As written in AA’s pamphlet on the Twelve Concepts, the Seventh Concept states:
“The Conference recognizes that the Charter and the Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments: that the Trustees are thereby fully empowered to manage and conduct all of the world service affairs of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is further understood that the Conference Charter itself is not a legal document: that it relies instead upon the force of tradition and the power of the A.A. purse for its final effectiveness.”
Concept VII demonstrates just how unique an organization Alcoholics Anonymous truly is as well as its commitment to those it was created to serve. In A.A. the governing authorities must adhere to the wishes of individual members acting as delegates and in many ways, it mimics the checks and balances of our own government. Neither the Conference nor the General Service Board can fulfill their duties without respecting the duties and responsibilities of the other. We should apply this same idea to our interactions with others. In doing so, we will find sober living to be a much smoother—and infinitely more gratifying—experience.
Interpreting Concept VII
In short, Concept VII of the Twelve Concepts for World Service leads us into a respectful and understanding form of society. As with all aspects of life, there are multiple ways to interpret it. One perspective is from the AA point of view. The other is to look beyond AA in an attempt to see how the Twelve Concepts may benefit us on a personal level. It is always best to consider each of the Twelve Concepts from both angles.
At first, it might appear as if it only applies to AA. If we are willing to dig deeper, we can see how this concept applies to anyone who is trying to make a new start. Recovering addicts can particularly benefit from incorporating these principles into their lives.
The History of Concept VII
The basic implication of Concept 7 is that although the General Service Board is in charge and its bylaws may act as legal instruments, AA itself is not bound by any particular sense of legality. The program drives itself not through legal precedent, but rather by its own sense of tradition. Some may see problems with this, but it actually has many benefits.
As far as issues are concerned, some may notice that there is a delicate balance of powers. The General Service Board possess certain legal powers, primarily pertaining to the organization’s treasury and provided services. That said, the Conference also possesses its own vast influence on the organization. If need be, the influence of the Conference may take precedent over the powers of the Board. It generally depends upon the situation at hand.
Basically, the Conference is meant to act in an advisory capacity. But when necessary, its legal power over the General Service Board can be superior. The word “legal” here is misleading since, as stated in Concept VII, the Conference Charter is not technically a legal document. But aside from the Charter, the Conference has two sources of influence. The first is the fact that over two-thirds of Conference members are delegates chosen by individual groups. The second, tied in closely to the first, is that these delegates technically have the power to cut their financial support from the organization. Most groups would never actually do such a thing, but this ability definitely ensures that their voices will be heard.
The result of Concept VII is that the AA organization operates under a system of checks and balances. The Conference makes suggestions to the Board. Unless the Board decides to veto a recommendation for one reason or another—which they have never done—they follow through with the Conference’s directives. They may not have felt the need to use their veto power yet, but their right to do so ensures that the Conference will not make suggestions that may be harmful to the organization.
What This Concept Means
Were the Conference delegates to become corrupt, they could withhold funding. They could also push decisions with which the Board was not comfortable. On the other hand, corruption in the General Service Board could result in abuse of the veto power. So, how does this system of balance ensure a lack of corruption? Simple—those involved hold their positions dearly. They operate on the principles and values of AA, including trust and responsibility. Of course, this trust only works because the Conference and the General Service Board share a mutual sense of respect. As Bill puts it:
“If…the Conference will always bear in mind actual rights, duties, responsibilities and legal status of the General Service Board, and if the trustees…will constantly realize that the Conference is the real seat of ultimate service authority…neither will be seriously tempted to make a ‘rubber stamp’ out of the other… In this way, grave issues will always be resolved and harmonious cooperation will be the general rule.”
Respect often breeds cooperation better than most other motivators. By contrast, let’s say AA was run by the power of fear. The Conference would still potentially avoid corruption, and they would still not make senseless recommendations for fear that their ideas would be vetoed. However, fear might actually keep them from making any recommendations at all. Since they respect the Board, the delegates, and the primary purpose of AA, the Conference makes only suggestions that they feel will benefit all those affected by them. Without this sense of trust and respect between the primary service holders of AA, the organization would cease to function.
This is why those who hold service positions in AA must always take them seriously. Concept VII ensures that no one authority can take complete power over the others. But it is up to the delegates themselves to ensure that Concept VII acts as more than a simple preventative measure. The delegates must ensure that they use their rights and privileges to benefit the groups. After all, there would be little reason for either the Conference or the General Service Board to exist in the first place, if not to safeguard the recovery of all AA members. Those who choose to become Conference delegates should always bear this in mind.
Embracing the Seventh Concept
The specifics of Concept VII may not apply to most people’s lives, but there is still much practical application. We may divide this application into two basic notions. The first is the need for us to work together with others who have authorities we do not possess. The second involves the basic principles required of both the Conference and the Board in following Concept VII. Looking at each of these, we can see that Concept VII may most certainly apply to our personal lives.
Everyone has limitations. Whether these limitations pertain to a lack of authority or simply a lack of certain abilities, we find that we cannot do everything ourselves. As a result, we encounter many situations in life which require us to work well with others. And in many of these situations, we find that working together can benefit all parties involved—but only if we work well. If we work begrudgingly, we benefit no one. But the only way to truly honor Concept VII by accepting our need to work with others is by accepting certain principles.
As noted above, the main principles guiding Concept VII are trust, respect, and responsibility. We must trust others to work for our interests, just as they must trust us to work for theirs. We must recognize that we have a responsibility to pull our weight in such situations. And we must respect those with whom we are working, even if we occasionally find ourselves at odds. Whether we are cooperating for the sake of work, school, or more personal matters, we cannot allow ego to impede our progress. If we do, we may easily come to regret the results of our lackluster efforts.