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Decision making

Decisions by consensus. The only formulation concerning processes for group decision-making offered in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is in the Second Tradition: "For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority -- a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience". "Group conscience" in AA terminology has come to mean decisionmaking by consensus. This does not necessarily mean complete unanimity, but neither does it mean decisions by majority vote. Instead, it entails a frequently lengthy discussion in search of common denominators before the group decision is taken.

Although the Higher Power is almost omnipresent in the Steps, this is its only appearance in the Traditions. Thus, while other elements of the organizational principles are worded and justified in rational terms, the process of group decision-making is associated with the sacred and the mysterious. This is no accident: as we will further discuss, Bill W. saw "self will run riot" as the central vice of the alcoholic, and thus would have seen the subordination of the individual ego to collective interests as the stress-point in making the organization work. As noted above, elections of officers and delegates are excluded from the principle of decision-making by consensus, although here, too, the widest possible consent is sought.

Otherwise, the consensus principle is almost universally applied. But not quite. In California, at least, decisions about whether a meeting is to be a smoking or a non-smoking meeting, as consciousness changed on this issue, have sometimes come down to majority voting. Johnson (1987:443) observed two majority votes on this at successive meetings of a group, in a situation complete with meeting-stacking and other manipulations reminiscent of party politics.


Robin Room, Addiction Research Foundation: Alcoholics Anonymous as a Social Movement

p. 167-187 in: Barbara S. McCrady? and William R. Miller, eds., Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and Alternatives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993.

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