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.
Tradition One tells us that personal recovery depends on fellowship unity and that each of us must subordinate our personal agendas to the interests of the group, but it doesn’t tell us how to establish unity within our group. To this end, Tradition Two outlines basic principles that guide the practical functioning of the group and suggests how we go about establishing and maintaining unity. Foremost, Tradition Two acknowledges a loving God as the basis of our unity and the source of our common welfare as we recover. We depend, as individuals and as groups, on a Power greater than ourselves for guidance and direction––the same Higher Power that did what was humanly impossible in restoring each of us to sanity and sobriety.
Tradition Two also makes clear that beyond personal welfare, we have a greater spiritual purpose as a group. We trust that whatever we are guided to will be sound and good, that our group purpose will have a spiritual basis and significance. Just as the solution in our personal recovery was to surrender our will and life to a Higher Power, the solution in our group recovery is to look to that Power to guide our decision-making.
Once our group accepts a loving God as its ultimate authority, how do we discern God’s will for us in any particular situation? The method indicated in Tradition Two, born out of the experience of the early AAs and reinforced by our own experience in SA, is that of an informed group conscience. It is through the group conscience that we seek and discover whatever guidance our Higher Power may have for us. A group conscience meeting, held separately from a regular recovery meeting, offers every member present an opportunity to express his or her views about the issue being considered. The group conscience encourages decisive action only after thorough understanding of relevant facts and information, sufficient deliberation, prayer, and reflection. Finding the group conscience––that is, listening for the one ultimate authority––usually means expressing, filtering, discarding, or combining the opinions and ideas we have as individual members. The process requires honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, both in expressing our ideas and in listening to others.
A group conscience promotes unity by finding solutions based on spiritual principles. In this way it differs from executive power or majority rule, strategies that often err and lead away from unity toward increasing divisiveness. When discussing our disagreements, we find that when we are able to let go of our own personal agendas and prayerfully practice honesty as a group, we open the door to solutions none of us had previously considered. Often these solutions are unexpected and surprising, even elegant. We usually find that what is best for the group is best for each of us. God’s will is indeed expressed through the collective wisdom and humble sharing of the group members.
Adhering to the principles of the Steps and Traditions, a successful, that is, unifying group conscience includes the following ideas:
First, group conscience decisions should enjoy substantial unanimity among participants. While a decision need not be unanimous, a high degree of agreement is necessary. A 51-49 majority leaves nearly as many participants in disagreement as in support. In the interest of unity, therefore a closely contested decision should be tabled for further discussion. Some groups define substantial unanimity as two thirds or 67% of those participating, or eligible to vote. Others define it as 75% or even 80% and some define it issue by issue.
Second, effective group conscience decisions should be well informed and should offer ample opportunity for the expression of minority opinion. After decisions are made, members of the minority are generally given an additional opportunity to express themselves. This practice can help unite the minority and the majority behind any decision.
Third, all decision making should be allowed plenty of time. This ensures participation by as many members as possible and consideration of a wide range of opinions, ideas, and solutions. We need adequate time for God to act within our decision-making process. Allowing time for divisiveness and strong emotions to subside permits reflection, meditation, and prayer before decision making. Indeed, with time there will be a greater degree of unity behind our decisions. It is often necessary to revisit an issue several times in order to resolve it. (Paraphrased from Discovering the Principles, 8-9)
Although as individuals we may not always agree with the decision reached by a group conscience, we have come to appreciate the wisdom of supporting the group conscience over our own best ideas. In our sexaholism, we were running the show. In recovery, we turn our will and life over the care of God and await further developments.
This is a program of spiritual progress, and the group conscience may change over time. A group can be wrong or a situation can change. Earlier group decisions may be modified or abandoned altogether as the group matures. We continue to try to remain open to God’s will for us.
Tradition Two asks us to consider in a general way the nature of leadership and the role of our leaders. By describing our leaders are but trusted servants, Tradition Two introduces the notion that, while group responsibilities must be met through organized and concerted action, they are not to be met by dominance or governance. No person or persons govern the fellowship. Although our leaders hold positions of trust, only God, working through the group conscience, can be said to be in charge. This is the source of much of our ability to help sexaholics.
For an organization made up of sexaholics, whose lives have been riddled by the consequences of “self-will run riot,” the role of trusted servant is the perfect solution. Before recovery, we practiced governing others, telling them how to live their lives so that we would feel more comfortable. Or we rebelled against being governed, revolting at the idea of others telling us what to do and how to do it. As we seek to function in a new way, Tradition Two gives us a way to recover from these old ideas and behaviors. We neither govern nor are we governed. Instead, we carry out the group conscience in a spirit of service. We step forward to do this work, not to assume the status of bosses or governors, but to serve one another.
On a Personal Note
Some of us have learned to apply the Second Tradition to our families and businesses with great success. As participants of organizations learning to appreciate the potential benefits of allowing a Higher Power to direct our actions, we see the benefits of being willing to serve rather than govern. We learn to stop pushing our own agendas and become open to new possibilities. The principles of Tradition Two are sound in any relationship.
Members of SA Share
SA service in early sobriety provided many opportunities for spiritual growth. My sponsor continually reiterated the need for a solid grounding in the Steps as the basis for successful service work. As I matured with the process, so did my idea of service.
