The Twelve Concepts for World Service: Concept VI

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We are not always in control. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. (Pigprox/Shutterstock)

We are not always in control. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. (Pigprox/Shutterstock)

We’ve finally reached the halfway point in this series on the Twelve Concepts. If you actually read Conference-approved literature on the Twelve Concepts for World Service, you will find that Concept VI has one of the shorter write-ups, despite the fact that its definition is longer than any other we have covered to date. This is because, in some ways, the Sixth Concept is rather straightforward. Nonetheless, it may require some explanation for those who are not familiar with the Twelve Concepts and what they mean in the broader scope of recovery groups such as AA.

As we’ve noted before, the Twelve Concepts are all about how AA works as an organization. You may contrast this from the Twelve Steps, which define how we must govern ourselves as individuals if we wish to stay sober, or the Twelve Traditions, which describe how individual groups should be run. Most of the Twelve Concepts pertain to the General Service Conference, in which many decisions are made, while Concept VI itself pertains primarily to the General Service Board, which is—for lack of a better term—AA’s headquarters.

But, as we have endeavored in each article in this series, one may also use the Twelve Concepts to identify principles by which we must live on our own terms if we wish to stay sober. And while they aren’t always easy to identify, we can always find them if we try. The same applies to Concept VI. With that in mind, we will delve a bit into the primary definition of this concept before explaining how everyone can use it to better their lives, regardless of whether or not they participate in the General Service Conference.

The History of Concept VI

The General Service Board may not be a true system of governance, but they do govern in certain ways. (Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock)

The General Service Board may not be a true system of governance, but they do govern in certain ways. (Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock)

As written in the aforementioned pamphlet on the Twelve Concepts, Concept VI is:

“On behalf of A.A. as a whole, our General Service Conference has the principal responsibility for the maintenance of our world services, and it traditionally has the final decision respecting large matters of general policy and finance. But the Conference also recognizes that the chief initiative and the active responsibility in most of these matters should be exercised primarily by the Trustee members of the Conference when they act among themselves as the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

This may seem to go against previous concepts, so let’s dig a little deeper.

We learned from Concept I that individual groups were the ultimate authority in making decisions regarding the organization of AA as a whole. We then learned from Concept II that most of these decisions were made during the General Service Conference. After that, the other concepts helped outline the rights of those attending the Conference and how the decision-making process was to be conducted. But with the groups acting as the ultimate authority, it might be easy to wonder just where the General Service Board fits in as far as AA’s leadership is concerned.

Concept VI acts as an answer to this question. Yes, the General Service Conference is where delegates from individual groups meet with one another to hash things out and vote on important decisions. But once those decisions are made, either unanimously, by majority vote, or subsequent to an appeal, the General Service Board is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that these decisions are actually carried out. They have a number of other responsibilities as well, so to assume that the groups’ ultimate authority detracts from their importance would be a grave misunderstanding. Without them, individual groups would be lacking many of the resources they have today.

Bill W. made a lot of points regarding Concept VI and the importance of the General Service Board. Those familiar with his story know about his roots in business. And while he defines AA as a spiritual program, he most certainly used his knowledge of business when outlining the organization. Without the individual groups, the organization would have no substance. But without the Board, it would not be able to fulfill its duties. Even if our leaders are but trusted servants, their actions are still vital to our survival if we wish to become sober through the help of groups such as AA and NA.

What This Concept Means

AA co-founder Bill Wilson believed that the organization was similar to big corporations in a very specific way. (Piotr Zajda/Shutterstock)

AA co-founder Bill Wilson believed that the organization was similar to big corporations in a very specific way. (Piotr Zajda/Shutterstock)

To understand some of what we have said above, it helps to read Bill’s specific words on the matter:

“Indeed, our whole service structure resembles that of a large corporation. The A.A. groups are the stockholders, the delegates represent them, like proxy-holders, at the annual meeting; the General Service Board Trustees are actually the directors of a ‘holding company.’ And this holding company (the General Service Board) actually owns and controls the two ‘subsidiaries’ (A.A.W.S. and the A.A. Grapevine) which carry on the…services.


This very real analogy makes it…clear that, like any other board of directors, our trustees must be given large powers if they are to manage the…affairs of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

These powers do not necessarily mean that the trustees govern the groups, as this would go against the Second Tradition. What it does mean, however, is that they have the requisite power to keep the groups afloat. They are in charge of millions of dollars’ worth of literature and other materials, in addition to the Reserve Fund. They provide important information to the groups and to the public. And without them, very little—if any—of what AA does overseas would be possible.

It is at this point that we may relate the meaning of Concept VI to the principles of sobriety itself. As we have often said, we cannot go it alone. We must understand the importance of teamwork. We must know when it is important to ask for help. If we harbor control issues and try to get through life on our own willpower, we will often falter. And sometimes, much as the groups must depend on the General Service Board, we must rely upon the help of those who have certain powers which we do not possess. For some, this is intuitive. For others, it will require much in the way of humility.

We often like to think that we are charge, whether as delegates from a group or simply as people calling the shots in our own lives. And this illusion quite be quite reassuring—right up until it is shattered by those little reminders that there are greater forces at work. For examples of this, simply look at people’s reactions to political decisions. Nonetheless, our society is one that relies on many authorities. Without them, even those of us who have far less than we should might have even less. Likewise, those who may not always see a vote go in their favor at the General Service Conference must still rely on the Board for many services. No matter who we may perceive to be standing in the way of our control, we must never forget that they can also be quite helpful to us. People who are able to work together will always accomplish more than those who try to do everything alone.

Embracing the Sixth Concept

We must recognize that we often need help—even if we often do not want it. (lassedesignen/Shutterstock)

We must recognize that we often need help—even if we often do not want it. (lassedesignen/Shutterstock)

To embrace Concept VI in our daily lives, we have to learn that life is a process of give and take. There are times at which our bosses, lawmakers, parole officers or other authority figures will have power over our lives. We may not like this, and we do not technically have to like it. But instead of brooding over our lack of control in life, we would do well to realize that working with these authorities may help us. Maybe we will not get everything we want, but we will be able to make a start. If, however, we react to authority with hostility and anger, we will greatly hold ourselves back from what might have been accomplished through cooperation and understanding.

Naturally, this is a bit broader than the interpretation of Concept VI that Bill actually intended. On its face, all Concept VI really means is that the General Service Board has a few powers and responsibilities that the delegates of the General Service Conference do not. Nonetheless, it is quite clear from his writings that he believed the Board to be integral in the scheme of AA’s overall infrastructure. And for the Board to accomplish what Bill has laid out for them to do, they will most certainly require the support of the groups.

Perhaps not everyone will see the benefit of embracing Concept VI in their daily lives as we have outlined above. Those who are willing to try, however, just may find that their lives are greatly enriched as a result. We should never forget that rules such as Concept VI, and similar standards set in place regarding other areas of our lives, are often formed for a reason. If we can trust this, and stop resisting for the sheer sake of maintaining the illusion of control, then we will be able to live much more happily than we did when we were drinking and abusing drugs. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole point of recovery itself.

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