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Delegate's Bulletin Board

"Updating the First 164 Pages – Pros and Cons” - 25 February 2020

The following talk has been written with the intent of presenting it on March 7, 2020 at PRAASA, so here is a preview:

In October, 2019, when I was pulled out of the hat to serve as Area 09 delegate, I did two things: I started meditating and I started studying our literature. In December, 2019 when I learned I was serving on the Conference Literature Committee, I did another thing: I thanked God I had started studying the literature back in October. Finally, on February 17 when I received today’s panel topic – Updating the First 164 pages: Pros and Cons – I began reading the 286 pages of Background Information on Literature, which I’d received on Valentine’s Day.

Like any good alcoholic, I’m constantly confronted by my mind’s chairman, who I call Petty Eddie. Petty Eddie is “that guy.” Committed to old behavior, he practices contempt prior to investigation; basks in the differences, ignoring the similarities; takes your inventory, and ALWAYS finds you lacking; leaves five minutes before the miracle; and was the guy who began formulating opinions on the topic before reading a single page of the Background Information.

Several minutes into what would be 12 hours of review, I began working my way through the information, and was surprised by an overwhelming wave of compassion when I reached Items D and E, on young people’s literature. Compassion has blind-sided me before. Once at a morning meeting when a widow shared for the 100th time about the loss of her husband, and I thought for the first time about how it would feel to lose my own wife, I related with her completely. While reading the “Too Young?” pamphlet, I realized the Literature Committee is tasked with ensuring that AA’s message of compassion is relevant to every alcoholic relying on our literature to seek it.

In effect, Agenda Item K, asks us to “Consider if proposed agenda items for plain language, simplified language, accessible translations and large print versions of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as workbooks to help study the program of Alcoholics Anonymous can be addressed with a common solution.” This is affiliated with two concerns:

Accessibility – Due to the literacy level or lack of ability to adequately comprehend the message of recovery by the individual as written in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. And,

Relatability – Changes in current language and culture (including views on modern language, gender and religion) which hinder the individual’s ability to relate and embrace the program as set forth in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is Agenda Item L.2 that would revise the first 164 pages.

There have been various attempts to change these pages of the Big Book, including Chapter 5 in 1990 and the first three chapters in ‘93. A pivotal decision was made in ‘95: “The first 164 pages of the Big Book, the Forwards, ‘The Doctor’s Opinion,’ ‘Doctor Bob’s Nightmare,’ and the Appendices [will] remain the same,” which was not reversed during Advisory Actions in ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, and 2000, leading up to publication of the 4th Edition of the Big Book in 2001.

So, L.2. Revise the first 164 pages and M.1. Develop a Fifth Edition, are the issues at hand.

Suggested changes include:

#1 • Pronoun usage – where possible the gender-neutral form should be incorporated. For every “him” and “her,” change to “they” and “them.”
#2 • Passages or sections that are no longer consistent with or relevant when taken in context of society in general or the A.A. membership composition. Recommendations include changing “women” to “someone;” the “worn out wife” to the “spouse;” and “courageous girl” to “courageous partner.”
#3 • The chapters To Wives, and The Family Afterward and perhaps even To Employers are, for a variety of reasons particularly challenging. These would not be eliminated from the Big Book, but would be changed in substantial ways to accomplish accessibility and relatability.

So, in effect, in creating a Fifth Edition, there are two general classes of recommended changes: Additions and revisions to the forward and appendices, and programmatic revisions to the first 164 pages, which would require reversal of the ‘95 Conference Advisory Action.

The pros and cons of recommended revisions are specifically listed in the Background Information, so I can share them verbatim:

Proponents for change say they are intended to welcome alcoholics who are transgender, members from non-nuclear families, people of color, women, and seniors. That our Big Book must relate to those who are court-ordered, dually or cross-addicted, suffer from chronic relapse, struggle with emotional sobriety, and have issues with mental health. That it is intended to reach those in the armed services relying on video chat, veterans of recent wars, Loners, those with disabilities who rely on online meetings, and the homeless. We want to be sure our literature is relevant to the new generation, reaching them through social media, reaching those living outside the United States, and immigrants; those who are incarcerated, have more than 40 years of sobriety, seniors new to AA, who live in remote communities, and are Asian-American. And, that our Big Book does not repulse atheists, those espousing non-Judeo-Christian spirituality, and – quote: “Deadheads that go to concerts sober” – unquote, which includes my service sponsor!.

And, Petty Eddie quipped: What an order, we can’t go through with it!

Those who resist the changes say, the scope of the changes don’t go far enough; this represents an unnecessary expense at this time; not that much has changed since the 4th edition in 2001; the publishing department has other priorities at this time, like bringing AA into the modern age; the next edition is likely to be the last one; and the best place for new stories is in the Grapevine and La Viña, which we should promote.

My initial thinking, which has changed considerably, was that various versions of the Big Book could not be used in traditional book study meetings. Also, why should we change the book that the Library of Congress has identified as one of the 88 most influential books that shaped America, and whose 40 millionth copy will be presented to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the International Convention in Detroit? Having studied the material (and without the benefit of discussion), I’m of the opinion that Big Book versions that can be used between sponsor and sponsees who cannot relate to the 4th Edition may certainly be useful, and that a cost-benefit analysis needs to be part of the discussions.

I note how important past actions like producing the Big Book in Braille have been, and the more recent completion of the American Sign Language version of the Big Book. And, who among us wasn’t touched when we heard the Big Book in the Navajo language read at PRAASA several years ago, when even though we didn’t understand the words, we understood the language of the heart, which brought tears to my eyes. Certainly, these are all “versions” of the Big Book addressing accessibility issues that few of us are likely to complain about.

So, on my journey preparing to serve on the Conference Literature Committee, 43 days from now, I invite you to share my personal mission statement: to avoid contempt even after investigation; to look for the similarities, while respectfully listening to the differences; to focus on the literature inventory, not another person’s inventory; to not leave five minutes before the miracle of creating and amending new inclusive literature; and to judiciously form opinions only after reading ALL of the Background Information. Finally, I personally vow, insofar as possible, to try and smother Petty Eddie in his sleep.

Personal Mission Statement: “I’m committed to being totally available and responsible to MSCA 09 members, to help provide a healthy infrastructure to communicate among individuals, Groups, Districts, Area, and the General Service Office, while using as few acronyms as possible!”

In Love and Service, Ed. L,
MSCA 09, Panel 70 Delegate
(760) 964-0012