Tradition One of a 12-Step Program

Foundational principle aims to ensure AA group unity

Circle of empty chairs. Tradition 1: Group Unity
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The Twelve Traditions are the principles that keep 12-step support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon, focused on their primary task of fellowship. The Twelve Traditions serve as the framework by which the internal operations of all 12-step programs operate.

The Twelve Tradition philosophy got its start in 1939 with the publication of the "Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous." The concept was refined in the ensuing years as AA continued to grow and greater emphasis was placed on maintaining uniformity among chapters.

In 1953, co-founder Bill Wilson formalized the principles in the book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions."

Understanding Tradition One

As the Twelve Steps lay the spiritual path of recovery for individual members, the Twelve Traditions provide the principles that keep the group healthy and grounded. This is best exemplified by Tradition One which states:

"Our common welfare should come first; personal progress depends upon AA unity."

The underlying principle is simple: if the group is drawn into controversy or becomes dominated by individuals, the unity of the group will be jeopardized. This is especially true of members who feel sidelined or minimized; these are the ones who are most likely to drift away or leave the program altogether.

Dissention and Agreement

The aim of Tradition One is to ensure cohesion while honoring all voices in an open dialogue. Both AA and Al-Anon are structured to provide a platform for everyone, even those with minority views.

As a group prepares to make a decision, all sides must be given an opportunity to speak without judgment or derision.

With that being said, all members of the group must be willing to accept the majority opinion and work together to put any decision into action. This helps prevent the divisiveness that can undermine not only the group but each member of the group.

A free exchange of ideas is considered healthy so long as all members are committed to protecting the tenets of Tradition One.

Applying Tradition One to Your Life

Newcomers to a 12-step group will often place their entire focus on the Twelve Steps and pay less mind to the Twelve Traditions. In some ways, it’s entirely understandable. As an individual, you want to reach your goal of sobriety. But unless you embrace the Twelve Traditions, your journey can become rudderless as you place “self” over others.

In the end, the Twelve Traditions provide the foundation by which individuals can navigate the Twelve Steps. Both are meant to provide you the framework by which to live your life, not just stop drinking.

As such, Tradition One can be applied to your family as much as to your group. By placing your family's common interests first, you can accomplish more and benefit from the unified support. This requires that each member of the family be heard, that their opinions be respected, and that consensus be reached whether you or anyone else in the family doesn’t fully concur.

Living up to these principles takes work and dedication, but so does becoming a part of AA. Like every part of a 12-step program, the journey begins with the first step.

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