Initially, my approach was to help the fellowship change in the direction in which I thought it needed to grow. With increasing excitement, I avidly read all I could about the Traditions. It seemed clear that God was going to use the incredible education, intellect, and vision with which He had blessed me to bring SA to the next level. My frustration grew as my fellow members failed to recognize the virtues of my numerous suggestions for improvement. My vision of success in service work eluded me.
When my sponsor told me that the purpose of service was to keep me sober, my idea of success in service began to be transformed. Not long afterwards, members who had relapsed while engaged in service work reminded me that if my attitude towards service takes me to a higher level than that of my fellows, I am in great peril. If my primary purpose becomes to fix the fellowship and to relate as a consultant to the less knowledgeable, I cannot maintain true membership in a spirit of humility, and I am likely to lust again.
Today my perspective on being a trusted servant is much different. It is gratitude for my sobriety that motivates me to serve, rather than certainty that I know what is best. I’ve been told that the Traditions are a set of spiritual principles designed to protect SA from my very best motives. When I submit to spiritual principles, my arrogance and self-righteousness don’t have to harm anyone. I trust the group conscience to be guided in the right direction by a loving Higher Power. Surrendering my need to be right has enabled me to remain a part of this beautiful fellowship even when I disagree. I am sure that more often than not, in my persistent grandiosity, I will once again be surprised at how far God’s wisdom exceeds my own.
I decided that the Twelve Steps as printed in the book were sexist. I began to change the Steps to remove gender when I was reading them in meetings. Then once, while listening in a Tradition meeting, I realized this practice could be seen as a violation of the Second Tradition. When reading in a meeting, am I not a trusted servant of that meeting? As such, this Tradition encourages me to submit my own will to that of the group conscience and read what is on the page. If I think a change is needed, I can bring it up to my group, Intergroup, region, or the General Delegate Assembly for the group conscience process. I am grateful for how the Traditions help me to see and amend actions of mine, however well-intended, that can harm the well-being of my SA group.
Serving SA is one way that I carry the message. But I don’t carry my message, I carry the SA message. I have a choice to act as trusted servant or as a tyrant.
In no instance have I found it effective to demand the obedience of others. When I try to govern according to my own desires and my personal agenda, I find it a stressful and unpleasant experience. Trying to be a boss in SA is not only in conflict with the group conscience, but it is also contrary to God’s will for me. When I try to get other sexaholics to do what I want them to do, I end up frustrated and ineffective.
Alternatively, I can encourage others by sharing my experience, strength, and hope. I can accept differing opinions and engage in honest discussion. When I humbly serve according to the guidelines of the group conscience, things move along smoothly and with less conflict. I learn and grow spiritually, and I am rewarded by feelings of satisfaction and peace.
Discovering the Principles
Group Conscience Meetings a the Twelve Traditions 1-6
What’s a Group Conscience? 7-9
Group Conscience Meetings 182
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (AA)
Tradition Two 132-38
Long Form 189
Questions to Consider
How does this Tradition apply to my SA group?
How does Tradition Two promote tolerance? Patience? Unity?
Am I willing to listen to others’ opinions with an open mind?
Do I try to convince others that I am right?
Am I able to support a group conscience with which I disagree?
Do I refuse to participate in decisions and then blame others?
How does this Tradition protect our group from my best intentions?
How can I help to find the voice of the group?
Am I a servant or do I tend to govern?
Can I be trusted absolutely in my service work? Even with things no one else knows about?
How does this Tradition and these questions apply to the other groups I am a part of, such as my family?
One Method for Reaching Informed Group Conscience
There are two general methods for a group to arrive at a decision. One is adversarial and the other is co-operative. With the adversarial method, opinionated individuals push their ideas, argue, and vote––the majority carrying the decision. This can leave behind a disgruntled minority that feels that the decision has unfairly lost sight of their truth. Using the co-operative method, we gather together in the spirit of harmony and mutual trust to share ideas and come to a group decision.
In order to reach this cooperative group conscience, some groups use the following:
The members are disciplined to the thought of a cooperative group decision rather than someone's personal triumph. The group comes together in a receptive mood willing to find agreement. We avoid an argumentative spirit. We do not interested in a snap judgment, but instead want a solution that is best for all.
After an issue is presented, there is a period of silence for the group to become receptive. Then the chairperson goes around the room once or twice and asks each individual his or her views. The chairperson shares after the other members. No one speaks a second time until all have spoken.
The meeting is not thrown open for general discussion because that would allow the more vocal members to set the tone of the debate. The cooperative method gives the least vocal members equal opportunity and equal responsibility. Formal motions are discouraged until there is a clear sense of the general feeling. With sensitive issues, it is more important to move slowly.
If there appears to be practical unanimity, there is a period of silence to see if a vote should be taken. If there is not sufficient unanimity, the vote is postponed until the next meeting. Members have time to reflect, meditate, pray and to become receptive. If a matter is urgent and we are unable to obtain substantial unanimity, we may settle for a majority. Otherwise, we take the time we need to hear the voice of the group.
After any preliminary vote where there is substantial unanimity, those in the minority are given another opportunity to share their ideas. Following that, another vote is taken.
The group is to be wary of dominant opinions. We make sure the minority voice is heard. It may be decidedly persuasive, it may subtly influence the outcome, or it may not change the majority view at all. In any case it is important that it be heard. We must be careful, however, not to permit disagreement by the minority to delay a decision indefinitely.
Using the co-operative method we accomplish more than with the adversarial method. The co-operative method is the way we try to live, in accordance with our Traditions.