Twelve Traditions and Public Information

The following is from the 1998 Draft PI Handbook on the Twelve Traditions and Public Information.

Our experience has taught us that a working knowledge of our Traditions is a must in public information service work. Our recovery and our lives depend upon Narcotics Anonymous and NA cannot survive outside the guidance and principles of our Traditions and Concepts. We owe it to ourselves to thoroughly understand their basic principles before we begin active public information work. Many PI subcommittees take the time to study the Traditions and Concepts and how they apply to PI work on an ongoing basis. One procedure which has worked for many committees is to read one of the Twelve Traditions or Concepts at the beginning of a meeting, and then have a brief discussion about it.

Tradition One: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA unity.”

This tradition tells us that our personal recovery is what is at stake. Unity of purpose can only be achieved when we are willing, as NA members and as subcommittees, to consider our common welfare. In our Basic Text, we’re told “Our Traditions are the guidelines that protect us from ourselves. They are our unity.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 60]. It sometimes seems tempting to go it alone in public information. Our intentions are good. It seems like a great idea to do a radio talk show for a friendly disc jockey or it may be gratifying to accept an invitation to go back to our old high school and speak to the health science class. But we need to undertake these activities through our PI subcommittees, not as individuals. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I know what is best for our Fellowship?”

By supporting our PI subcommittees in the area and region where we live, we can assure that our message is one of anonymity. “The principle of anonymity gives form to our fellowship’s public voice. Each of our members has personal opinions on a wide range of subjects. The public message our fellowship carries, however, is the message of our collective experience in recovery from addiction. As groups and as a fellowship, we have no opinions on anything but the NA program itself.” [It Works How and Why, English, pages 213 – 214]. By following this tradition, we can ensure that our common welfare will not disappear and our members will not perish.

The same principles apply to our PI subcommittees. Unity of purpose can only be achieved when, as a Fellowship, we cooperate to have a united public relations policy. That means we work closely with PI subcommittees in surrounding areas and regions and that we maintain communication with World Services. “With faith in a Power greater than ourselves, hard work, and unity we will survive and continue to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 60]…

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.”

In Narcotics Anonymous, we are often concerned with protecting ourselves from ourselves. Our Second Tradition is an example of this fact. “By nature, we are strong-willed, self-centered people, thrust together in NA; mis-managers all; not one of us is capable of making consistently good decisions.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 60]. We avoid many of the pitfalls awaiting us in PI work by adhering to the spirit of this Tradition.

First, our PI subcommittees must work within our service structure in order to receive the guidance of our ultimate authority, a loving God. A subcommittee that reports to its area or regional committee and actively seeks involvement of members from the groups of areas it serves will be functioning in the spirit of this tradition. Those of us who are given the opportunity to serve need to remind ourselves that we do not, in fact, govern.

But let us not be paralyzed by this Tradition. That is not its purpose. PI subcommittees need not be afraid to act if the actions are in the spirit of all our traditions. In fact, if we don’t act at all, we are not truly serving our Fellowship. Public information service work is vital to our primary purpose of carrying the message of recovery. Once the group conscience has spoken through our election process, we must trust our elected trusted servants and support them to get the job done. If our trusted servants don’t do it, who will? This Tradition tells us how to go about finding direction for what needs doing.

Tradition Three: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.”

“Addiction does not discriminate. This Tradition is to ensure that any addict regardless of drugs used, race, religious beliefs, sex, sexual preference, or financial conditions is free to practice the NA way of life.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 62].

Our PI efforts must reflect the message of this beautiful tradition. We must be willing to carry the message to all addicts. Our PI service work can and should open the doors of our Fellowship to every addict who wants to stop using. “NA has no classes of membership and no second-class members. The common denominator in NA is the disease of addiction. We are all equally subject to it’s devastation. We share an equal right to recovery.” It Works How and Why, page 150]. Public Information committees must remember this and tailor their efforts to reach as wide and diverse of a group of people as possible.

