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In Loving Memory of Vic

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Tradition Four

Tradition Four

“Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or NA as a whole.”

For the purpose of this tradition, “autonomy” can be thought of as a group’s right to independence and self-government – with respect to its own affairs. Just as there is no human authority to govern our membership, neither is there a bureaucracy to supervise our groups. Group autonomy is an extension of the freedoms offered us in NA. The Twelve Steps help us gain freedom from the horrors of our addiction, the perils of our past, and the defects of our character. Autonomy, united with other traditions, helps us maintain our freedoms of membership and expression, collective diversity, and spiritual independence.

The flexibility that is inherent in the autonomy we speak of in this Tradition is very important. It allows for innumerable variations in format, service opportunities, etc. so that every addict can feel comfortable in finding a home group. The important thing is that the NA message and the atmosphere of recovery be provided.

One of the privileges of having a home group is assisting with the decisions that concern the group. We are able to use our creative energy to serve. For example, we can choose our formats, our literature and our trusted servants. We are part of, depended on, and valued members. The Fourth Tradition ensures that we respect our fellowship as a whole, in order to keep a clear message of recovery. We choose our formats any way we want them, keeping in language conducive to recovery in the NA fellowship. Sharing celebrations of recovery in the NA fellowship being concise not to affiliate. We can choose our trusted servants and we can even write how we want our trusted servants to carry our conscience. We can print our own literature, respecting our seventh tradition while keeping in mind our literature is approved and we should not change the wording or context. We are able to form our groups with our newly found freedom. We become one of the constants in the newcomer’s eyes. We surrender to group conscience and the principle of the Fourth Tradition in unity with NA as a whole.

Each group is self-governing and periodically chooses members to become trusted servants. It is the responsibility of a group to carry the message of recovery to the still suffering addict. It is the responsibility of a group member to support, not only physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. If we ware instruments of God’s will, and God is present in our group conscience, then why should we not support our group not only by placing money in the basket, but by getting involved in the affairs of the group.

So long as we continue to rely on the power of a loving God to influence our decisions and their outcomes, we need not establish any codes of conduct for either our groups or our members. This is where the spiritual conscience of a group becomes indispensable. Group conscience authenticates true autonomy, and autonomy works most efficiently when this principle is inclusive to the spirit of our collective Steps and Traditions. Experience has shown us that when adversity strikes a group, and our focus is placed on the solution of our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the problems solve themselves. In this way, we express our faith in NA as a self-correcting program.

Personal preference must never be allowed to interfere with group conscience or what is good for the group as a whole. We must examine our personal preferences to see where they are coming from. Usually it is a matter of ego and therefore must be put aside. While we have a right to our feelings and our expression of those feelings, it is one of the great principles that we do not impose our will on others, depriving them of their say in the matter of their lives. Integrity is a matter of doing the right thing and standing up for the Traditions of NA regardless of personal preferences. Integrity is something that we cannot allow to be compromised.

Just as group autonomy does not justify a disregard for other Traditions, neither does it justify retaliation. If members think a group has deviated, it is imperative that we understand that each group has the right to be wrong. If our Traditions were enforceable, they would no longer say we “ought,” they would say you “must.” There are no musts in NA, in any absolute sense of the word. Even our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are only suggestions that neither the individual nor the group must strictly adhere too. Many have argued that this philosophy may spell disaster for both the group and even NA as a whole, but they are later astonished when this was not the case. Though some groups have strayed from NA tradition over time, once it begins to affect their members’ personal recovery or NA as a whole, either the group will wither and die, or group opinion will snap it back in line. Even in such a case, a groups’ autonomy is held inviolate.

“So then,” you might ask, “can a group decide to do absolutely anything they please?” The answer is, restrictively, “Yes, as long as it is in respect to its own affairs.” There is only one exception to the near unlimited liberty afforded a group through our tradition of autonomy. The exception is, that their liberty may not be exercised at the expense of severe consequences to any other groups or NA as a whole. It is for this reason that we have developed a service structure encompassing the principle of consultation. Such consultation will often consist of a discussion encompassing all involved, in order to solicit other opinions and reach a fellowship conscience, a conscience that supports both our unity and our primary purpose.

Tradition Four tells me that each group has some mobility within their own group as long as no Traditions are broken. Certain groups and members wish to conduct meetings with different formats. As a long as our primary purpose is not compromised, this is fine. With this in mind, each group should have their GSR attend Area Service so that the group is kept well informed as to what is happening within the next level of service. There are a great variety of meetings within the fellowship: Open discussion, speaker discussion, candlelight meetings, etc. This gives us the option in many areas to choose a different type of meeting on any given night. However, no matter where we go to an NA meeting, the message is always the same. Most of us, as addicts, need this type of stability in our lives.

It is part of our complete, creative freedom to exercise our autonomy. We often consult with other members to double check our ideas of get the benefit of a different viewpoint or members experience. The spirit of consultation is not meant to undermine the principle of autonomy, but to be a safeguard against its misuse. If we invite the guidance of a greater consciousness, check to ensure our motives are inventoried, and strive to maintain open-mindedness as both autonomous groups and consulted service bodies, we believe we can then place our trust in the process as we seek viable solutions. Consultation is a method by which we cultivate new thoughts and ideas that can compliment our enthusiasm for helping others.

Questions have arisen with respect to how far the principle of autonomy can be exercised in our fellowship. The answer is simple, it is expressed in the wording of this Tradition; the freedom of autonomy is limited only to the groups. Our groups, however, have created service boards and committees to provide services, which furthers their effort to carry the message directly to the addict. These service boards and committees are not NA, as such. They exist solely to serve the groups and neither do they derive authority from their service, nor do they inherit the sovereignty of the groups’ autonomy. Instead, they are the creatures of our membership and our groups. Created by our need for services, they can be reorganized or disbanded by the groups. This may be done by ignoring them if they are not serving or by creating new service boards and committees as needed. Power is a mood changing drug and many are drawn to service positions under the illusion that it grants them power over others.

In the end, so long as the autonomy of our groups is focused on carrying the message of hope and freedom found in Narcotics Anonymous and our efforts are exercised within the boundaries of our Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the spirit of this Tradition will always ring true. As our groups grow and find new and effective ways of helping others, our diversity is then strengthened, broadening our base, and raising our point of our freedom.

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