Re: Membership decline
Dec 30, 1999 05:27 AM
by Bart Lidofsky
I certainly like your concept of keeping it relevant to day-to-day
life. If you want to combine that with the 19th century literature, look
at Michael Gomes' collection of HPB articles: HPB Teaches. Most of these
articles make a good STARTING POINT for a talk.
> Our only experiences with the official TS at the time were, unfortunately
> terrible. Or rather, were fairly normal, but in such marked contrast with
> what we were trying to build that difference seemd terrible. In one
> instance, we made the mistake of saying we'd show our Lodge a videotape
> someone at Wheaton had made about the principles of Theosophy or something.
> Serious mistake - after what these people were used to, watching a tape of a
> guy speaking on a TV in a dull, monotone voice, and referencing a "workbook"
> *literally* put several people to sleep. Bad mistake - we stopped it before
> it was over, but it took a couple of meetings ... and a sincere promise
> never to subject them to such a thing again ... to recover the energy the
> group was used to .
I find that most of the Wheaton tapes are deadly dull. However, they
are presentable if you have a host who has viewed (and likes) the tape,
and speaks before the tape starts, giving points to look for, maybe
during an intermission, and leads a discussion at the end. And that
requires the host viewing a LOT of tapes to find the few viewable tapes
in the bunch.
> But the worst incident was a National Speaker.
When I read the first part, and this, I saw exactly what happened
coming. You had an unusual system, and you were not familiar with the
National Speaker system, and that is a formula for the disaster that
took place. I will quote you on what happened, and give an explanation
which, one hopes, can prevent this from happening to a similar group
trying to form:
> (Remember, most of these people knew of Theosophy from what *we* were doing
> ...). I won't mention the name - she is quite well known - but she arrived
> (we had rented a room in a larger city and invited everyone - probably 20
> people or so made an hour's drive to get there) ... she started in on a talk
> about a "mirror". Telling people to think about when they looked at
> themselves in the mirror that morning. Then suggesting that the *physical*
> body might not be everything, that there was something perhaps *deeper*
> behind that image. I saw our President's mouth drop open - and I fear I must
> have looked like a gut-shot panther. The group at first was polite, giving
> her the benefit of the doubt, thinking that she *must* be leading to
> something, that it just wasn't *possible* that she was actually talking down
> to them *that* badly,
Without even being there I can assure you that she was.
> that an experienced speaker simply could not be *that*
> totally oblivious to her audience.
Most National Speakers are chosen because of the time on their hands
and experience presenting their topics. Offhand, I can only think of
about a few who can really think on their feet, and change a talk to
suit an unexpected audience. More on this later...
> Imagine a junior high school teacher in a
> room of college students, seemingly utterly unaware that she was teaching
> fractions to a room of people that were already through a couple of years of
> calculus ... *that* is what the room felt like. By the end of it I think one
> of our more vocal members just outright said "just who the hell do you think
> you *are*?!".
I think you have it exactly right. But the misunderstanding was on both
ends. And, short of getting one of those National Speakers who CAN
adjust to an audience smoothly (John Algeo, Ed Abdill, Ruben Cabigting,
and Stephen Hoeller come to mind immediately), I can't think of any way
you could have avoided the incident.
National Speakers have two sets of talks; public and members. The
public talks assume an audience with an interest in the esoteric, but
little or no knowledge of Theosophy; in other words "Junior High School
students". The members' talks both encourage more participation from the
audience, and assume "college students". Because many people who were
effectively members did not in fact join, the speaker gave what she
deemed a public talk, getting exactly the results you saw. If she had
given a members' talk, things would have worked out much better. But
since this was your first experience, you had no way of knowing that you
were supposed to tell her this.
> I am not saying that the particular way we did it is the way it is supposed
> to be done ... only that it *worked*,
John Algeo once said something very much to the point. He said that if,
whenever someone asks you, "What is Theosophy?", you give the same
answer, then you had better rethink your definition of Theosophy. The
methods to be used are whatever is best for the audience at hand.
Methods that fly in New York might be disasterous in Colorado, and vice
versa. Which is to say, that in my opinion at least, you did things the
way they are "supposed to be done", in that you presented the material
in a way that attracted the people in your area.
What you wrote is actually EXTREMELY useful to me, and I am saving a
copy. Although I am currently tied up with a number of tasks (not the
least of which is that my wife and I, having tired of being resident
volunteers at the New York Lodge, are moving out, and cutting out our
janitorial tasks here), I am planning to put together for the Northeast
Federation something akin to the National Speaker program, but more of a
clearing house of collecting people willing to give talks and groups
that want to hear people from other groups. The information in your
letter will prevent me from making the same mistakes that National made
with you, and, I hope, create a value to belonging to a national as well
as local organization.
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