Tuesday, October 11, 2022

On Investment, Inertia, And Leaving

One of the readily recurring points of discussion that Uisdean Ruadh and I have during our monthly dinners and post-dinner walks is fraternal organizations - specifically, the Catholic fraternal organization to which he has belonged for many years.  It is fascinating for me to hear as an outsider and probably allows him to talk about it to someone that has not "heard it already".

Among the many things we cover in our conversations - nothing secret or classified or course, just general  operational issues - is the involvement of men, or the lack thereof.  It is a thing that he has definitely noticed, and which, at least in our small town, is not just isolated to his group.  All of the "standard" fraternal orders that I knew growing up - the Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows, the Catholic Orders, this sort of thing -  are apparently suffering from membership declines.

Why is this, I asked him?  We talked through various issues - one thing that I found both telling and fascinating was that the family events are usually the best attended and with that younger crowd that is the needed demographic; no surprise in an age when we are trying to emphasize families and so many never seem to have enough time with them.  But at least one cause we came down to was simply the fact that men (in this case) are not as invested in the concept of a fraternal order as they used to be.

I use the word "investment" consciously, as it to me represents the core of the issue.  One can be interested in something or perhaps engaged by it, but interest and engagement pass with time.  Only investment - that we are sink time and energy (and possibly money) into something - is a true sign that something is actually important to someone.  Investment inherently drives interest levels and engagement, but it does not require either.  Investment gives one a stake in the thing at hand; it means we have decided that personally, this thing meets some need in our soul.  We have a stake in its success because at some level, it feeds or calls to something deep inside of us.

It is true in lots of things, of course.  In my own life, I can clearly see the difference between friendships I am invested in - like The Director and Uisdean Ruadh over forty years, for example - versus those that were only for a season and then vanished. I have seen in the marriages of others that have fallen apart because at some point the spouses became less invested in each other and the relationship than in other things or people - the comment "He/She does not understand me and is not in my world" is not just a tired cliché, it is actually based on the way these things often work.  Businesses are no better of course - the company that has employees invested in its outcome and the company that has employees as time markers is worlds apart (I have worked in both).

The difficulty is not for those that have lost their investment.  It is for those that are not conscious that others have lost the investment, that rely on the the inertia of the past and the presumed importance of the thing to carry it on.

There is a certain assumption that once something exists, it almost by default will exist for a very long time.  Some of that is human nature of course - we all like to believe we are building for the future, not just for a short period of time.  But another part of it is that because we see the importance of it, others will equally see the importance of it as well, that they will become "invested" and so perpetuate the thing.  Organizations, relationships, individuals, businesses - all come to rely on this almost instinctive and unquestioning "this really is the best thing" motif.  And thus, they are suddenly surprised when others are not willing to make the same investment that they are.  

But inertia and "because" are not reasons to continue a thing.

In thinking this through with Uisdean Ruadh, the one useful thing I could come up with is regularly asking the questions "Is this still worth investing in?"

It is a hard question of course, because it means that we as organizations or as individuals have to put off our assumptions and understandings and even views of the world and look at things critically. In a way, it is a form of zero sum budgeting:  "Knowing what I know now, would I invest in/do/create this thing now?"  If the answer is "No", why not?  Is it something that we can rectify or change?  

It is not harmful to suggest the same question for us as individuals as well.  The questions "Am I the sort of person that someone would want to invest in (in terms of friendship)?  Am I the sort of person my spouse would want to be with now because of choice, not inertia?" are not simply fear producing or ego-supporting questions, they reflect the desire for an accurate assessment of the relationship as it is, not as it was in the beginning or long ago.

These are hard questions.  Businesses in theory regularly ask them of themselves - the dreaded "employment survey" with the admonition "Be 100% totally honest", and the often resulting silence when the results come in because they do not conform with what the assumed vision is.

Am I suggesting that we as individuals or as organizations should be 100% guided by the opinions of others?  Of course not.  That would make us the equivalent of ships driven before a storm without sail or rudder.  There are founding and guiding principles that cannot and should not change.

But it is also a fair observation to note that people, even if they weigh otherwise, will always end up voting with their feet and their presence and their investment of time and talents.  In the end, the ones that are gob-smacked by this are not the ones who have done the leaving.  It is the ones remaining who are somehow "shocked" by this seemingly immediate abandonment.

If one looked more closely, one would see the seeds of the abandonment - the lack of investment - were there long before.  It was just that it chosen, by either willful looking away or unawareness, to be ignored or disregarded.

9 comments:

  1. Nylon125:44 AM

    Second to last paragraph..."even if they way..(weigh?)" If I'm wrong mea culpa TB. A thoughtful post today TB.

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    1. Nope! You are 100% correct Nylon12 - thank you and corrected (I did re-review this last night, but I fear I was rather tired).

      Thank you for the comment. Given this past weekend and the state of the world, there are a lot of heavy things on my mind.

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  2. I'll try to keep my response as short as possible but I have a feeling it will be a long one anyway.

    I am a member of the same organization as Uisdean Ruadh and it is painfully obvious that it is dying a slow death of starvation for new members. I have spent long hours by myself and with officers of various levels trying to determine causes and though I think I know them, the officers controlling such things don't want to hear them.

