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Alcoholics Anonymous Learning Opportunity
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The Class Assignment:
Attend three Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings by yourself. Write a report giving your interpretation of the experience, indicating what you learned about yourself and Organizational Behavior. Apply this learning specifically to your workplace.

Do not tell people at the AA meeting that your attendance is a class assignment unless directly asked. Most will assume you are an alcoholic. To announce you are not like them is unconscious arrogance. Visitors and especially students are welcome to open meetings. Go alone and don't take notes.

The Class Deliverable:
Inspired by the surprise experiment, I set about to develop three action steps that will lead me to 25 additional study hours per week.  As I now walk the walk of planned study time, I realize this hike will take me to a new place, one in which I can more frequently enjoy life in the present.  My journey begins with a strict set of directions:  
  1. Get up early (5:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m.)
  2. Ride the bus to and from work
  3. Study during lunch

I am happy to report that I have been very successful so far in following my planned route.  Eager to stay the course, I decided to attend three downtown AA meetings during lunchtime. This enabled me to experience the cut-throat daily grind at National City in close proximity to the overwhelmingly warm and supportive fellowship at the AA meetings. Since I am so accustomed to wrestling office politics, turf wars and, yes, even the all-to-often backstabbing at work, it was strange, but enlightening to attend my first AA meeting.

I arrived early and sat as close to the back as possible. Despite my efforts to remain inconspicuous, a gentleman, named Jeremy*, became very nurturing and attempted to take me under his wing. He asked me a boatload of questions:

  • Is today your first meeting?
  • Are you nervous?
  • Did you know today was a short meeting?
  • Did you know that we don’t do papers today?
  • How did you find out about this meeting?
  • Do you have a book?

Then Jeremy provided an overview of the facility, showing me where the restrooms, office and tiny library with AA resources were located. Although his never-ending questions and tour were making me feel very uncomfortable, I realized that he was being helpful, caring, and providing guidance to “the new alcoholic in town.”

After I survived the 20-question drill and guided tour from Jeremy, I believe every member of the meeting greeted me with a handshake and a smile, offering me support.  The fellowship was true and palpable, which is a far cry from the National City corporate culture.

I arrived early for my second meeting at the Justice Center. This was a good thing because I had a difficult time finding the room. I remember feeling incredibly embarrassed when I asked the security guard where the Lawyers' Lounge was located, and he asked, “What are you looking for, Honey?” I paused and didn’t know what to say. Should I escape through the glass doors that were only steps away? Believe me. I wanted to. However, my goal was to get at least one AA meeting in during Thursday’s lunch hour. Therefore, with a cringe, I mumbled, “I’m looking for the AA meeting.”

Why was I so mortified that this stranger thought I was an alcoholic? This experiment clearly revealed the answer: Society (non-alcoholics) and organizations (employers) believe that alcoholism is the result of lack of willpower, rather than a serious illness. Comprehending the proper cause and effect relationship is beyond the pale for some.  They just don’t get it.

Fittingly, the Justice Center AA meeting was called Big Book Thursday as members sat in a circle and read from the big, blue book called Alcoholics Anonymous. Perhaps, even more appropriately and a bit ironical was that the group read Chapter 10, entitled “To Employers.” This chapter was written by an AA member who spent much of his life in the world of big business. He hired and fired hundreds of men and women and knew the alcoholic as the employer saw him. 

This chapter alone provided me with many insights and thoughts to reflect upon. Here are some highlights:

  • Employers do not understand that alcoholism is a disease.
    • Many feel that alcoholism is attributed only to habit, stubbornness and weak will.
    • If employers concede that alcoholism is a disease then shouldn’t alcoholics get the same consideration as other ailing employees?
  • Employers lack the knowledge as to what role they might profitably take in salvaging their sick employees.
    • People should not be fired because they are alcoholics.
    • If they want to stop they should be afforded a real chance.
    • If they cannot or do not want to stop, they should be discharged. The exceptions are few.
  • In many companies there is a real interest, both humanitarian and business in the well being of its employees. Yet, many employers don’t believe they have alcoholism in their workplaces.
    • Mangers often have little idea how prevalent alcoholism is in their organizations and may be shocked to learn how much money the problem costs their companies per year.

The last meeting I attended was at the Cleveland Public Library. It was lead by a very charismatic man. Members submitted three discussion topics: relapse, sponsorship and powerlessness. Again, the atmosphere was very supportive, caring and helpful.

What hit me smack between the eyes during this meeting was the position of most members on the Locus of Control Continuum, which refers to people’s beliefs about what causes the good or bad results in their lives. It can be internal, meaning individuals believe that they control themselves and their lives or external, meaning they believe that their environments, God or other people control their decisions and their lives.

Before attending the AA meetings I assumed that all members fell to the far left or in External Locus of Control. Didn’t all alcoholics blame their mothers for their depraved situations? Didn’t they believe that others were in total control of their decisions and their lives? Didn’t they stand up and complain all the time at these meetings? NO! What I found was the exact opposite. Although the members seemed to surrender their wills to God, they didn’t believe that He controlled their decisions. Instead members called upon God to give them strength and to help them make the right decisions. It was simple and clear to me: The AA members— at least the ones who spoke—were recovering and taking responsibilities for their actions, which placed them toward the right side of the continuum much closer to Internal Locus of Control.

Summation of the Meetings:
I dutifully followed my own directions and spent my after-work bus ride home gathering my thoughts. Then, rising early each morning provided me the quiet, uninterrupted time to gel my thinking. It became quite evident that the member fellowship is strong because the AA organization is deeply rooted in God or seeking a higher power for help.

That said, I also believe the fellowship exists because the playing field is level. Although several business executives attend the AA meetings, there is no hierarchy in the room. The members all have the same underlying problem:  alcoholism.   No one is better than anyone else. There are no agendas, territories, or political issues. And best of all, there appears to be no backstabbing. People truly want to help one another. What can organizations learn from this business model? Quite a bit – I think.


*In order to respect the individual's privacy, a fictitious name was used.
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