Tradition Two

"For our Group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience; our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern."

Free members of a voluntary non-residential self-help organization like Narcotics Anonymous are ungovernable in any conventional sense. The techniques that may prove effective in government or business will quickly turn off a person who is only doing something because they feel it is right in their heart. When someone starts yelling, bossing or criticizing openly, the volunteer is totally free to drop their tools in place and walk away with a clear conscience. Many of our trusted servants forget this simple fact and get drawn into exploring their fantasies of what administrators and representatives do. If they believe with all their hearts that all politicians are crooked and that the roles we play in service are political due to the titles we use to describe them, they will eventually become crooked. This is a good belief to inventory and change as early in recovery and service as possible. What really happens is that while a few people are coming into the system and many people are already in the service structure, we have a growing number of members who are just watching, often with prior experience and meditating on how we can solve some of our problems of self-government. One thing we agree on is that NA processes should always be democratic in nature and that members should be consulted on things that affect them.

A group conscience works best when the spirit of a loving God is invited into each decision making process. A simple prayer coupled with a period of meditation can offer previously unforeseen guidance or even tranquility in the midst of chaos. Mindful of our individual surrender, we are more often agreeable and open to what concerns other surrendered members of NA. The process of a group conscience can vary widely depending on the circumstance. There can be evidence of a conscience consistently apparent during a meeting, or as a regularly scheduled, organized consultation of its members, most often held before or after the meeting it represents. Although some groups find business discussions happening during meeting time, most members rather the meeting time be focused on carrying our message, furthering our primary purpose. Most business meetings take place immediately after a recovery meeting to deal with group business.

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However, the only thing a meeting needs is two or more addicts, a message of hope, and a place to gather; opportunities of service begin to present themselves as a group grows. Positions of trust are established to fulfill these opportunities; leaders, secretaries, treasures, and other representatives are elected to serve so that stability can be accomplished and an atmosphere of recovery can be born.

For a group to survive it must stand the test of time, nothing so much ensures this success so much as the quality and integrity of our servants. A working knowledge of our Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and regular meeting attendance, coupled with a willingness and desire to serve are qualities for both selecting and holding these positions of service.

These are only positions of service, entrusted to those whose duty is only to serve. A group’s servants derive no real authority from such positions; their responsibility is primarily to perform the day-to-day chores of the group. Even in attempts to preserve or cultivate an atmosphere of recovery, this tradition strictly limits the ability of any trusted servant to decide, dictate, rule, or censor the individual member. We must always remember that membership, in itself, ought forever be the highest position attainable in Narcotics Anonymous.

Lest we become victims of our own incomplete learning experiences, we should try to focus on our primary purpose when we are talking about leadership and trusted servants. Our purpose of carrying our message to the still suffering addict is direct and to the point. If it is kept in mind, it will ground out some of our excesses to the point of actually being effective. Most of the stuff that concerns us in NA is very simple, rather like baking a cake. It is important to have certain ingredients and certain utensils on hand with a ready oven and some sort of timer before we begin. While these points are simple, they are not dispensable. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we are going to do something, or who is going to do it, that nothing gets done!

Each of us has been, because of our common malady, unable to govern ourselves. Our initial unmanageability coupled with an admission of powerlessness have become apparent, not only to others, but to ourselves as well. This is often understood as a First Step toward recovery for the individual and initial point of unity for our fellowship; each person must first realize his or her powerlessness and unmanageability.

Neither we, nor any form of society with which we associated, could control our insatiable desire to use drugs and abuse our surroundings. Family, friends, governments, and institutions, none of which had any long lasting success with controlling or disciplining the addict. Through living our lives either controlling or being controlled by others, our need for such a removal of personal government seems further evident. We are people who have grown very sensitive to authority.

It has been our experience, though we cannot be governed, we can be led or inspired toward what feels right in our hearts. This feeling of rightness or goodness is what many of us associate with the spiritual awakening we begin to experience in the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous. It is in this context that the concept of our Second Tradition becomes more obvious. Our only real Authority rests with God, as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Both power drivers and rebels can better work together in this context to carry our message, since neither is expending their energy foolishly fighting amongst the other.

