Critique of Chapter 10 – To Employers
Rigorous commonsense is by no means obvious to much of the world. Indeed, commonsense sometimes requires ceaseless vigilance in its defense.
By Paul W.
The prior critiques by Clara M., life-j, and myself have made the case for retiring the Big Book and using it only as a historical document for research purposes. A new, revised and corrected, volume might be useful but only if it is up to date, corrects errors such as those pointed out in the critiques and allows for continued corrections and updates.
Chapter 10 alone makes the case for retiring the current Big Book and, if desired, the issuing of an updated and corrected volume. As the reader will notice, this critique is very brief. That is because the points made are easily made briefly and a plethora of examples would be tiresome to the reader.
As a document referred to as the “AA Bible”, the Big Book has achieved a near formal sacredness and thus standing as infallible. The multiple Advisory Actions of the General Service Conference establishing and reaffirming the “suggestion” that, except for the personal stories, not one word of the Big Book is to be changed solidified this impression. When the fervent attachment to Bill Wilson’s words by many AA members is added to the General Service Conference actions Bill Wilson’s words gain a status beyond the respect due to them. Rather his writings, specifically in the Big Book, have gained a reverence which has become sacred to far too many within Alcoholics Anonymous. If it can’t be changed (corrected, updated, etc.) it must be infallible. If infallible, it must be correct. Put it all together and the belief that Bill’s words are sacred and infallible is not surprising. This misplaced devotion must be corrected without discrediting the good work of Bill and Doctor Bob.
Chapter 10, “To Employers,” is part of the unchangeable text. Its advice to employers on dealing with alcoholic employees is dangerously out of date and incorrect. Any reasonable up-to-date employer in 2018 who had been given the Big Book as a tool for dealing with alcoholic employees would not only decide that AA knows little about today’s business but would likely assume that AA isn’t well informed about other matters, including alcoholism itself.
Employers of business larger than very small operations more often that not have engaged lawyers and human resource professionals as employees or consulting advisors. Internal or external, lawyers would condemn this text as a blue print for being taken to court. Human resource personnel would echo this and add any number of other objections. If followed, the advice put forth in this chapter could very well lead to catastrophic results for the employee and the employer.
A Few Examples
In the 1930s, there were no professionally run rehabs, ignoring them today is ridiculous. Medicine was not yet modern enough to even seriously consider alcoholism to be an illness rather than a weakness of character. Detoxing a suffering alcoholic in the privacy of one’s home was not only a practice when the Big Book was published but was encouraged. Bill Wilson himself commented, in the Big Book, about keeping some alcohol in the house to help sufferers get through withdrawal. This is so ingrained with some in AA that they complain about it not being a general practice. A reading of the anonymous “White Paper” will disclose such an attitude.
The Bright Spot
Fortunately, there is something refreshing and almost startling about this chapter. While “To Employers” counsel is outdated, this chapter is clearly secular in its language. There is no mention of God, Higher Power, Power Greater than Ourselves, Spiritual, or anything of a religious or supernatural nature here. The author uses “mentally sick” rather than spiritually ill and having a “change of heart” as opposed to a spiritual awakening. Clearly one can write about alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous in a totally secular and thus inadvertently excluding nontheists or people of nontheistic beliefs.
“To Employers” was not written by Bill, he had no experience as an employer and wisely turned to another AA member for this chapter. He turned to Hank P., a businessman.
Hank is one of the nontheists whose influence resulted in lessening or modifying the references to God in the Twelve Steps. While the advice is outdated, Hank proved that it is possible to discuss AA without even mentioning God directly or by any euphemism.
Chapter 10 Hank wrote, “it is best that no one tell him he must abide by its suggestions” which echoed Bill’s words from Chapter 5 where the Steps are introduced thus, “Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.” (emphasis mine)
Hank also pointed out, “are you not looking for results rather than methods?” With these few words, Hank previewed Bill’s thoughts to be written decades later, giving freedom to practice AA in any manner which works for the alcoholic.
In Conference-approved Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (© 1957) on page 81 Bill wrote, “we must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only”. And on page 105, Bill quotes the end of Tradition Three (Long Form), “Any two or three gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that as a group they have no other affiliation” going on to write, “This means that these two or three alcoholics could try for sobriety in any way they liked. They could disagree with any or all of AA’s principles and still call themselves an AA group.” (emphasis mine) Since AA’s principles are the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson clearly held that an AA group can exist without a god and with revised Steps and still be a part of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Unfortunately, far too many AA members have not read this chapter, even though, when asked if they have read the Big Book, many with raise their hand indicating “yes.” The same seems to be true of “To Wives.” Many believe that, with the possible exception of “To Wives” all eleven chapters were written by Bill Wilson. (As Clara M. explained in her excellent critique of Chapter 8, Lois Wilson did not write that chapter. Bill would not allow that.) Fewer yet have read Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age or there would be fewer misunderstandings about personally modifying the Steps.
The takeaway lesson from Chapter 10 should be that it is possible for the lessons of Alcoholics Anonymous to be cast in language open to and acceptable to theists and nontheists alike. The message of AA needs to be logical, internally consistent, in tune with modern knowledge and techniques, and open to all people who are sick and suffering. Isn’t it about time for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. to come into the 21st Century?
Paul W has been a member of AA since 1989. He is comfortable as a nontheist and calls himself an atheist. He has spoken at Area functions about the lack of literature for nonbelievers and has been a supporter of recognizing non-theists as full members of AA. Before retirement, he was a consultant with an international professional services firm where he specialized in education and organizational behavior. Paul and his wife live in New Jersey, she a Christian (of her own definition) and he an atheist. They have six children (50% atheists), six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.