As individuals of subcommittees, we may find ourselves inadvertently focusing our efforts on groups or organizations where the people look or talk or act like we did and avoiding places where we feel different or uncomfortable. In order to fulfill the spirit of this Tradition in PI, we may find it helpful to ask ourselves some tough questions–like who is missing from our meetings? If our members are mostly addicts who came through treatment facilities or detoxification centers, then that’s great. It means we’re working toward fulfilling our primary purpose in those types of facilities.

Now what about the addicts who may not live long enough to get to one of those places? What about addicts who don’t speak our language but live in our communities? “The wording of the Third Tradition reflects the broad focus of our first step. It is written simply enough to include addicts from all countries and cultures no matter what drugs they used. Before finding recovery in NA, many addicts don’t think that alcohol is a problem. Others abuse prescription medication, thinking that “legal” drugs are okay. Because of the wording of this tradition, we are able to attract and welcome addicts who might think they didn’t use the “right” drugs to qualify for membership in NA.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 147]. In order to work within the spirit of this tradition, we need to be aware of what we haven’t been doing, where we haven’t been going, who we haven’t been writing to or calling, and then plan our PI efforts accordingly. We need to act pro-actively.

Tradition Four: Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or NA as a whole.”

A service committee is not a group, therefore it is not autonomous. Public information subcommittees act only with the support of their areas or regions, and are accountable to them. They are part of a service structure designed to serve and they must follow all the Traditions.

In PI work, our actions can and does affect other groups or NA as a whole. “We are challenged in Tradition Four to apply autonomy in ways that will enhance the growth and vitality of NA.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 154]. A clear understanding of our service structure, combined with a spirit of cooperation and clear communication among all our service committees (including neighboring areas and regions, as well as the World Services) enables us to work together with unity of purpose.

As we approach each new project in PI, we need to remember to ask ourselves what impact this will have on our groups, our area or region, and on surrounding areas and regions. In its discussion of this Tradition, our Basic Text tells us, “… if we consider the consequences of our action ahead of time, then all will be well.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 64].

Tradition Five: “Each group has but one primary purpose, to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.”

As service committees, our task is to help our groups fulfill their all-important primary purpose. Just as our groups must focus on NA recovery, our public relations message must be based on our fellowship’s principles of recovery.

This Tradition tells us what our message is and therefore determines for us what we must communicate to the world about NA. “What is our message? The message is that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. Our message is hope and a promise of freedom.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 65].

Tradition Six: “An NA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”

“This tradition is the basis for our policy of non-affiliation and is extremely important to the continuation and growth of Narcotics Anonymous.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 66]. While it is important to reach as many people as possible with our message of recovery, it is imperative, for our protection, that we not risk our independence by becoming reliant on any outside source.

Cooperation with those who come in contact with addicts is important when carrying the message of NA. Without such cooperation, many of us would never have found the fellowship. “Contacts between our groups and the public help others understand NA better. They help increase public goodwill towards NA. They lead doctors, teachers, police, friends and relatives to recommend NA to addicts who want recovery.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 168].

Affiliation would have the opposite effect: diverting us from our primary purpose. We certainly want to work with other organizations, but we do not want to be merged with them in the mind of the public. To give the impression that we are one and the same would threaten our independence. Our aim is simply to make it known that NA is a resource for other organizations.

Without the guidance of this Tradition, our PI subcommittees would be in deep trouble. That fact that so much could be written about violations of this Tradition provides ample proof that we endanger NA when we have chosen to ignore it.

Tradition Seven: “Every NA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”

“This Tradition applies to service committees just as it applies to our groups and our Fellowship as a whole. “Our policy concerning money is clearly stated: We decline any outside contributions; our Fellowship is completely self-supporting. We accept no funding, endowments, loans, and/or gifts. Everything has its price, regardless of intent.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 68].

We often receive many offers for assistance with our PI work. “Like the groups, NA service boards and committees decline contributions from sources outside the fellowship. Unlike the groups, however, our service boards and committees are not themselves fully self-supporting. They have been created to help the groups fulfill their primary purpose more effectively, and they depend on group contributions for the money they need to do their work.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 168].