    When I joined many many years ago, it was a fraternal order and the focus was on socializing and helping Catholic charities. But that has long since gone away. Now they place so much importance on selling insurance and retaining members to prop up numbers, that it overwhelms even the social aspect I still find appealing. My position is to collect dues and to remove those who do not pay from our lists so that we don't have to pay their dues but receive nothing in return. For many many years, to remove someone who didn't want to remain part of the organization, required a difficult and convoluted 12 step process requiring many mailings, contacts, verifications, sign-offs, etc. and then if one completed all of those steps successfully, there was still a 50% chance that our state officials would deny them saying there was a termination freeze, or that we couldn't do that many of our members at once and had to parcel it off over many years like a tax write-off. As a result, we were ending up with rosters full of inactive members and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars annually to retain whom didn't pay us a dime in membership dues. This meant that most of our fundraising efforts were going to support people who never came to a meeting, helped out or even wanted to be contacted. All for the sake of retaining numbers for a report so they could say they were still growing.

    Likewise, we now get hammered all the time to buy insurance policies. If we get a new member, it includes questions on their insurance policies. All council rewards are based on insuring X amount of new members every year. While their insurance is reasonably priced, it is still somewhat off-putting to constantly have an insurance rep trying to make contact with you and sell you more insurance all the time.

    Finally, the younger generation doesn't need socialization in the form of organizations. They are completely comfortable chatting, Facetiming, Tweeting, etc. They don't get the same enjoyment I do from sitting around in a room of my "peers" catching up on the past month of everyone's activities. I use quotation marks around the word peers because when I joined 20+ years ago, I was the youngest person among the active members. That still hasn't changed. To make it even worse, I'm younger than most of the other members by another 20 years.

    This organization is already dead and not retrieving anymore nutrients from the vine. All that is left is for it to shrivel up and eventually fall to the ground. If there is ever a chance for the same group of gentlemen to leave this organization and still get together once a month for a few drinks and some socialization, I am all in on that. Otherwise, after they start dying off, my days in a fraternal Catholic organization are done.

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    1. Ed - Thanks for the commentary. Uisdean Ruadh has related a similar story to yours in terms of the relative clunkiness and non-modernity of their systems. As he was relating this, my question was the same as yours - "Why are they not modernizing?" I cannot really comment further as I am not a member, but it was surprising.

      The question of the younger generation not needing socialization in the form of organizations is an interesting one. I think it is partially true, but not completely. Yes, they are far more likely to be comfortable virtually - yet (my own children as an example), they still do go out and do things with groups. It is because they get something of out of group beyond just a sea of faces (thus, my comment about investing).

      Were any of the organizations serious about changing what seems to be an inevitable course, they would actually look at what they are doing - as you suggest. What is their core mission? Or maybe equally as importantly, is their core mission the right one?

      At some point there are not enough people to fill positions or even participate - this happened to the square dancing group my parents belonged to, not because of any sort of "mission creep" or organizational paralysis, simply that their members slowly aged out and and no younger people appeared to carry on the torch of the organization. My parents - some of the youngest - eventually inherited the signage; it is now attached as part of the barn, a memory of a now-forgotten age. I suspect in the next 15-20 years, many fraternal organizations will be in the same position.

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  3. Oh, I like that very much John. Need to think on that a while.

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  4. I've always thought that it's possible to tell a lot about a person by what they invest their time and money in. Lip service sounds good, but an actual investment of self reveals more than mere opinion.

    As to people losing interest in organizations, yes, that's a curious thing. The ones I've walked away from is because they decided to push a particular political point of view. By doing so, they are choosing to push people away. Then too, I wonder if two or so years of lockdowns had anything to do with it. I'm guessing many people learned that they could do without a lot of things that were previously deemed important.

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    1. Leigh, investment of time and money is always the indicator of what people actually value (he says, pondering what he says versus what he does). And put far more succinctly than an entire post.

      Like you, I have generally walked away from any organization (or business) that pushes a particular agenda. If the purpose is anything other than politics or social change, I can either go find an organization that actually does those things. I am here for the rabbits or role playing games or gardening or whatever the organization is actually about.

      Lockdowns did not help, I think, in two ways. As Ed posted above, it cemented for a number of people - younger is maybe an overgeneralization but not an inaccurate one - that they did not be to be in person to be a part of one (although in my response, I note that I do not consider this to be 100% true all the time; they still do get together). For less technologically savvy or (again, an overgeneralization) "older" people, it made the organization effectively non-extant (I say that, having seen it in person). And it completely hurt those organizations that were 100% dependent on actual physical interaction. People found out they could do other things with their time and that "thing that was critical" was really not.

      That said, I do wonder that coming out of everything, those that remain involved are actually more committed because, after two years of being away, they have physically chosen to return.

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  5. I am an introvert by nature, so I am content with extended periods of quiet solitude. There was a joke among friends that I had been preparing for the pandemic my entire life! That said, I believe we were created for relationships, whatever form that takes. And even though I can hunker down and stay home for days on end with little human contact (especially when my wife is traveling), I know, ultimately, it's not the healthiest way of life for me. So, even though I can go to church online, I go to church in person. I'm deliberate about seeking occasional interaction with other folks (although I don't have to be that intentional because my wife manages our social calendar). The fraternal organizations were never for me but, looking back, being in a fraternity in college would have probably done me a world of good. Both of my sons were part of one and even though I rolled my eyes at parts of it, they became friends with some quality men and those friendships remain to this day. As usual, you give us much to think about!

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    1. Bob, I was not much of a joiner in college or after, but those organizations I was involved with filled a space (for a time - oddly enough, I no longer speak to any of those people).

      Like you, I am an introvert and so there was little "hardship" in staying away from people. That said, I can see where it can become an issue - church is a great example. I can watch church from home, but that is not the same as being there in person.

      Fortunately I have my Iai class three days a week, which helps to fill the people void as well as the rabbit shelter. That and church when I am there pretty much fill that bucket up.

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