Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Can you define crosstalk? My definition is two people in the meeting having a conversation while someone else is sharing.
But then there's this:
Jane shares about whatever "problem" during her share. Then Joe starts sharing and addresses Jane's problem with "X." Is Joe crosstalking? It doesn't seem like it to me.
It's an important question to anyone who cares about AA, G., since crosstalk, however it may be defined by an individual or a meeting, goes directly to keeping AA meetings a safe place to speak honestly and from the heart about struggles with getting and staying sober.
Probably ten or so years ago I attended a meeting in which this came up and was very heatedly debated. I took it upon myself to call General Services in New York, the closest thing AA has to a "main office" (you can't really even call it a governing body, per se) and asked if there was an official definition of crosstalk that they could send me. The very nice lady on the phone told me that no, in fact there is not, and then quoted me the 4th Tradition, "Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole" going on to explain how this meant that each group could decide for themselves what crosstalk was and how to address it if it became an issue. (This was not at all what I wanted to hear. Because I hadn't really called to find out the official definition -- I had called to get some official ammo to prove I was right, damn it! But as I have experienced often enough, AA Tradition trumps ego every time).
I have no quarrel with the first definition you give, though to be honest I hadn't heard the term applied to conversation in the meeting as much as I had to sharing. But I see your point and it works for me.
The second one I think is defined by whether or not Joe is speaking directly to Jane during his share, that is, literally saying something like, "Well, Jane, what I think you should do is ..."
To me that is very much crosstalk.
If Joe shares, "I have some experience with X, and what worked for me is..." Or any form of speaking about his own experience with something, but not speaking to Jane, or giving advice or opinions in general, then no, I do not think that is cross talk. We do not share in a vacuum, and (for me) one of the more valuable things at meetings is to hear different experiences (key word: experiences, not opinions) on the various challenges to living sober and really "doing" AA on a daily basis.
So I guess to boil that down, sharing personal experience, and speaking only for yourself, on a topic or issue that someone has shared about is not crosstalk, but sharing directly to that person or offering specific advice to them at group level is crosstalk.
To give a rough little example:
Jane shares: "I am stuck on my 4th Step!"
Later in the meeting Joe shares: "Oh god, I was stuck on my 4th Step forever, but what helped me was to...".
That's not crosstalk.
But if Jane shares: "I am stuck on my 4th Step!" and then later in the meeting Joe shares "Jane, I had trouble with my 4th Step. Here's what you should do..."
That is crosstalk.
And I don't believe this is just a little word game, I think it really makes a difference in how safe a meeting may feel. (Of course people can play a game with that, pretending to speak for themselves but really speaking at or to someone... but honestly I don't see that much.)
In the happy anarchy that is AA we tend to stumble towards a balanced, neither-one-extreme-nor-the-other deal on almost everything in a meeting, eventually -- we are black-and-white people constantly learning to live in the shades of gray.
Which is good when it comes to sharing, because either extreme tends to make opening up in front of a group difficult and meetings very unsafe.
Years ago, in another city, I went regularly to a meeting that was close to my house. A very unhappy meeting, but it worked for my schedule (which was challenging) at the time, and I decided it would be interesting to kind of "tough it out." The issue of crosstalk was a HUGE hot button for this group, so much so that (I kid you not) when I dared to share I would look down at the floor or out the window so as not to imply I was speaking to or about anyone. Over time the meeting sort of broke down, since this angry stranglehold on what and how you could/should share made it nearly impossible to open up in any significant way.
On the other end of the scale I've been to meetings where crosstalk was not only allowed, it was encouraged, so much so that it was stated in the format, with a bit of a chip on the shoulder, a la "This meeting allows crosstalk and if you are not comfortable with that we invite you to find a meeting which better suits your comfort level" or some such. I guess they were from the like-it-or-lump-it school of recovery. (On a side note sometimes when I'm at a meeting which is not in my regular orbit and it's a little... err... 'creative' with how an AA meeting generally works, I wonder to myself if I would have been able to come back to AA if that had been my very first meeting. I have to let God sort all that out though, since it's Bleeding Deacon territory to run around policing how meetings should be based on the half-remembered you from your first few days sober).
The meetings which allowed/encouraged crosstalk seemed like the kind of place which would actually encourage people's ego to flourish more than anything; showing how smart you are, playing the guru, possibly getting a chuckle or two at someone's expense, holding forth and either lecturing or testifying, none of which is helpful for me personally to hear at a meeting. The meeting which had that in the format may still be going strong, but it wasn't one I went back to.
But what the nice gal in New York said is really the bottom line -- there's no true "Official" definition of crosstalk (though various Central Offices in different parts of the country have come up with their version of one, I know), and each meeting is left to define it and deal with it on their own.
Hope that helped.
Thanks very much for writing!