For example, organizations might offer to pay our travel expenses to speak to them about NA. As it says in our recovery literature, their intentions are good but we can’t accept that kind of help without violating the spirit of this Tradition.

There has been some confusion about the appropriateness of public service announcements by television, radio or newspapers. These are not “gifts” but services provided by these organizations at no charge to the public. We are free to use that opportunity for informing the public without compromising our Seventh Tradition. Just as we can place posters on bulletin boards made available for public use, we can place announcements in the media.

At times we may feel frustrated by our lack of funds to take on what seem like much needed PI projects. The temptation of receiving “easy money”, from others, is always a double-edged sword. Working together as a Fellowship to raise the money to support our services, we strengthen the ties that bind us together in our common purpose.

Tradition Eight: “Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional but our service centers may employ special workers.”

“The difference between professionals and special workers should be defined for clarity. Professionals work in specific professions which do not directly service NA but are for personal gain. Professionals do not follow the NA traditions. Our special workers, on the other hand, work within our Traditions and are always directly responsible to those they serve, to the fellowship.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 69-70].

Many NA service committees already pay telephone answering services to handle incoming calls for their Phone Line committees. This allows NA members to do the actual twelfth step work and provides a twenty-four hour service which would otherwise be impossible for some local NA fellowship to offer in their community. Increasingly more regions and areas are opening up service offices to deliver services for our Fellowship. These offices can play a vital role in our PI work by handling phone calls and mailing out literature to addicts and those who come in contact with addicts through their work.

The specific NA subcommittee under whose responsibility these services fall—usually the PI subcommittee itself, or a Phoneline subcommittee—should maintain frequent contact with these professionals and endeavor to teach them a little about the spirit of our traditions. Since these professionals are not NA members, we cannot require them to uphold our traditions. However, we can try to educate them and, by contacting them regularly, we can ensure that they do the job we have hired them to do, faithfully and efficiently.

Area and regional PI subcommittees may find it advisable from time to time to hire special workers to perform other specific tasks such as doing office or graphic layout work or painting billboards. This tradition allows us to focus on our primary purpose while providing the services necessary to keep us functioning, unified and growing.

Tradition Nine: “NA as such ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”

“Our PI efforts are carried out through committees created by our Fellowship. All service boards and committees exist to serve NA. “NA as such” is never organized, but we do have a service structure for our service boards and committees. If we haphazardly go about the business of NA, quoting this Tradition as our excuse, we are not serving our Fellowship. Our service boards and committees are given the responsibility of providing much needed services, while the groups go about the business of holding meetings, working with newcomers and generally focusing on recovery. The business of NA does not belong in our groups. We hold business meetings for our groups to discuss matters that do not relate directly to recovery. And we elect trusted servants to carry out whatever work that could not be done efficiently by the individual group.

In public information work, we must remain directly responsible to those we serve. The members of a subcommittee or service committee cannot do this if the committee itself is not linked to the service structure in the local area or region. “By maintaining regular two way communication between NA groups and the boards and committees serving them, we create an atmosphere of responsibility that serves our fellowship and its primary purpose as well.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 192].

PI subcommittees which start up without the support of an area or regional service committee may be working outside the service structure and outside the spirit of this Tradition. PI efforts need to be linked with all other activities in an area or region.

Tradition Ten: “NA has no opinion on outside issues, hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”

Again, our Basic Text provides a clear explanation of what to say about NA in our public information work. It also gives us specific information about what not to say. “Our recovery speaks for itself. Our tenth Tradition specifically helps protect our reputation.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 71]. We do not have any recommendations for outside organizations, nor do we participate in their politics. To do so would invite controversy which would jeopardize our fellowship.

“With a price this high, is it any wonder we choose not to take sides in society’s problems? For our own survival, we have no opinion on outside issues.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 71]. When we’re talking about the survival of our Fellowship, it’s worth spending time and effort to understand and practice the spiritual principle of this Tradition.