Dope addicts are funny people. Many of us claim to hate authority figures. It is with some surprise that we find out that we actually are rather quick to give ourselves over to authority without thinking about it. In active addiction, our dealers were authorities along with various representatives of the organized world. We feel a need for freedom that we don't associate with illness or addiction. One explanation may be that we are unable to cope with every day reality and the ordinary demands of life may slide beyond our reach. Authorities are the ones we associate with the word "no."

In our service structure, we try to make some allowance for or members basic conflict between needing someone to tell us what to do and yet wanting to do things our own way, in our own time! Despite the tallness of this order, we have worked out what we call our service structure and certain procedures that seem to work for us most of the time. When there is difficulty, we all have the choice of staying and helping or backing off and letting non-participation simplify things for us. Our leaders are simply the members who can hear us and respond to our needs. We listen to some who have answers that stand up for the moment and only a few will stand against the test of time.

  • "I do not know where the courage comes from most of the time, but today I find that I am a leader in NA. It takes courage to lead. It feels great for me to be so passionately involved in something that regardless of consequences, I will stand up and speak about an unpopular or controversial position. At the other end, I am able to carry and speak pro to a group conscience decision that I disagree with personally as long as it doesn't force me to act against my basic principles or beliefs. I am able to get myself out of the way and become an instrument that carries a group's conscience in a way that engenders humility and selflessness in my personality."

The simple fact is, most of us believe in the Twelve suggested Steps as a design for living clean. Many of us began this process because we had to, but later continued because we wanted what this way of life began offering us. Just as the individual conformed to what felt right in their lives, the group often follows a similar path as expressed in its conscience. Group conscience holds no rigid shape; it is flexible, shaped by the ever growing and changing conscience of its members.

If we feel we have to lie, we need to back up to our 1st Step. Dishonesty comes from a lack of contact with a loving Higher Power. What conflict exists between unity and group conscience? Some members have thought that group conscience has to be compromised to effect unity. Unity can become a double-edged sword if it requires deception or misrepresentation. Worldly concerns about money, property and prestige will always appear imperative, immediate and definite. Only by stepping past the illusions of 'us and them', 'money', and justified deceit, do we get to discover what's really important. In NA we sometimes do foolish things through habit or mental laziness. Inner calm helps us see through the haze of appearances to the heart of things. Our conscience can be our best guide. By using the conscious contact that works so well in the rest of our lives, our groups achieve a spiritual quality. When we abandon spiritual principles and fall back on ordinary law, kangaroo courts or mob mentality, we are no longer entitled to call ourselves spiritual.

The Twelve Steps as well as our Twelve Traditions consist of the unification of spiritual principles; this is the essence of Narcotics Anonymous. With this in mind, the spiritual interpretation of our Steps or Traditions will always compliment one another. Moreover, the true spiritual conscience of a group will never run in conflict the spiritual principles of our Steps or Traditions.

While individuals have a tremendous freedom to follow the God of their understanding, certain spiritual terms stand on very common ground. We are patient, tolerant, humble, grateful and other things that reflect interior progress. If we find our minds telling us to go one way and our spirits urging us to give our attention to something else, we learn to pay attention. Only by giving our very best can we expect results beyond what simple thinking can give us. A sense of devotion to God's Will gives our groups the power that allows them to carry our message. Where that power fails, we go inward to renew our spiritual resources. Acts of desperation, justified wrongdoing and harsh treatment of individual members is never sanctioned in real Narcotics Anonymous. These things have only occurred where our members were inexperienced or unaware of what had been learned by those who have gone before. A loving God is our only Ultimate Authority and is expressed in the conscience of our groups.

We ask questions in participating in group conscience. We pin down presenters of important motions and try to get all the information we can. Wherever we can, we take time to talk over the item with our sponsors, group members, friends and pray for guidance. We may come up with additional questions. When all is said and done, we take a few breaths; make a decision and surrender.

For the first time in many of our lives, we have become willing to try something other than our own way. We have been inspired by the joy, happiness and freedom of members who have come before us. Along with this inspiration comes hope that we can also begin to recover. We have no official leaders, but all of us may lead a newcomer to our way of life by the power of example and being available to lend a helping hand. When we allow God's will to be expressed through us, our own recovery becomes stronger.

We addicts can make anything hard. This Tradition serves to remind us that when it is all said and done, the final say must accord with our inner connection to a higher power we call `conscious contact.' This is our protection against the games of manipulation and control that we all slip into from time to time. Our perfection is in our desire for improvement with spiritual help and guidance. We never arrive at a point of perfection where further improvement makes us able to rest secure in our observations and opinions without concern for the feelings of our Fellow members.

