I don’t know whether Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana), Tom Cruise or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. are familiar with any 12-Step Program, but they could benefit from some helpful guidance offered by those programs.
Most of the well-known 12-Step Programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) operate under a set of principles known as the Twelve Traditions. Number 11 states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” Number 12 states, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
My friends who taught me about 12-Step Programs said Traditions 11 and 12 protect both the individual and the 12-Step Program as a whole. They protect the individual because they discourage a member of the program from being “put on a pedestal” and becoming known as an “expert” on addictions or compulsive behavior in the media. That media spotlight could bring pressure that might, in combination with a failure to “work the program,” prove detrimental to the member. The traditions protect the 12-Step Program because it won’t be linked in the public’s mind with the failure of any individual member.
Take an example of a celebrity who goes on a media tour, stating that he or she is an alcoholic, but has stopped drinking thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous. If that celebrity later drinks, and that is reported in the media, some other active alcoholic might say, “I guess that A.A. Program doesn’t work.” Regardless of the fact that millions of people have successfully found and maintained sobriety through the A.A. Program, this person sees the failure of one famous person as representing the effectiveness of an entire program.
When 15-year-old Miley professes her Christianity–then agrees to be photographed in a sexually-tinged pose, she falls off the pedestal. When Rev. Wright engages in a clash of religion, politics and race, he stumbles from his soap box. When Tom Cruise appears irrational, then attacks someone for trying to retain rationality, he slides off of the pedestal and upsets the soap box.
No one is perfect, of course. None of us on a bad day would want to be held up to the media spotlight. When circumstances or good fortune, or old-fashioned hard work culminate in media attention, those 12-Step Traditions can be helpful in maintaining our perspective, and the reputation of the organizations or movements we hold dear.