
personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
12.) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our
Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
What is the significance of the 11th and 12th traditions?
How are they related?
world outside the rooms. It relates to how we talk to one another, and not sharing each others' personal
information even within the 'safety' of the AA circle.
With the autonomous nature of the individual groups,
it can be easy for differing focuses to get diverted
from the main focus. In time, it's possible to forget
that there are parameters, standards, and principles
we must be guided by.
Here in the South, some cultural norms (like getting
into a stranger's business, talking about people
behind their back, or asking a newcomer intimate
details,) are all taken for granted as part of local
custom. They are, however, very non-AA
in nature, and detrimental to group cohesiveness.
I have watched AA members in a very public place
talk endlessly about the personal business of people not
present. They speak loudly and with abandon in mixed
company about "This person's struggle to stay sober"
and "That person's slips and trials" in a public place.
This is problematic on several levels. First off, we are
not to be discussing anyone outside the meeting in
any fashion-- not even as casual gossip because we're
amongst mutual friends, and not even with that person's
'interest' at heart. This is gossip, pure and simple, and
it goes against the tradition of anonymity.
Secondly, while we may feel we have a right to decide
how public we are with AA, we do not live in a vacuum.
We are seen in the presence of others and we are a
reflection of them, particularly in small towns where
everyone knows everyone.
But even in a large town, lack of anonymity can destroy
with a 'simple' discussion. I knew someone in Tampa who
talked about a member's business in public and was
overheard by family members of that person; they pieced
it together through the detailed accounting of circumstance. It got back to the member!
doesn't matter if the person you're speaking with
is normally at the meetings, anyway.
It doesn't matter if you 'think' no one can overhear.
It doesn't matter if you assume everyone knows anyway.
Anonymity serves a purpose.
Even casual, conversational sharing can cross the line.
I have been as guilty as anyone of telling the personal
updates of one member to another member. I can
justify all day long saying that the person I'm speaking
to is trustworthy and they're 'only' one person, but if
a principle is sound then it must be applied universally.
This is an area where I must improve. If a member has
a private conversation with me, it is the same as a
meeting. That information should be treated as 'privileged
and confidential', and should go no further. The contents
of a meeting are to stay in the meeting, not to be critiqued outside the door.
condemning way that builds acrimony among members.
There has begun a thuggish movement in AA where
cliques decide what behavior is 'strange' or
'unwelcome.' All are welcome at AA as long as they have a desire to stop drinking.
From the long form of the 12 Traditions;
11.) Our relations with the general public should be
characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A.
ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names
and pictures as A.A. members ought not be
broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public
relations should be guided by the principle of attraction
rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
I have heard people in the rooms speak at length about
old members or those who have who have 'gone back
out.' They reveal to newcomers the full names,
descriptions, personal stories, and place of business of
said former (or present) members! "Oh, do you know
so-and-so (full name inserted)? She comes to our group!" This is insanity!
Perhaps you don't engage in these behaviors, but you
remain silently complicit.
When such discussions take place, it is within our ability
to move away, to change the topic of conversation,
or to directly confront another member. We can simply
state "I don't wish to discuss someone who isn't here"
or "I don't think that kind of talk is good for the rooms." We all bear responsibility.
Actions such as asking a member what church they
attend, where they work, what Step they are on, who
their sponsor is, or if they believe in God are all out-
landishly unacceptable broaches of protocol. There
has come to be an emphasis on like-minded thinking
in the rooms, and that is not the purpose of AA.
There is only one thing members need to have in
common; a desire to stop drinking. It is unnecessary that
we agree on anything else, including a method of recovery,
type of Higher Power, a belief in a Higher Power,
or even an adherence to the 12 Step suggested model.
There are many applications of anonymity; facebook
correspondence, how we address members in public
settings, photography at meetings and events, and
more. We must ever be mindful that our path may not
be the same as others', and our personal needs do not
dictate how AA is run. We must respect anonymity!
Our primary goal is to help other alcoholics, anytime,
anywhere. Anything that dilutes this message, or makes
us less capable of delivering it with equal enthusiasm, is bad for AA.
Personally, I have come to feel that AA members should
not associate on facebook, at least not if openly
acknowledging group involvement. If they want to send
personal e-mails with specific people they are more than
capable. Social networks become a cheer-leading grounds
for AA, where anonymity is easily overlooked when the
impact of a simple post's ramifications are not considered.
We all share far more differences than similarities; it is an
unfortunate aspect of human nature that we are more
likely to compare and contrast than to relate. The more enmeshed we become in one another's detailed personal
lives, the less likely cohesion becomes.
