Throughout this series on AA’s Twelve Concepts for World Service, we often use metaphorical interpretation to explain how these concepts apply to our personal recovery. Sometimes, this requires a bit of outside-the-box thinking. In the case of Concept VIII, however, it’s actually quite easy. The metaphor is still there, as is the case with all such principles that apply solely to the organization of the General Service Board. But in this case, the metaphor revolves around one single theme—humility.
We often find humility to be a driving force in our recovery. This single principle informs so much of what we do while attempting to clear the wreckage of our past. Humility informs practically every single one of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. And it’s played a role in some of the Twelve Concepts we’ve discussed up to this point. The notion that it might play a role in Concept VIII therefore doesn’t seem too far-fetched. From this perspective, the only truly unique aspect of Concept VIII is the sheer fact that they managed to apply this principle to an entire organization.
This article will discuss Concept VIII by following the usual format. First, we’ll talk a bit about the history of Concept VIII and what it means to AA as an organization. Then, we’ll discuss its deeper meaning and how you can apply it to your personal life. We hope this proves useful to you, no matter which stage of recovery you’re managing at the time. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sober for a few years, a few months, or even if you haven’t gotten started yet. If you wish to stop letting substance abuse run your life, then you’ll need to embrace humility. Concept VIII will provide you with a bit more insight into how this can be achieved.
The History of Concept VIII
According to AA’s official pamphlet on the Twelve Concepts, Concept VIII reads:
“The Trustees of the General Service Board act in two primary capacities: (a) With respect to the larger matters of over-all policy and finance, they are the principal planners and administrators. They and their primary committees directly manage these affairs. (b) But with respect to our separately incorporated and constantly active services, the relation of the Trustees is mainly that of full stock ownership and of custodial oversight which they exercise through their ability to elect all directors of these entities.”
To state this in simpler terms, Concept VIII pertains to the manners in which the General Service Board plans, manages and executes its primary duties. According to the first part of the above passage, they primarily fulfill these duties in the context of general policy and finance. They handle these particular obligations directly, without delegating them to other organizations. This particular aspect of this concept is fairly standard protocol. It’s only natural that any organization should be responsible for its own policies.
The second part of Concept VIII pertains to more than just the General Service Board. It pertains more to AA World Services, as well as the Grapevine, AA’s official magazine. The General Service Board cannot be wholly responsible for these two subsidiary corporations. World Services has its own General Manager, and Grapevine has its own Executive Editor. The General Service Board is responsible for ensuring that decent management is hired for these entities. But these entities have their own bylaws, their own finances, their own offices and their own staff. In this way, they are connected to AA but are essentially still separate arms of the overall organization.
Prior to the existence of Concept VIII, the General Service Board tried to run the whole show. Bill Wilson learned from this, and believed it to be a mistake. He didn’t want too much of the Board’s focus to be on money alone. Bill also thought that too much concentration on authority might spell trouble. For the General Service Board to function at its best, they needed to delegate certain responsibilities to their subsidiaries. Not only does this prevent the Board from maintaining too much authority, but it also makes the Trustees’ duties easier. In the end, it’s what works best for everyone involved.
What This Concept Means
You might be wondering how the above explanation of Concept VIII pertains to humility. Well, the answer is actually rather simple. As noted above, there was a time during which the General Service Board oversaw all AA-related policies and financial decisions. Unfortunately, their offices weren’t capable of handling the growth of the organization. This was the driving force that led to the creation of not only Concept VIII, but the vast majority of the Twelve Concepts as a whole. For a time, however, they staved off this decision. Trustees wanted to believe that they could fulfill their duties without receiving outside help.
Had the Trustees stuck to this belief, AA might not be around today. With their offices completely overwhelmed, they couldn’t bring their message to other countries. They certainly couldn’t manage a magazine’s content and distribution. Up until they enacted Tradition Eight, they couldn’t even manage the basic obligations they fulfill today. Much like the Eighth Tradition, the history of Concept VIII marks a learning point in the history of AA. But it’s a little unfair to say that pride alone was responsible for their failure to learn this lesson earlier. In fact, it seems quite likely that their initial intentions were quite good.
By the time the Twelve Concepts rolled around, AA’s early members had overcome numerous problems together. When they first started, they never dreamed that their meetings would one day reach people all over the world. This left them unprepared when the organization began to grow. Those most accustomed to maintaining the early groups felt a moral obligation to continue nurturing their organization as it evolved. This wasn’t about simple pride or control issues—it was about a sincere desire to help others. AA’s founders—Bill W. and Dr. Bob—already knew that they wouldn’t be around forever. But even in their lifetimes, they hadn’t always been able to manage every facet of AA by themselves. In forming the Twelve Concepts, they needed a guideline that would make things more manageable for their successors. Concept VIII is one such guideline.
In other words, Concept VIII largely exists because AA’s founders recognized their inability to carry the burden of management by themselves. Bill’s personal admission of this weakness drove him to set guidelines that would strengthen the organization as a whole. Likewise, our humility often benefits those around us. This idea lays the foundation for our discussion regarding how we might apply Concept VIII to our personal recovery.
Embracing the Eighth Concept
Applying Concept VIII to your own life is as simple as remembering that you are not Atlas. You cannot rest the entire world on your shoulders. People need help, sometimes even just to manage their own lives. This is especially true of addicts and alcoholics, who often struggle with unmanageability prior to entering recovery. Recognizing this forms a large part of our goal in Step One. But once we’ve identified this particular flaw, we need to actually do something about it. Much like the early members of AA, we must learn when we need to delegate responsibilities.
We can accomplish this in a number of ways. If we tend to overburden ourselves at work, perhaps we must seek help from our colleagues. When managing our household becomes troublesome, perhaps we should ask for assistance from our family members. In many situations, we find that we can’t do everything by ourselves. But never is this as true as when trying to navigate our own sobriety. When recovery is our main goal, we rely on an entire support network of people to help us out.
In this case, “delegation” isn’t quite the right word. Remember, however, why Concept VIII came about in the first place. It wasn’t just about making life easier for the Trustees. Bill also felt that the Trustees shouldn’t be carrying all of the responsibilities alone. Bear in mind that we don’t always see ourselves objectively. But our sponsors and our friends in recovery can help us out with that. When we feel as if our sobriety might be in jeopardy, we should reach out to these people for help. And when they approach us with an observation about our behavior, we should listen. The Trustees didn’t necessarily want to give up any of their duties, but they ultimately took Bill’s advice on the matter. In similar fashion, we should take advice from those who might know better than us.
When we embrace Concept VIII in this fashion, we benefit more than ourselves. Friends and family members who wish the best for us find themselves worrying less. Those who rely on us find that we’re much more accountable when not overburdened with too many obligations. Yes, we should maintain our sobriety for our own sake. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t ignore the needs of others. If we can benefit them by showing some humility and admitting that we can’t do everything on our own, then this is what we must do. Because at the end of the day, much like Concept VIII, it’s simply the best thing for everyone involved.