While doing our series on the Twelve Concepts for World Service, we have made an effort to show how these concepts may apply to more than just AA groups and elected service representatives. Instead, we have attempted to broaden our scope by also demonstrating how embracing the Twelve Concepts can improve the manner in which we deal with people in general, so as to aid our recovery by allowing us to better follow the principles by which many have remained sober. It is now time for us to do the same thing with Concept V.
The Fifth Concept is in many ways a follow-up to Concept III (the Right of Decision) and Concept IV (the Right of Participation). In Concept V, we examine the Right of Appeal. While the Right of Decision is essentially an elaborate reworking of the Fourth Tradition, the Right of Appeal is more of an elaboration on the Right of Participation. Concept V teaches us that not only may members of groups such as AA participate in major decisions, but that those with minority opinions have the right to be heard just as loudly as the masses. In other words, the Fifth Concept exists so that everyone is given a voice, even if they do not always get their way.
It isn’t too difficult to see how this might apply to our lives outside of the recovery community. Nonetheless, we will follow our usual structure by first talking about the history and meaning of Concept V before going into how we might embrace this concept both in our recovery community as well as in our daily interactions with others. Those with important job titles might make the best use of this examination, although pretty much anyone with a tendency toward strong opinions should probably take the lessons of Concept V into account when dealing with others.
The History of Concept V
As it is written in AA’s pamphlet on the Twelve Concepts, the Fifth Concept states:
“Throughout our world services structure, a traditional ‘Right of Appeal’ ought to prevail, thus assuring us that minority opinion will be heard and that petitions for the redress of personal grievances will be carefully considered.”
As we have stated since our articles on Concept I and Concept II, AA co-founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that they would not live forever and wanted the group to be in good hands after they passed. They felt the best way to do this was to ensure that there was no true governance, but rather a community of equals. And in a true Round Table democracy, everyone has the right to speak their mind, no matter how unpopular their opinion might be. This is how things work at the AA General Service Conference. By virtue of Concept V, those with dissenting votes on an issue are given individual chances to speak and elaborate on why they disagree with the decision that has been reached. If their arguments are compelling and they are able to make points that were not fully considered by the majority voters, then the minority may actually see the polls shift in their favor.
Bill believed that Concept V should be applied outside of the General Service Conference as well. In meetings between any AA board, area committee or other affiliated service organization, it was not only the right but the responsibility of voters to speak on the issue and elaborate on their viewpoints. He especially believed that this should be the case with particularly important matters. When a bill is seen as vital to the strength of the United States, our Senate will not simply cast their votes without prior discussion. To take on such an important task without accounting for all facts and viewpoints would potentially harm the sanctity of the voting body, and this principle applies as much to recovery communities as it does to state and federal governments.
The government comparison might worry some people. It certainly seems at times as if we can be quite slow in deciding important matters. Not only might some worry that the Right of Appeal is inefficient, but also that it has the tendency to spark impatience and cause some of our trusted servants to stop listening when an opposing view has been voiced. But as long as the trusted servants of groups such as AA and NA are truly caring and diligent about offering their services, Concept V is the best way of ensuring that every member has an equal voice.
What This Concept Means
You may wonder the point of comparing Concept V to the US Senate, especially since the Second Tradition indicates that AA’s elected leadership should never consider themselves to be governors of the program. But they still take part in making important decisions, and this is where the comparison comes into play. When someone is involved in making decisions that affect us, we want them to be fully informed before doing so. To quote the Twelve Concepts pamphlet:
“The well-heard minority…is our chief protection against an uninformed, misinformed, hasty or angry majority.”
Despite the Right of Participation, not every member who attends AA meetings will be at the General Service Conference. Some of them cannot take the time off of work, while others are new to the program and may not be ready to take on the burden of responsibility. Nonetheless, major decisions made at the conference will still have an impact on them, whether they are fully aware of this impact or not. For all we know, the minority of voters at the General Service Conference might actually represent the majority of people in recovery. But if voters are making their decisions based solely on emotion or merely partial information, they can become blinded to the validity of other viewpoints.
Concept V is therefore about reason and consideration. The pamphlet states it to be “incumbent upon [the majority]…in their own meetings, to pay special deference to the minority voice.” If too much power is given to one group of people, then both the Fifth Concept and the Second Tradition have failed. When the majority is not high enough, major decisions will often be tabled so that voters may have more time to consider things and come back with a fresh perspective. Even if there is no discussion on the issue during the course of the delay, it is not uncommon for people to change their votes during this time period.
In short, the deeper meaning behind Concept V is that opinions are subject to change, and we cannot go in half-cocked when making major decisions that have the potential to affect others. The same is true of AA, and even outside of our government. When we find ourselves in disagreement with somebody, we cannot simply write them off—no matter how badly we may sometimes want to do exactly that. This is exactly why we must embrace Concept V not only in matters affecting our sobriety, but in matters affecting our everyday lives.
Embracing the Fifth Concept
There are many cases in which disagreements probably should not be voiced. These days, arguments about politics and spiritual matters have become incredibly commonplace. They often get heated, and all pretense of reasonable debate is thrown out the window as soon as personal insults start getting slung around. But in some cases, we must voice disagreements or else risk harboring resentments when somebody does something that affects us in a way we might justifiably not prefer.
This is why Concept V, in addition to the Right of Appeal as described above, gives members of AA’s service structure the right to petition the General Service Board when they have a personal grievance against their group or another service organization that they feel could harm the welfare of AA and its participants. In the wider world, there are many instances in which decisions are made at our schools, churches, places of employment or other institutions that may rub us the wrong way. And in many of those cases, we may also come to realize that others will be negatively affected as well. Remember what we said about Concept V, that the minority has not only a right but a responsibility to speak. It is the same in these cases. As suggested by the Serenity Prayer, we should never lack the courage to speak for change when we truly believe it to be necessary.
Most importantly, Concept V should remind us that our opinions—no matter how stridently we may hold them—can sometimes be flawed. We may feel that we are in the right, but sometimes those in the minority have their points. We are not saying that you should completely change your views based upon someone’s opposition. What we are saying is that we should never discredit anyone else’s views. Just because you personally disagree with someone does not mean that their viewpoint is invalid. And you never know…if you maintain an open mind, you may even find that opposing viewpoints hold more merit than you previously believed. It’s certainly happened to the General Service Conference.
Concept V is fundamental to the basic principle of open-mindedness. If we do not maintain open minds, we can become trapped in our own viewpoints to the point that we completely drown out people who are just as certain of their own beliefs as we are of our own. Nobody, no matter what their station in life, deserves to be ignored. And if we feel that our own views deserve attention, we must give the same respect to others. This is one of the basic principles of the Fifth Concept, and we must never lose sight of it if we are to maintain our interpersonal relationships without fail.