Famed adman Ed Labunski penned the catchy, classic jingle that branded American culture as “We Love Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.” Eating one at the ballpark just somehow tasted different from an ordinary hotdog, and dreams of sharing that first hotdog with your young son’s first trip to a ballgame brought wistful smiles to baseball fans throughout the country. Yes, American culture from the 70s was very different from our culture today. We focused on relating to each other, based on shared experiences and desires. My adult children tell me it comes across as rather narcissistic, but it really was just a 70s thing.
Alcoholics Anonymous reflected a different culture back then. Old-timers packed smoke-filled halls playing cribbage and drinking massive amounts of coffee. If you attended 12-step meetings regularly, you could quote what they’d say on each respective step. The first step, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable,” was dubbed the drunkalogue. No matter how many decades you’d been sober, it was important to keep in the front of your mind what a miserable drunk you’d been. Tearing down statues from the past would have made no sense to these fellows. After all, AA is an honesty program. If you forget where you’ve been and who you’ve harmed, you’re on the road back to becoming that horrible excuse for a human being. “Once a drunk, always a drunk.” This approach worked for most members and as the AA Big Book teaches, don’t judge others; the key to life-long recovery is to focus on improving yourself.
That’s not to say that AA didn’t evolve over time. Nonsmokers decided they just couldn’t handle the immense amounts of second-hand smoke; others felt that meetings should be more targeted or selective in their membership. Groups formed restricting membership to gender, profession, sexual orientation, age…the list goes on. Old-timers thought that sharing the desire to quit drinking was the most important thing to have in common. Life had taught them that working together towards the lifesaving goal of sobriety should be the main focus. Listen with an open mind and you’ll discover that, although details of the stories may be different, it was the consequences of these stories, the same excruciating pain, that bonds those in recovery. Younger members didn’t understand, they felt their experiences and needs were different from those crotchety old men.
Cultures need to evolve over time. For example, back in the day an intervention for alcoholism wasn’t a friendly circle of friends and family trying to break through the alcoholic’s denial by gently sharing stories about the pain caused by the alcoholic’s behavior and guiding them into seeking treatment. No, original interventions were mobs of self-proclaimed loved ones ganging up and brutally attacking the alcoholic and his unwanted behavior. The goal was to break down these dastardly drunks to rebuild them into acceptable, sober people who share the same thoughts and beliefs as other sterling members of society. Eventually this practice stopped. Bullying and ostracism is powerful for those engaging in it, but leaves a destructive path for others to clean up.
AA meetings continued to happily segregate into specialized groups that shared accepted thoughts and values. But then some young members started to question why they should seek a new group. Shouldn’t the present group change for them? Why were the old-timers saying the Lord’s Prayer during meetings? Don’t they realize that this is offensive to other members who are atheists, agnostics or practice other religions? These old men should change for their own good. Their culture is outdated and insensitive. What these whippersnappers didn’t realize is that with culture, comes traditions.
Many people are familiar with 12-step programs, but are ignorant of the 12 traditions designed to address conflicts between members and to protect the purpose of AA. The first tradition stated: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.” The belief that unity and common welfare is key to stability and sustainability has been lost to heated political discord that is brutally tearing this country apart with no leadership in sight for healing the divide.
Some corporations are tiptoeing through the consequences of violating another old AA tradition: holding “no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” Chevrolet, long-time sponsor for Major League Baseball, has updated its commercial message from loving baseball, hotdogs and apple pie to baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.” But when MLB decided to slide into a murky political cesspool by moving the All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado to protest a new voting law, it lost sight of its purpose of unity and bringing people together. Baseball once was as American as apple pie.
—Stephanie Fawkes-Lee is Senior Sports Correspondent for the Prairie Progressive, and a recovering lobbyist.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of the Prairie Progressive. Not available at newsstands, but you may subscribe to this quarterly publication, which is “Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter,” by sending a check in the amount of $12 to: Prairie Progressive, PO Box 1945, Iowa City, IA 52244.