The twelve traditions are the principles by which 12-level support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon focus on their primary community role. The twelve traditions serve as a framework for the internal processes of all 12-step programs.
The Philosophy of the Twelve Traditions began in 1939 with the publication of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The concept evolved over the following years as AA continued to grow and more emphasis was placed on maintaining consistency between chapters. In 1953, co-founder Bill Wilson formalized the principles in the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”.
Understand tradition 1
While the Twelve Steps represent the spiritual path to recovery for individual members, the Twelve Traditions provide the principles that keep the group healthy and grounded. This is best illustrated by using Tradition 1, which says:
“Our common well-being should come first. Personal progress depends on the unity of AA.”
The underlying principle is simple: if the group becomes involved in controversy or is dominated by individuals, the unity of the group is jeopardized. This is especially true for members who feel broke or minimized. These are the ones most likely to drift off or leave the program altogether.
Discord and consent
The aim of Tradition One is to ensure solidarity and at the same time to honor all voices in an open dialogue. Both AA and Al-Anon are structured to provide a platform for everyone, including those with minority views. As a group prepares for a decision, all sides must be given the opportunity to speak without judgment or ridicule.
With this in mind, all members of the group must be willing to accept majority opinion and work together to turn decisions into action. This helps prevent the division that can undermine not only the group but every member of the group.
A free exchange of ideas is considered healthy as long as all members work to protect the principles of Tradition One.
Applying Tradition 1 to Your Life
Newcomers to a 12-step group often focus entirely on the Twelve Steps and pay less attention to the Twelve Traditions. In a way, it’s completely understandable. As an individual, you want to achieve your goal of sobriety. But if you do not accept the Twelve Traditions, your journey can become rudderless if you put “yourself” above others.
In the end, the Twelve Traditions form the basis on which individuals can navigate the Twelve Steps. Both are designed to provide you with the framework to live your life in, not just stop drinking.
Hence, Tradition One can be applied to both your family and your group. By putting your family’s common interests first, you can achieve more and benefit from unified support. This requires that every family member be heard, that their opinions be respected, and that a consensus be reached on whether you or someone else in the family are completely disagree.
Fulfilling these principles takes work and dedication, but also becoming part of AA. Like any part of a 12-step program, the journey begins with the first step.