“Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”
Unlike the previous seven traditions, this is the first one that focuses on service centers rather than the groups themselves. Furthermore, it’s the only tradition to cite a rule that has a special exception. Why is this so significant?
The famous Twelve Steps are more like suggestions that people can follow how they see fit. Alcoholics Anonymous groups, however, are expected to adhere closely to the Twelve Traditions. Therefore, it’s rather unexpected that an exception would be made. This surprising exception will actually serve as the basis when discussing how one might apply Tradition Eight to his or her own life. Before we do see, we must first discuss the tradition itself and what it means to Alcoholics Anonymous.
What Does the Eighth Tradition of A.A. Mean?
Right off the bat, you’ll see two terms that require some explanation. The first is the word “nonprofessional” and the second is “special workers.” To get a better understanding of how to apply to the eighth tradition, we must first understand how those terms apply to A.A.
The Meaning of “Nonprofessional”
The concept of remaining “nonprofessional” stems, in part, from the same reasoning given for Tradition Seven. When maintaining the first Alcoholics Anonymous groups, Bill learned quickly that money interferes with spirituality.
Doctors and religious leaders play important roles in the lives of recovering alcoholics, but A.A. did not see it appropriate to employ such persons. Instead, Bill’s vision for the organization was to have sponsors and group members who would help their fellow sufferers in AA or NA must do so out of compassion—not for the potential lining their pocketbooks. Those who tell their stories must also do so for the sake of reaching others.
Aside from the possible corruption or selfish motivations, this setup ensures that any help given is mutually beneficial, (but not financially so). Those who help others will find that doing so tends to help them in return, like in the old adage: “Teaching is learning twice”. Without the Eighth Tradition, some may be inclined to misrepresent themselves just to make a few bucks.
What Does A.A. Consider “Special Workers”?
Although A.A. specifically states that is against employing staff, it recognizes, understandably so, that an organization as large as Alcoholics Anonymous will need paid workers to keep it running smoothly. The reason behind this exception is as follows:
“Caretakers who swept floors, cooks who fried hamburgers, secretaries in offices, authors writing books—all these we have seen hotly assailed because they were, as their critics angrily remarked, ‘making money out of A.A.’ Ignoring the fact that these labors were not Twelfth Step jobs at all, the critics attacked as A.A. professionals these workers of ours who were often doing thankless tasks that no one else could or would do.”
The first A.A. groups attempted to enlist volunteers for these jobs but to no avail. Many did not enjoy the work and therefore neglected to perform it. Still, they needed people to manage their offices and to look after their meeting places. In modern groups, some of these tasks are managed by volunteers but thanks to the Eighth Tradition, those who require paid help are permitted to seek it without fear of rebuke from the General Service Board.
Criticisms of the Eighth Tradition
Some might say that the special workers advocated by the Eighth Tradition should be non-addicts. This would ensure that nobody could accuse A.A. or N.A. of allowing members to profit from their disease. But the 12&12 notes a problem with this, which is that non-addicts and non-alcoholics lack familiarity with the program. In many ways, we understand this viewpoint. Many of our own staff members have suffered from alcoholism or addiction themselves which offers them firsthand perspective into the challenges their patients are facing and makes them extra empathetic, compassionate, and relatable.
In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, the special workers who suffered from addiction were given lower pay. It was believed that making less money would allow them to maintain their spiritual growth with no profit motive.
Nowadays, the prevailing opinion is that special workers are not “professionals” that would have the same conflict of interest. Special workers aren’t being paid to sponsor people but to ensure that a program of sponsorship and spiritual growth is possible in the first place. As such, the Eighth Tradition frowns upon arbitrarily cutting the wages of those who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into the program’s central offices.
How to Apply the Eighth Tradition
Unless we happen to work with the General Service Board, there aren’t many ways to practice the Eighth Tradition as written. But we may still learn some valuable principles from everything discussed above.
Don’t hesitate to recognize your own needs
Note that the early groups’ initial decision not to employ special workers arose largely from fear. They were so afraid of conflating money with spirituality that they ignored their own needs. Naturally, this served only to enhance those needs until there remained no other option.
We must never ignore our needs out of fear. When we find ourselves afraid, we should talk to our sponsors and other trusted individuals. Consult those whose decision-making has always proved sound. If they tell you to go ahead and face your fears, you should listen to them. The benefits may outweigh the drawbacks more than you imagined.
Rules aren’t always black and white
The Eighth Tradition also teaches us that rules sometimes have exceptions. This idea might worry us at first, after all, one of our chief problems in substance abuse was our tendency to make exceptions for ourselves when it was unacceptable to do so.
Think of the need to make amends in Step Nine. Say for example we wish to make amends to a former drug dealer, a sponsor may tell us that this is not the best idea. Even though we’re supposed to make amends to all we have harmed, it’s not too difficult to see why there would be an exception in this case. Reconsider when upholding a principle may put our well-being at risk.
Although another of A.A.’s principles is to maintain self-sufficiency, the Eighth Tradition reminds us that we must still ask for help every once in a while. Because if we don’t learn to ask for help when we need it the most, we may jeopardize far more than our sobriety alone.
To each their own interpretation
Finally, the Eighth Tradition teaches us that we shouldn’t always enforce our own principles on others. Toward the end of the chapter on Tradition Eight, the 12&12 states:
“We see that we have no right or need to discourage A.A.’s who wish to work as individuals in these wider fields. It would be actually antisocial were we to forbid them. We cannot declare A.A. such a closed corporation that we keep our knowledge and experience top secret. If an A.A. member acting as a citizen can become a better researcher, educator, personnel officer, then why not? Everybody gains, and we have lost nothing. True, some of the projects to which A.A.’s have attached themselves have been ill-conceived, but that makes not the slightest difference with the principle involved.”
At the end of the day, we must learn to stay in our own lane. The Eighth Tradition teaches us that people should not prohibit anyone from performing work that may help others. Our own personal reservations should not dictate anyone else’s behaviors–especially at the cost of helping others.
Continue with our Twelve Traditions analysis with a breakdown of Alcohol Anonymous’ Ninth Tradition.