We recently covered Concept I, the first of AA’s Twelve Concepts for World Service. In case you missed it, these are the ideals that were set forth by AA co-founder Bill Wilson when his fellow co-founder, Dr. Bob, suggested that AA’s worldwide expansion would necessitate a set of protocols for operation once both Bill and Bob had passed away. As noted in our article on Concept I, the very first item on Bill’s list was to ensure that individual AA groups had ultimate authority over the General Service Board, with faith that each and every one of them would continue to operate under the guidance of AA principles. We now move forward, and onto Concept II.
Concept II is something of a reassurance. In our article on the First Concept, we had made strong mentions of how the Twelve Concepts may tie into the Twelve Traditions. Concept II not only ties into the Twelve Traditions, but actually goes so far as to mention them directly. This serves to reaffirm that, in Bill’s eyes, the Twelve Concepts were strongly reliant on the principles that AA had already set forth decades before the Twelve Concepts were ever conceived.
The primary difference between Concept I and Concept II is that the former can in many ways be applied to one’s personal life, whereas the latter is heavily dependent upon an understanding of AA and the way in which it is structured. But if you are a part of AA, it can be very helpful to understand Bill’s intentions when penning these works. As such, we strongly recommend that all who have entered AA—and perhaps even some who have entered other support groups—do their best to take the following teachings to heart.
The History of Concept II
Concept II states, according to AA literature:
“When, in 1955, the A.A. groups confirmed the permanent charter for their General Service Conference, they thereby delegated to the Conference complete authority for the active maintenance of our world services and thereby made the Conference—excepting for any change in the Twelve Traditions or in Article 12 of the Conference Charter—the actual voice and the effective conscience for our whole Society.”
If you have read our article on Concept I, you may recognize that Concept II is almost a direct follow-up. Many may wonder how individual AA groups are to act as the ultimate authority for such a widespread and diverse organization. And while the simple answer would be that they simply follow the principles as we have previously suggested and let the Second Tradition be their guide, Concept II goes as far as to suggest that they might also become an authority through the means of delegation. This goes back to the early days, when Bill and Bob were largely the pillars of a growing recovery community. Seeing the error in this as they reached their twilight years, they realized that AA needed to find a way to work together as a whole.
Essentially, the manner in which they found for AA groups to delegate has become the backbone of how nearly every group operates today. Each group elects a General Service Representative, or GSR. The GSRs for all groups within one of approximately 93 specified regions in the United States and Canada will then meet in area assemblies, electing a delegate from each district at least every two years. These delegates will meet with the General Service Board for about six days every April, which keeps the trusteeship informed in regard to the state of AA throughout the North American continent.
At the same time, these delegates are meeting with the General Service Office staff, as well as staff in charge of managing Grapevine, AA’s national magazine. Delegates filling other service positions may be present as well. This six-day period is the General Service Conference to which Bill is referring in Concept II, and the large number of representatives involved is a strong indication as to why Bill considered the Conference to be the “actual voice and effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.” Without the General Service Conference, AA might be a scattered mass of rogue support groups. The Conference is what keeps them together, working in tandem to reach a common goal—the goal of spreading the message of sobriety to those who are still suffering.
What This Concept Means
Those who are unfamiliar with the depth of meaning behind the Second Tradition may be given to think that the General Service Conference goes against the notion that no individuals in AA ought to govern. But what you see in Concept II is actually a perfect example of Tradition One—a collection of recovering alcoholics embracing the notion of AA unity in order to strengthen AA as a whole. And the entire time, they are also doing quite a bit for their personal sobriety.
We often talk about the importance of service work, and this is most certainly an example of it. If you think that a six-day conference of alcoholics from across North America sounds fun, then you might be a bit of an optimist. True, those who attend the General Service Conference will meet many like-minded individuals who share their views on sobriety. But they will also meet their fair share of egoists, men and women who took their service positions for the wrong reasons. It can be difficult to see the forest in spite of these very few trees, and it will be a challenge for some not to become disillusioned with the program as a result.
This is not to say that Concept II is flawed in execution. On the contrary, those who took their service positions for the wrong reasons will also be introduced to many men and women who live in humility rather than succumbing to their own hubris. They will see people who truly care about their home groups, as well as the well-being of the entire program. These men and women, who practice true faith and spirituality, will act as a shining beacon. Hopefully, their light will guide a few others to act in the same manner as they do.
In other words, Concept II is largely about teamwork. We often say that nobody can recover alone, so it only stands to reason that one person alone cannot run a program such as AA. If alcoholics cannot rely on their fellows for guidance and moral support, they will get nowhere. To shun the opinions of others without even hearing them is to live in solitude, a false life in which one is always right and never wrong. We have to wake ourselves up from such a reality every once in a while, and Concept II enables us to do that.
Embracing the Second Concept
Obviously, the strictest way to embrace Concept II would be to become the General Service Representative of your home group once you have been in sobriety long enough to do so. This would then carry the responsibility of ensuring that your group was represented in area assemblies, district meetings, and the General Service Conference. But not everyone will want to do this. Some may have strong opinions about the state of AA, yet will be too afraid to voice them. Others will have few thoughts regarding AA as a whole, instead focusing on their own group while neglecting all others.
In many ways, it is probably best if such people avoid major service positions. Without the charitable nature and generosity of spirit that it takes to care about all alcoholics, regardless of the meetings they happen to attend, a person will not add much to the General Service Conference. And while they still have the right to attend as per Concept II, they might still be better off making room for someone whose heart is in the right place. That’s not to say that the Conference won’t benefit them, but this is certainly not a guarantee. And for those who are beyond enlightenment, their presence will simply present a challenge to others and nothing more.
Those who do not wish to take a service position, yet still wish to gain something from the teachings of Concept II, may simply focus upon the importance of teamwork. As discussed in our previous article in this series, we all have our own personal fellowships. Your personal support network is yours, and you must take their suggestions when asking for advice. After all, why bother having a support network if you are simply going to do things your own way? It is a waste of your time, not to mention a waste of time for your friends, your family, and your sponsor.
If you are able to work with others and arrive at a conclusion while taking each other’s advice, then you have fully embraced the teachings of Concept II. Once you have done this, you must hold on for dear life. Never let go of your ability to work with others, falling under the flawed delusion that you can regain your own self-will and learn to do things on your own. This will never benefit you for very long, if at all. If you can’t work with others, you will be lost on the importance of fellowship. And in a program such as this, losing the fellowship means losing a vital part of yourself—the part that keeps you sober.