ANONYMITY - In part, taken from the Public Information Workbook
For Information Regarding Anonymity Online, Click Here
An understanding of anonymity in AA is the first prerequisite for being effective in public information. At first glance the terms anonymity and public information seem to contradict each other. Actually, they don’t as these selections from the co-founder’s writings demonstrate. Bill W. wrote extensively about anonymity, and this selection from the P.I. Workbook is made up of his words. It is divided into three sections. We follow Bill in distinguishing the significance of anonymity at the practical and the spiritual levels, as well as at the individual and the group levels, the private and public, and the local and national. Then, Bill W. takes up the questions of anonymity breaks and their consequences.
Part I Anonymity – the Need
"In my belief, the entire future of our fellowship hangs upon this vital principle. If we continue to be filled with the spirit and practice of anonymity, no shoal or reef can wreck us. If we forget this principle, the lid to Pandora’s box will be off and the spirits of Money, Power, and Prestige will be loosed among us. Obsessed by these evil genii, we might well founder and break up. I devoutly believe this will never happen. No AA principle merits more study and application than this one. I am positive that AA’s anonymity is the key to long-time survival."
Bill’s Last Message: "Anonymity has two attributes essential to our individual and collective survival; the spiritual and the practical. On the spiritual level, anonymity demands the greatest discipline of which we are capable; on the practical level anonymity has brought protection for the newcomer, respect and support of the world outside, and security from those of us would use AA for sick and selfish purposes."
Anonymity as a spiritual message: "We are sure that humility, expressed by anonymity, is the greatest safeguard that Alcoholics Anonymous can ever have." ". . . anonymity is real humility at work. It is an all-pervading spiritual quality which today keynotes AA life everywhere. Moved by the spirit of anonymity, we try to give up our natural desires for personal distinction as AA members both among fellow alcoholics and before the general public. As we lay aside these very human aspirations, we believe that each of us take part in the weaving of a protective mantle which covers our whole society and under which we may grow and work in unity."
Sacrifice and Survival: "The spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice. Because AA’s Twelve Traditions repeatedly ask us to give up personal desires for the common good, we realize that the sacrificial spirits, well symbolized by anonymity, is the foundation of all these Traditions. It is AA’s proved willingness to make these sacrifices that give people high confidence in our future."
Part II – Anonymity as a Personal Choice
". . .While it is quite evident that most of us believe in anonymity, our practice of the principle does vary a great deal." "Of course, it should be the privileged, even the right, of each individual or group to handle anonymity as they wish. But to do that intelligently we shall need to be convinced that the principle is a good one for practically all of us; indeed we must realize that the future safety and effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous may depend upon its preservation." "It should be the privilege of each individual AA to cloak himself with as much personal anonymity as he desires. His fellow AAs should respect his wishes and help guard whatever status he wants to assume"
Anonymity at the Group Level: "In practice, then, the principle of anonymity seems to come down to this: with one very important exception, the question of how far each individual or group shall go in dropping anonymity is left strictly to the individual or group concerned. The exception is: that all groups or individuals, when writing or speaking for publications as member of Alcoholics Anonymous, feel bound never to disclose their true names. It is at this point of publication that we feel we should draw the line on anonymity. We ought not disclose ourselves to the general public through the media of the press, in pictures, or on the radio."
Anonymity at the Public Level: "Great modesty and humility are needed by every AA member for his own permanent recovery. If these virtues are such vital needs to the individual, so must they be to AA as a whole. This principle of anonymity before the general public can, if we take it seriously enough, guarantee the Alcoholics Anonymous movement these sterling attributes forever. Our public relations policy should mainly rest upon the principle of attraction and seldom, if ever, upon promotion." "The old files at AA headquarters reveal many scores of . . .experiences with broken anonymity. Most of them point up the same lessons. They tell us that we alcoholics are the biggest rationalizers in the world; that fortified with the excuse we are doing great things for AA we can, through broken anonymity, resume our old and disastrous pursuit of personal power and prestige, public honors, and money – the same implacable urges that when frustrated once caused us to drink; the same forces that are today ripping the globe apart at its seams. Moreover, they make clear that enough spectacular anonymity breakers could someday carry our whole society down into the ruinous dead end with them."
Media Attitudes Toward Anonymity: ". . .almost every newspaper reporter who covers us complains, at first, of the difficulty of writing his story without names. But he quickly forgets his difficulty when he realizes that here is a group of people who care nothing for personal gain." "For many years, news channels all over the world have showered AA with enthusiastic publicity, a never-ending stream of it, far out of proportion to the new value involved. Editors tell us why this is. They give us extra space and time because their confidence in AA is complete. The very foundation of that high confidence is, they say, our continual insistence of personal anonymity at the press level."
Part III – Anonymity Breaks
“Of course, no AA need be anonymous to family, friends, or neighbors . . .But before the general public – press, radio, films, television, and the like – the revelation of full names and pictures is the point of peril. This is the main escape hatch for the fearful destructive forces that still lie latent in us all. Here the lid can and must stay down.
“. . .we are certain that if such (worldly) forces ever rule our Fellowship, we will perish too, just as other societies have perished throughout human history. Let us not suppose for a moment that we recovered alcoholics are so much better or stronger than other folks; or that because in twenty years nothing has ever happened to AA, nothing ever can."
"Our really great hope lies in the fact that our total experience, as alcoholics and as AA members, has at least taught us the immense power of these forces of self-destruction. These hard-won lessons have made us entirely willing to undertake every personal sacrifice necessary for the preservation of our treasured Fellowship."
Bill’s Experience: ". . .I was once a breaker of anonymity myself. . . I learned that the temporary or seeming good can often be the deadly enemy of the permanent best. When it comes to survival for AA, nothing short of our very best will be good enough."
Rationalization of Anonymity Breaks: ". . .they (anonymity breakers) express the belief that our anonymity Tradition is wrong – at least for them. . . They forget that, during their drinking days, prestige and achievement of worldly ambition were their principle aims. They do not realize that, by breaking anonymity, they are unconsciously pursing those old and perilous illusions once more. They forget that the keeping of one’s anonymity often means a sacrifice of one’s desire for power, prestige, and money. They do not see that if these strivings became general in AA, the course of our whole history would be changes; that we would be sowing the seeds of our own destruction as a society."
Consequences of Anonymity Breaks: "Anyone who would drop their anonymity must reflect that they may set a precedent which could eventually destroy a valuable principle. We must never let any immediate advantage shake us in our determination to keep intact such a really vital tradition."