One of the adaptations that is happening to you if you are an addict who has recently begun to live without using drugs is that you feelings are coming back. Some are pleasant and others unpleasant. We have an internal guidance system that works when we are clean. As we become more accustomed to being able to trust our instincts again, we use our feelings to add depth and dimension to what our eyes see and our ears hear. We begin to assemble what can only be called an inner knowledge or certainty about what is right and what is wrong. The Twelve Steps of recovery are in tune with this reality and that is why we have to spend so much time talking and listening among other recovering addicts. We can literally hear what rings true and what doesn't. Many times something we have been doing will first seem faulty when shared by another addict. As we examine these things more, we are encouraged to pick out the things that have no place in our new lives. As we grow, our inner knowledge comes out in many forms and one of these forms is the group conscience that we use to guide our groups.

Surrender to group conscience begins with anonymity. When we ask ourselves the question, "What is right?" instead of, "Who is right?" we begin to remove the personality of our groups. Many times groups who experience disunity through personality conflicts or through uniformed conscience begin to conform to the will of personality. It is very difficult for us to surrender to a loving God if we do not carry an informed conscience. We trust our servants in this capacity. When we gather as recovering addicts and pray for the knowledge of God's will, our conscience becomes directed by a loving God. We are all addicts and it may be difficult to keep money, property or prestige from diverting us from our primary purpose. Usually a member with insight to our disease will assist us in refocusing on our ultimate authority and the primary purpose we serve selflessly.

We depend on our loving God to carry us when uninformed consciences begin to disunity us. Gut feeings may not lead to real solutions that can replace the games of anger and manipulation. We practice holding fast to the basic principles and values we learned as new members. We continue with vigilance to stay honest, open-minded and willing to surrender to our loving God.

Often without meaning to, our trusted servants relax their learned roles as special servants carrying out a role not often found in the outside world. It is easy to drift into the mindset that allows us to think that the spiritual is unreal and that we have gotten 'so big' that we have to tighten up and do things the way they are done in business and government. The humor of this is lost entirely when our members begin to suffer from an enlarged view of themselves and their role.

We are not saints and it takes some courage for most of us to share spiritually. Expressions of a spiritual nature bear a special meaning and we will not share these things in hostile or intimidating circumstances unless we have the experience or support to do so. When adverse conditions prevail, all we have to do is wait and stay together.

To underscore that those who act on behalf of our groups play a special role in a special way, we call them 'trusted servants.' Obviously, not all our members expected to serve in this way are able to fulfill the group’s expectations. Worse, some feel they must be more forceful than a mere servant could be. The nature of appearances versus deeper meanings makes it inevitable that conflicts will occur. Staying true to your spirit and close to those you serve will see you through. It is perfectly correct to resign if you cannot fulfill group conscience. Indeed, sometimes, this is the best way to remind a group that has fallen into feeling `powerful' in the diseased sense.

The idea of group conscience is that where members are considering something that will affect them, they have a right to gather relevant facts and voice themselves before any action can be binding on them. This is particularly true since no action can be enforced against the will of our groups. There will be times when immature leadership or trusted servants required to act with insufficient information will make poor decisions. Our disease doubles the likelihood of these problems. It is terrifically important that we develop our capacity for forgiveness and tolerance if we aspire to serve NA.

A member shared, "God was there but he was not involved in my life. Then I experienced tradition two and I knew God was in my life because he was in the group and I was in the group."

A group conscience is not a democracy, so it does not involve politics. To reach a group conscience, each individual must be open, honest and willing. Each must become aware, that is, informed about the facts and sensitive to the movement of the Spirit that is our Higher Power.

In a home group, decisions make themselves and directions unfold as, simultaneously, a few or several of us begin to do things in one way. An example is in saying the Serenity Prayer before our group conscience meeting: our group, to a person, will use the "we" version. This was not discussed, it was observed after the fact. Another example is that none of the Home Group members chose to "celebrate" their anniversary by calling on "special" members who have helped them in recovery or important family members during a meeting. While we celebrate our anniversary on or soon after our clean date, our anniversary meeting is little different from other meetings held throughout the year. We celebrate with fellowship after the meeting. Our group conscience dictates that we remember our primary purpose every day of the year.

