The twelve traditions are the rules by which all twelve-step programs are run. My Survivors of Incest Anonymous meeting, for one, says that "we are a program of twelve suggested steps and twelve traditions." I always used to think that that was an error of grammar. Surely it should say suggested for both of them?

But with time I realized that there was nothing suggested about it. Individual people can choose to work or not work the steps, but if a meeting or program doesn't stick with the traditions it is pretty much screwed. The paramount idea running through the traditions is one of principles before personalities: being able to make decisions and keep a meeting or program going without getting all caught up in interpersonal dynamics and bickering and people's heavy emotional drama.

The traditions read as follows, with some slight variation in wording between programs and over time:

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon (program) unity. (That is: try to keep the big picture in mind.)

2. For our group purpose there is but one authority — a loving higher power as expressed in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants—they do not govern. (Everyone is equal here, and we decide things by taking a vote.)

3. Any two or more people with this problem may call themselves a part of this program, provided that as a group, they have no other affiliation. The only requirement for membership is that they share the problem we are all here for. (That is: nobody gets to decide whether you qualify for this program but you. And don't go dragging in outside brands or groups or issues to add to your meeting's objectives; it's just divisive and confusing.)

4. Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group or the program as a whole. (You don't have to what everyone else thinks the program/meetings should do, unless it means you are screwing them over.)

5. Each meeting has but one purpose: to help people with its shared problem. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps ourselves, and by welcoming and giving comfort to others with this problem. (Don't forget what you're here for.)

6. Our meetings ought never endorse, finance or lend our name to any outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary spiritual aim. Although a separate entity, we should always co-operate with other twelve-step programs. (Don't try to make Chevy's New Alcoholics Anonymous Brand Virgin Daiquiris.)

7. Every group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions. (We're run by our own donations, so that we don't have to worry about pleasing outside funders.)

8. Our work should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers. (Nobody should be paid for attending any twelve-step meeting or for working the steps.)

9. Our groups, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. (We run by peaceful anarchy, not top-down bureaucracy, but we can be complicated enough to have groups of people with special jobs.)

10. We have no opinion on outside issues; hence our name ought never be drawn into public controversy. (There should never be a press release that says "Codependents Anonymous supports Senate Bill 204!" or "Narcotics Anonymous says Phillip Morris Sucks!")

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, and TV. We need guard with special care the anonymity of all program members. (Don't go get interviewed as if you are a spokesperson for the program, or talk it up as if your celebrity will help the program grow. People will confuse who you are with what the program is about.)

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities. (That is: the program isn't about how awesome you are or I am or how much your neighbor who was in AA was an asshole. Keeping names out of it lets people feel safe talking about whatever they need to in meetings, and keeps the people in the program separate from the program in people's heads.)

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