In 1937, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith counted members and realized with a sense of wonder that their idea, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), implemented two years earlier, worked and that much of the credit belonged to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
“When we were little known, still uncertain ourselves,” Wilson said to Rockefeller, “you stood before the world saying what you thought. To have done that for a few struggling people still bearing the stigma of alcoholism was an act of truest charity more deeply appreciated than you may ever know.”
It was Rockefeller who had successfully lobbied for the Prohibition of alcohol during the nineteen twenties. After more than a dozen years the law was voted out in 1934. It was barely a year before Bill and Dr. Bob founded AA, and Rockefeller gave it his full support.
Rockefeller’s influence encompassed far more than a few bucks and a dinner. He saved Bill and Bob from poverty and obscurity.
He allowed his associates to help nurture, lead and organize AA, help that lasted almost a quarter of a century into the 1960’s. He gave a dinner that Bill Wilson thought was to raise money and that Rockefeller knew would also raise awareness.
United in their beliefs
It is useful to consider the set of beliefs that influenced Wilson and Dr. Bob and Rockefeller’s strong support of Alcoholics Anonymous:
First, they believed in “the supreme worth of the individual. No like organization,” they agreed, “lavishes more attention on the individual. AA believes that each member is valuable, no matter his or her situation. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says, “No matter who you are, no matter how low you’ve gone, no matter how grave your emotional complications—even your crimes, we still can’t deny you AA.” At any AA meeting the most important person in the room is the newest.
Secondly, they believed “every right implies a responsibility and every opportunity an obligation. The backbone of AA is helping the new person. In Alcoholics Anonymous, we mine a spiritual lode for a lifetime and give away the entire yield. “We are responsible, when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help. We want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that, we are responsible.
Thirdly, they believed that government is the servant of the people and not its master. “AA” they said “has no government, only service bodies. The entire organization of AA is structured to serve and answer to the AA groups. The AA groups are organized to serve the individual alcoholic. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”
Fourthly, they believed in “the dignity of labor whether with head or with hand. In the inverted structure of the AA organization, the lowest in the hierarchy is the chairman of the board of trustees. The group, with individual members laboring in the trenches of alcoholism are at the top. Every job, each task in AA is important. It doesn’t matter if one is a delegate to the General Service Conference or cleans ashtrays after a meeting. Both jobs are important. The simple dignity AA affords a heretofore worthless individual in the ways of society is the beginning of recovery.
Thrift is essential
In number five they note that thrift is essential to well organized living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure. Even gifts from AA members are limited to a maximum of $5,000 “Sufficient operating funds plus an ample reserve should be its prudent financial principle.”
AA does not own property, does not carry debt and pays its own away. AA understands, especially on the local level, that their budget must come to them one dollar at a time in the basket, and gives each of those dollars care in their spending.
Number six says that “Truth and Justice are fundamental. The centrality of recovery of any alcoholic is rigorous honesty. ‘Rarely have we seen a person fail who thoroughly follows our path. Who can fail according to the Big Book? Those incapable of being honest with themselves'”.
Number seven states that “character not wealth or power of position is of supreme worth. The middle steps, four through nine are all concerned with cleaning up the past and building character. A person entering AA is joining a true classless society. Wealth power and position have no meaning. The final instruction of the step is to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Number eight states that “the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.”
Nothing in a recovering alcoholic’s life is more important than “carrying the message to the still suffering alcoholic. It is in the selfless act of helping his fellow man that is the base of an alcoholic’s own sobriety, and it is through service that a member’s soul is freed from the wreckage of the past.”
With an all-wise and all loving God, “named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness and widest usefulness, are to be found in living in harmony with His will.
“Alcoholics Anonymous not only embodied John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s credo, it exceeded its goals.”
Speaking at an annual dinner fo the New York Intergroup, Norman Vincent Peale called AA “the greatest spiritual force in the world today.”
Aldous Huxley, the famous writer, called Bill Wilson “the greatest social architect of the century,” and Time magazine shared this view. Dr Robert Smith and William Wilson, with significant help from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in effect started a “revolution of Self Help.”
In 1950, AA lost Dr. Robert Smith and Bill Wilson in 1971. In 1960, the world lost John D. Rockefeller and in 1971 Jr. Bill Wilson.
Those thirty six years from 1935 to 1971 truly saw extraordinary men living in extraordinary times.