Our servants are trusted, trustworthy and service-oriented. They serve our trust. Trusting them means that we ask questions because we are curious or interested, not because we are suspicious and critical. We cannot become informed simply by listening. Our servants are gently guided by other more experienced members, group conscience and principles. No one member will accept responsibility for decisions on behalf of the group. Each member accepts responsibility for the decisions made within group conscience and for the actions of our trusted servants. Trusted servants have to be responsible to teh group. In part, to serve means to comply, to be of use, to benefit, to make ready, to wait on, to furnish or supply, to treat or act toward in a specified way.

We cannot afford to be apart from the whole of NA in any way, or we will be in danger of letting our disease get a foothold. We need to "identify in" at every turn. Because of this, the people who take on responsibilities cannot be merely servants, not can they be trusted governors. They must be trust servants. As gently and loving as we can, we tell them what we want done and they do it. They may advise us according to their experience or perspective, but the final choice belongs to the group. No individual tells our group what to do and no individual is left alone to make a choice for us. In part, to govern means to control, to direct, to influence, to determine, to punish and to restrain.

Our Higher Power is limitless in love, power and creativity. To subject the possibilities of our recovery to rigid rules and regulations would only serve to cut us short of the reality. In the nineteen seventies, there were only a few hundred NA meetings. In the early eighties, the Basic Text was published, and in many places, the first meetings were started. Since then, thousands of addicts have overcome the slavery of active addiction. To allow any one of us the authority to define or regulate our recovery seems an absurd notion in the face of the kind of cultural revolution our lives in recovery represent.

Never in the history of man have addicts seen what we live on a daily basis. Addicts were written off as hopeless derelicts and died painful, lonely, slow deaths. Today, we live, thrive, change, grow and prosper. In the past, addicts were considered dangerous and were not allowed to congregate. Weekly, our meetings gather to celebrate our newfound family in a spirit of love and support. In this perspective, it seems simple to trust the creative action of the Spirit to continue to guide us as a group. As our Higher Power guides us through the steps to a spiritual awakening, our Group Conscience guides our group towards growth, recovery and mutual prosperity. Together we do what we could not do alone.

Part of our experience in NA is to watch groups come and go in our area. New members are very creative and strong willed, and often see a need for a new meeting time or place. From our perspective, those meetings which were started with spiritual willingness have thrived. Those started in self-will have folded. The power of willingness and love is insurmountable. In our personal recovery, we have learned that once we surrender and become willing, the doing seems effortless. Often the biggest struggle is in becoming willing. And once we are willing, things seem to just "fall into place." With our groups, then, we need to become willing and God-centered. The rest will "fall in place" as our Higher Power takes care of the details we fail to even see. And God will easily solve problems we think are too big for us: a new member moves into the area highly qualified, experienced in performing the service we require; a coffee pot is donated...

How does Group Conscience benefit the individual member? When we share our ideas, problems or thoughts with others, we gain a different perspective. Sharing with addicts who care about our welfare allows them to care about us. When we go to a meeting, talk about something that is bothering us and listen to the experience of other members, we are taking a Group Conscience. As each NA member shares experience, strength and hope on that topic, a loving God speaks to us through the collective message. We often leave such a meeting with the answer to our problem, yet it was not just one person who told us what we needed to hear. Instead, the shared experience of everyone provides our best solutions.

The principle of Tradition Two tells us to treat others in a loving manner. That's how a loving God can speak through us. As one member puts it, "When I talk to others I do so as if I'm speaking to God and when I listen to them, I listen as though God were speaking through them. This is practicing the Second Tradition."

What about being a trusted servant? Tradition Two teaches the principle of selfless service. It is one thing to do good deeds for the purpose of gaining power or recognition, but that is not our goal. Performing humble service for the good of others brings spiritual rewards. When we strive to be of service to others in all that we do, our lives are enriched. We now have a noble purpose and we pursue it with vigor. By focusing on helping others, we are in fact helping ourselves. We are keeping the miracle of recovery alive by giving it away.

Tradition Two defines an ultimate authority for us. We no longer have to assume that awesome responsibility. Being "boss of the world" and "master of all we see" is not only impossible, it is dangerous for recovering addicts. It is a short journey from inflated, self-important thinking to relapse. Through an active 11th Step, we are reminded that we function better as our Higher Power's trusted servant than as a Higher Power.

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