I’ve gone on record saying that I would quit my membership of the TS if the proposal I discussed the other day goes through. In this post I will explain why it matters so much to me that I would give up my membership of an organisation I have put so much time and energy into.
Any organisation has two main forces working on it: conservative and change.
There is the conservative force: there is a value to keeping to what’s tested and has always worked.
There is a force for change: there is something to be said for changing with the times and responding to what is happening today. One reason why I’m not unhappy with the presidential term of seven years is that this means that we don’t get the mess of elections every four or five years. A lot of emotional energy gets invested in such elections and it isn’t necessary to get into that too often in a spiritual organisation. Nothing wrong with stability. Let each officer and member just do their job, study theosophy, teach theosophy, reach out to understand other spiritual teachings etc.
On the other hand every once in a while any organisation has to face up to the changing world. Spiritual organizations are, more than other organizations, likely to get insulated from the world. I think this is one reason why the Maha Chohan did not want ’saleried priests’. Salaried priests don’t feel the pressures of modern life the way business people or people in jobs and divorces do.
Elections are the chance for the candidates (assuming there are at least two of those) to convince the voters – that is the members of the TS – that they have what it takes to carry the TS on into the next decade or so. They will be more convincing at that if they are in touch with what the members want. In fact, an election in which there are several candidates, is the one moment when the top has to reach out to the members on their terms. On most other occasions, our leaders are mostly busy lecturing, writing articles, teaching theosophy and doing whatever administrative work needs done.
There is nothing wrong with any of that – but it does not necessarily require listening to the members. Of course the lectures would get better if they did listen to the members, but that’s another story.
I would go one step further.
As I said: there are two principle forces: one dynamic, the other conservative. Both are necessary. If it is too easy for newcomers to hijack an organisation, its stability is threatened. The money members have accumulated for the organisation could be squandered or even stolen. The publications ruined and reputations lost. This is not just theory: it happens. Lodges tend to be relatively easy pray, but then most lodges don’t have a lot of money so all that is lost is the group and reputation – nothing financial need fall into the wrong hands. (Yes there are exceptions, but bear with me)
On the other hand, change is also a helpful force in nature. An organisation that resists change too much risks simply dying. It could die quickly or slowly. One way to let an organisation die is to discourage members with ideas from contributing. There is however an even worse pattern: if members can not honestly tell people – hey, join the lodge, it will be fun and interesting, I can really recommend the TS!
Then the work is dead. It may dredge on as others hold the ford and keep things going, but when one can no longer recommend the work, how can one expect smart and interesting folk to join?
If the TS president were to get elected by the officials of the TS – which is what the aforementioned proposal and all variations thereof that John Algeo has hinted at mean – The members have no direct link with the president any more. The officials usually stand further away from ‘current society’ – after all, they may not get payed in most cases, but they are full time theosophists. So the officials may know the organisation best, but they do not know the world in which we live best. It’s in the chemistry between the members and the organisation that the right changes can occur. Take that away and the TS will have few mechanisms for change left.
That is why I would leave the TS if direct election of the TS president by the members were abolished. Because if this gets approved by the General Council, I can no longer recommend the TS to my spiritually interested acquaintances. While this is going on I also have trouble doing so, but I am willing to wait it out for now.
What can you do? Please tell your representative in the General Council how you feel (that would be the general secretary of your section). If feasible in your country, try and get a members meeting organized where the members can vote on this proposal.