I never cease to be amazed at the way the spiritual principles embodied in the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and Twelve Concepts of Service—such as common welfare, unity, participation, right of decision, appeal and petition, autonomy, definition of responsibility, delegation of authority, and so on—weave together to create balance and harmony, and even beauty, in their application to any number of my “problems of living and working together” with others (Introduction to the Twelve Traditions).
For example, in my home group, we say the Twelve Steps together during the meeting opening. Some members have personal interpretations of the Steps that differ from the way they are written. But, as a group, we maintain unity, and respect Al‑Anon as a whole, by not changing the original wording of the Steps in our meeting readings. Neither do we, as a group, exclude or confront members who, in their personal sharing, describe a different interpretation of the Steps. Similarly, I’ve attended meetings where the group conscience has elected to allow the person closing the meeting to choose the closing prayer. Those in attendance are free to participate or not.
Here at the World Service Office (WSO), we sometimes receive suggestions and questions from members regarding changing the wording of the Steps, and I take comfort in knowing that decisions such as these are not up to the WSO, but rather the Al‑Anon fellowship as a whole, as represented by the World Service Conference (WSC), Al‑Anon’s largest group conscience. Discussions about the importance of groups all using the same wording of the Steps took place as early as 1961, the same year the WSC was established. In 1962, following additional discussion, the Conference unanimously approved a motion to “urge groups to follow the original Twelve Steps and Traditions and to use Conference Approved Literature” (Many Voices, One Journey [B-31], p. 110).
Later, in 1989, the WSC discussed “a request to poll the fellowship regarding ‘changing the sexist terminology in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions’” (Many Voices, p. 264). Since, “according to the Conference Charter, any changes to the three Legacies would require written consent by three-quarters of all Al‑Anon groups,” the Conference voted not to pursue the request (Many Voices, p. 264).
Our Cofounder Lois W. shared her own experience on this issue in a letter to Al‑Anon members dated October 1962. She explains how, early on, before realizing the universality of the Steps, she was asked to “reshape” them for use by family groups:
Thinking, rather superficially, that an interpretation suited to our own needs would be the best for us, I wrote out a variation of the Steps. Some of the Family Groups who adopted these changes still cling to them. Other groups created versions of their own, a few of which are still in use.
By the time Al‑Anon Headquarters was formed, we “old timers” had witnessed many miracles of transformation in the lives of non-alcoholics brought about by the practice of AA’s 12 Steps. Therefore, we began to see there was strength in the very wording as well as in the principles themselves. Hence, we concluded, the less change the better for us of Al‑Anon.
We also realized if the Steps were altered once they could be altered again and again. Their meaning and power might be lost and group unity would thereby suffer severely.
I am grateful to be reminded of our Cofounder’s and early members’ wisdom and experience. And as the 2023 WSC convenes in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA, this month, I am also grateful that, as an Al‑Anon member, I am a link in a chain that extends all the way from my group to the World Service Conference, Al‑Anon’s largest representative group conscience, which, on behalf of the members it represents, makes important decisions that unify and perpetuate our fellowship as a whole.
By Carol C., Magazine Editor
The Forum, April 2023
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