It’s June, and we’ve already covered Step Six this month, which means we can move forward to the sixth installment of our monthly series on the Twelve Traditions. Like the five we have covered thus far, the Sixth Tradition pertains less to our individual recovery than it does to the manner in which AA and NA groups should operate. That said, Tradition Six is also similar to the rest of the Twelve Traditions in that it embodies principles from which we may benefit when putting them into practice in our daily lives.
The Sixth Tradition is one of the trickier traditions to embrace in this manner. Practicing it as part of a group is easy enough, but many of us will find that there are numerous instances in which we simply cannot embrace it as individuals. And this is okay. Nothing we say in these articles is meant to be prescriptive. We are simply sharing what we have learned through our own experiences in recovery, as well as the experiences of our patients. This sort of anecdotal evidence is one of the primary benefits we are able to offer by employing a staff which largely consists of fellow addicts and alcoholics with long-term sobriety.
Anyone who truly wishes to embody the Sixth Tradition to its fullest, whether as individuals or group members of a 12 step recovery program, will find helpful information below. Remember that those wishing to invoke this tradition in their everyday lives need only do it when possible. As you will discover, even following the Sixth Tradition to its bare minimum will require a great deal of humility. But seeing as humility is one of the strongest principles of recovery, it is good to begin working on this as soon as possible. We hope the following analysis will help you to do just that.
What Is Tradition Six?
The Sixth Tradition, as written in the AA 12&12, is as follows:
“An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”
This may sound confusing at first. Amethyst itself could be considered a related facility, as we exist for the sole purpose of helping others remain sober. Yet it is most certainly an outside enterprise in that, while we may embrace the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we are most certainly not an AA or NA group. This is why it is important to note how the Sixth Tradition is worded.
We may endorse AA and NA as healthy suggestions, but you will never see one of these groups advertising our name. While treatment centers may advocate in the name of anonymous groups, it would not be right for anonymous groups to advocate in the name of treatment centers. This goes to the Fourth Tradition, which states that groups should not do anything harmful to AA as a whole. Treatment may be a useful tool, but there are some who fear it. Some may relapse and decide they need more help than support groups alone, but many have to hit rock bottom before making such a decision. Trying to force it on them when they are not ready could send them away, harming not only them but also the reputation of AA.
Then there are the problems of money, property and prestige. Those who belong to outside enterprises should question why they would want to advertise in the first place. When we share in meetings, we are supposed to be helping others by sharing our own personal experiences with alcoholism and addiction. But if we are simply advertising our relation to some outside organization, it is possible that we are doing so more out of pride than of compassion. To base our shares on ego could be potentially harmful to our own recovery.
The final component of the Sixth Tradition that must be considered is the need to remain focused on our primary purpose. This purpose was already outlined in Tradition Five—to spread the message to those who are still suffering. The concern of the Sixth Tradition is that groups who look outward toward other organizations rather than inward toward the experience of its members may risk sending the wrong message. So, what is the right message? Well, this is where multiple interpretations of the Sixth Tradition may come into play.
In the 12&12, the message of the Sixth Tradition is given in a relatively straightforward fashion:
“The moment we saw that we had an answer for alcoholism, it was reasonable (or so it seemed at the time) for us to feel that we might have the answer to a lot of other things. The A.A. groups, many thought, could go into business, might finance any enterprise whatever in the total field of alcoholism. In fact, we felt duty-bound to throw the whole weight of the A.A. name behind any meritorious cause.”
Such causes included hospitals, textbooks, and one idea that almost sounds like a work camp for low-bottom alcoholics. Early AA members believed that, with enough time and effort, they could revise laws and change the popular medical stance on the disease of addiction. If only the whole world lived by their principles, they thought, then everyone would be better off. And at this point you might wonder at the point of the Sixth Tradition because it almost seems as if they might have had a point. The problem, however, was that early attempts at expansion created confusion as to what precisely AA was meant to be.
The message is supposed to be that there is a solution to the disease. Nothing more, nothing less. When groups begin expanding into new territories, people understandably fall under the impression that AA and NA are something more. That they are meant to be spiritual, religious, political, etc. Not only might this turn some people away, but those who agree with these outside messages might be disappointed when they attend a meeting at a group that keeps its focus on the message of sobriety. With confusion on all sides, the result can only be described as chaos. The Sixth Tradition exists to limit this chaos and its effect on programs of recovery.
Naturally, there are those who believe that outside enterprises should be a part of the recovery message. While it is not our place to tell anyone what to believe, we will state that this particular interpretation of the Sixth Tradition not only goes against the 12&12, but could also be quite damaging to AA. Those who practice certain politics or embrace certain spiritual beliefs may factor these into their principles if they wish, but enforcing them within a group would potentially exclude others who may be in dire need of fellowship and support. It is for this reason that alternative interpretations of the Sixth Tradition are rarely embraced, no matter how many people may believe them to be right. It would simply be too damaging if people felt that anonymous programs were taking some sort of stance that might polarize the members of the group.
Following the Sixth Tradition
There is a story in the 12&12 about an early AA member who was offered a job as spokesperson for an educational project funded by distilleries. In similar fashion to the “drink responsibly” ads frequently seen today, the distilleries felt that it would improve their reputation if they were to put out education about heavy drinking and suggest that problem drinkers not use their products. The member in question had considered taking the job, when he realized that tying the name of Alcoholics Anonymous to these liquor ads could send a rather conflicting message. He ultimately decided to embrace the Sixth Tradition by not agreeing to a program that would publicize the AA name in such a fashion.
We should try to follow a similar thread when embracing the Sixth Tradition. Perhaps we feel that it would benefit AA to have its lot thrown in with a reputable enterprise. The member referenced above had thought the same thing. It was only after speaking to other members that he began to see the bigger picture. Just because something seems right at first glance does not mean it will be completely free of consequences, and we should not be reckless in matters that have the potential to affect the recovery of others.
Embracing the Sixth Tradition in personal matters is where it gets tricky. Obviously, we have the right to associate with any enterprise we wish. We cannot remain sober in isolation, and to fully embrace the Sixth Tradition in matters as individuals would practically require us to become hermits. That said, we must be careful about how and why we choose to break our anonymity. Had the early member referenced above chosen to become a spokesperson on his own merit, it would have been perfectly acceptable. It was only when the distilleries voiced the intention to out him as an AA member that the matter became a potential violation of Tradition Six. Speaking about our recovery is fine. So many are afraid to do so, it’s actually great when someone is comfortable speaking about it. But we can speak about our recovery without mentioning the program, and this is the approach we should take when we are at risk of appearing as if we are affiliating AA with an outside organization.
The Sixth Tradition is easy to embrace if we simply proceed with caution and do not go throwing the name of AA around in public with little or no discretion. Remember that violating Tradition Six does not just affect you—it affects everyone affiliated with the program. If we have any respect for our fellows in recovery, we must always bear this in mind before speaking too hastily.