Anything we say while doing a PI presentation will be viewed as NA’s opinion. We should be aware that an expression of a personal opinion can easily be misinterpreted as the opinion of NA as a whole. This can happen even if the member says that it is his personal opinion. We may be able to avoid some of these cases of misinterpretation by others if we think carefully before we speak in public.

In public information work, we are frequently in the position to respond to questions which may be controversial. If we can continually focus ourselves and our PI subcommittees on our message of recovery, and leave all else to the outside world to discuss and argue about, we’ll be fine. As individuals, each of us has opinions. We have opinions on types of treatment for addicts, on what isn’t being done to help addicts recover, on the treatment of addicts by law enforcement agencies— the list goes on and on. It’s easy to slip into the thinking which tells us, as addicts, we are experts on all these topics. Vigilance is absolutely necessary whenever we are dealing with the press or professionals or any outside agencies.

Tradition Eleven: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than on promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”

“The Eleventh Tradition is the cornerstone of NA’s public relations policy.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 203]. There are two distinct parts to this tradition and both address PI efforts directly.

First, our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion: in our Fifth Tradition we are told what the message is that we have to share with the world outside NA. “Our attraction is that we are successes in our own right. As groups gathered together we offer recovery. We have found the success of our program speaks for itself”. [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 72]. We certainly don’t make promises such as, “You will never use drugs again if you join us.” That most definitely is promotion!

This tradition tells us we do have a public relations policy. “The existence of a public relation “policy” implies the importance of a public relations “program” in carrying out our fellowship’s primary purpose. Public information work, done properly, is not promotion, rather, it seeks to make NA attractive to those who might need us.” [It Works How and Why, English, page 203].

Our public relations policy is based on our individual recoveries and on the success of our program. That makes our job in PI simple. We simply share our experiences of recovery (while protecting our anonymity) and tell the story of NA. In order to effectively tell the NA story (most of us are familiar enough with our own stories), we need to know it. Please see the Resources section for a listing of of bulletins and abstracts created for this purpose. Each PI subcommittee might also want to write up a brief history of NA in their area or region.

Personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films enables each of us to do this service work without endangering our recovery. There is simply never a situation that warrants violation of this Tradition NO MATTER WHAT. Anonymity is defined in the dictionary as “the quality or state of being anonymous.” Anonymous is defined as “having or giving no name.” In our dealings with outside agencies, other than press, radio or films, some PI workers use their own names since, technically, doing so would not be a violation of this Tradition.

The safest way to avoid problems with this Tradition is to understand it, accept it, and always do direct PI interviews and presentations with another NA member present.

Tradition Twelve: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

“In PI work, as in our Fellowship as a whole, this Tradition tells us that the “I” becomes “we.” “The spiritual foundation becomes more important than any one particular group or individual.” [Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, 5th Edition, English, page 72]. That view also refers to our first Tradition, that our common welfare should come first, that we need to be unified.

Humility is very important in public information service. The story of NA is more important than any of our own personal stories. Practicing the principles of this Tradition in PI will enable us to work together for the common good. It will remind us that each member is as important as every other member and that all ideas should be listened to regardless of the source.

When we talk about our Fellowship, when we share with the outside world, we need to practice the principle of anonymity. It is, we are told, the spiritual foundation of all of our Traditions.

We’ve heard it said around this Fellowship that spiritual anonymity is the sacrifice of personal ambition. The integrity of the NA program must not be compromised by self-serving behavior. Personal anonymity ensures that we carry a pure message to the addict who still suffers, and to the professionals and/or non-professionals who work with and help those addicts.

Placing principles before personalities allows us to show the public what the principles are and how they work. When we take our personalities out of the picture, we allow the principle of anonymity to work. This also opens the door for other spiritual principles—such as unity, hope, and unconditional love—to guide us in our public information service work.

“Tradition Twelve is all the traditions rolled up into one”, summarizing and reinforcing the message of the previous eleven. [It Works How and Why, English, page 209]. When we practice and live these spiritual principles, we provide proof that the program of NA works.


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