There is a standard of responsibility that needs to be
maintained, and it is not limited to actions in the rooms.
I had an incident earlier this year--I e-mailed a member
about a personal situation, and within an hour my private
business had swelled up into a text-messaging firestorm
and escalated into a public local AA controversy. We
must govern ourselves with dignity and mutual respect,
regardless of the forum. Basic communication skills and
directness can avoid a great deal of the sophomoric hi-jinks.
From the long form of the 12 Traditions
"12.) And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe
that the principle of Anonymity has an immense spiritual
significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually
to practice a genuine humility."
Despite practices to the contrary, AA is not a social club.
It is not an extension of high school where cliques should
flourish at the expense of inclusiveness, nor a chance to
outshine one another for popularity and who can be the
'best at' AA. It's also not the place to try and trump one
another in a loud and overbearing promotion of personal religion. It's time for some ego checks.
the integrity and future of the program depend on and demand it. Individuals depend on it. We
have become careless in allowing personalities to dictate
actions in the rooms; the standard of how to behave is not
Each time we speak of another
person's personal despair and desperation out of turn, we
are making decisions that can affect the safety, serenity,
sanity, and sobriety or another human being. We are choosing to play God, and risking lives.
"What you see here, what is said here,
when you leave here, let it stay here."
This is not just a meaningless catchy slogan.
It is a meaningful declaration to protect the
privacy and well-being of our members.
AA's welfare is pervasive in the traditions, and each is
interrelated. All traditions uphold the necessity of anonymity; When old timers tell newcomers to "take the cotton out of
their ears and stick it in their mouths", it is a dangerous
game of chance. How does intolerance and bullying relate
to recovery? Newcomers may have a desperate need to
speak, to voice their pain and troubles. There is no
'acceptable' mode of sharing in a meeting; the meeting
exists to serve the needs of the members. Humiliating
and berating people publicly to seem tough is not conducive
to recovery. Acting ignorantly because "That's how I was
done when I came in" is even less of an excuse. Everyone
has a place at the table. Silencing the voice of a suffering alcoholic is no one's place.Also, when we mix AA with social networking, we expose
ourselves to the outside issues of 'personalities' that are
intentionally kept out of meetings. ("We share in a general way...") Too much personal information clouds
the issue of acceptance of one another. Some issues like
politics, religion, sex lives, and more are hot button issues.What if an alcoholic who wishes to attend meetings
chooses not to do so because he hears current
members discussing another member's personal
business in public, being very glib and open about
their AA involvement? Of course they would rightfully fear that their privacy would not be protected.We cannot overlook the inappropriateness of these
actions simply because we have become accustomed to things being done this way.
Some practices are not just a direct conflict to
anonymity, they are bad manners in any circumstance.We don't philosophize about a member's viewpoint.
Your opinion of a speaker's merits or a chairperson's
job has no business being bandied about like school
girls tearing apart a new classmate. Waiting until you
get home to e-mail, phone, or text your negative
remarks does not make it better or less defective
because it is secretive. STOP gossiping; it is under-mining the integrity and morale of our fellowships.
Who did or didn't attend a meeting, what was said,
who's been drinking; none of that information is
anyone's business. The exception to this is if something
that a fellow member has done or said is affecting
your sobriety. Then it is appropriate to speak to them
directly, or take the matter to a sponsor or key person
to address it and seek help. Bad-mouthing another member is not the answer.
If you would speak so disparagingly about one person,
why would someone else trust you to not do the same
to them? Issues with a member are a chance to grow
they need to be addressed in private, not in a The issue is not cautiousness; it is strictly adhering
to the traditions. Just as we must not drink, no matter
what, we must adhere to the hard-fought and hard-won
traditions and principles, no matter what. We are not
gods; we do not always understand the purpose and intricacies of all the standards of the program. But
there are reasons for them, and there are lives at stake.
It doesn't matter if 'only' first names are used. It It gets easy to become relaxed about the importance
and strengths of our traditions.
We can become distracted by the social element of
being involved in the camaraderie of the fellowship.
But there are several areas where members have
become dangerously lax in their handling of the 11th and 12th traditions.
Anonymity does not simply refer to keeping safe the
identity of ourselves and our fellows when in the"Principles before personalities" is crucial; we must not let
our dislike or lack of understanding of a member influence either their sobriety or ours. We put differences to the side.
But this also means putting aside seemingly harmless
matters of personality, like casual 'good-natured' gossiping
about other members. They can be just as harmful as a slur or a personal attack.