Our Group Conscience, Our Higher Power

By Jamie M.

In the early days of A.A. we had some great support from various professional practitioners including, at least indirectly, Carl Jung. The quote from Herbert Spencer about “contempt prior to investigation” has been helpful to many. I would like to add another 19th century scientist to the forbears of A.A.—Sir Francis Galton. Here’s why: he was perhaps the first scientist to discover the wisdom of the group. In a famous natural experiment he took data from a contest to guess the weight of a prize bullock and averaged all of them. The animal weighed close to 1,900 pounds. The average of all the guesses was within about one pound of the actual number! Various experimenters have done much the same thing using a jar full of jelly beans or marbles and collecting guesses about how many are in the jar. It works! The wisdom of the group is a scientifically observed and real thing. 

To me, this validates the idea that when we actually form a group conscience we are as much discovering something as we are creating something. Our group has a conscience, and we are articulating it when we form a group conscience through education, discussion, listening to each other, understanding both majority as well as minority opinion, and putting it into a form that can be communicated to each other and where applicable and necessary, to other groups or A.A. as a whole. It’s obviously more complicated than just getting a number as shown in the examples given, but to me it’s still a thing. And there’s a key thought that, for me, applies: In the example, some people’s guesses were way off—but all guesses count toward the final result. How many times have we been in a business meeting and someone had input that seemed tangential? Yet our commitment to A.A. unity means that we don’t have the dubious luxury of disregarding a person whose input isn’t comfortable or convenient. Whenever anyone participates in good faith, we are all part of the group and part of the group conscience. 

Another point that I think about when I reflect on the wisdom of the group is the common idea that a person who rejects theologically based concepts of a higher power may use the group as their higher power. No need for capital letters, reference to holy books, etc. The group definitely has greater wisdom than the individual. The group is not a substitute for “the real thing.” As with other spiritual concepts in the program, accepting one version doesn’t mean rejecting another. It’s a both/and view, not an either/or view. An early Christian writer once portrayed our existence as each person being like the spoke of a wheel, with the center of the wheel being God. Because all the spokes converge at the center, anything that brings us closer to each other takes us toward the center of the wheel. So whether we are atheist, agnostic, monotheist, or other, we still have a standard that works. Whatever brings us more into harmony and closeness with each other is what works. When we work in the context that “love and tolerance is our code,” whenever we participate with love and service to carry a message of hope and recovery to anyone who wants it, we’re on the right path.

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