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TS - HPB&HSO Vision, Membership Decline, Governance?

Nov 01, 2008 05:01 PM
by MKR

The Vision of HPB & HSO:

Some leaders talk about moving the TS to 21st century, and it is worthwhile
to look at the "vision" of HPB & HSO who were closely advised by the Adepts
who are behind the Theosophical Movement. This needs to be looked at in the
context of the event surrounding the move of HPB & HSO to India. They came
to India, "poor and penniless", just driven by the total confidence they had
in the Adept Teachers and it was very tough times both with regard to living
and working conditions and having to put up with whatever food that was
available. In addition, they traveled a lot in India and especially HSO all
over the world as well. One can get an idea of the hardships they endured by
reading ODL. The result of the efforts was impressive growth of lodges and
thus membership.

One of the most unique aspects of TS is the total autonomy given to the
members, lodges and sections so long as they do not violate the three
objects. At first sight, for anyone trained in traditional organizational
structure, such an autonomous setup would be doomed to be a failure. The
question of the power and authority of HSO (who was President for Life) did
come up and it was clear that he left the lodges to function totally
autonomously and he clearly stated that his role is to mediate disputes
between sections when needed. The autonomous setup served well and TS grew
worldwide. This model has served well for more than a century.

Issue of Governance:

The timing and the players involved in bringing up the issue of "corporate"
"governance" need to be carefully examined. Firstly, the candidate nominated
by the players did not get elected in the direct election by TS members in
spite of attempts to portray Radha Burnier as sick both mentally and
physically even in the face of professional judgements of multiple
physicians that she is fit. No sooner was the election was over, the same
players in the defeated candidate camp, came up with the issue of
"governance" and the basic assumption was that the General Council (which
consists just a handful of members) is all powerful and can change the rules
at will including the disenfranchisement of members from directly voting for
the President. Also was the implicit assumption that all wisdom on TS
organization lies in a few members of the GC. It was a brilliantly planned
and executed plan aimed at seizing control by a few members of GC and make
the President a puppet in their hands. This was done in the greatest secrecy
and the plan was to get it approved in the upcoming GC meeting in December
2008 and take all of us by surprise. It was so secret that none at Wheaton
and Adyar (except GC members and International Secretary) knew about it. It
is the good luck of TS and its members, the details leaked out and with the
help of Internet learnt about them before the damage was done and members
woke up.

One of the key issues is, when such drastic steps are contemplated, there
should be simple explanation as to why the changes are necessary and how
they would affect the bottom line of TS i.e. its membership increase. The
issue of membership is discussed below.

Membership Growth:

In any organization, membership is a tangible measure of its health. In the
last couple of decades, there is a strange trend. The membership in India
has shown substantive growth while membership outside India is on rapid
decline. These are based on hard numbers and I think this is the most
important issue that we all need to consider and find out the causes and
possible cures to reverse the trend outside India. There is even a mention
that in one of the European Sections, not a single new lodge has been
chartered in the last 50 years, which is a record. Due to the autonomous
nature of the lodges and sections, the growth of members and lodges is
directly related to the enthusiasm and activities in the lodge level. So the
primary and urgent task facing the GC members is to address this issue and
not tweaking the rules and talking about governance theories and
application. No one has proven how the changing the rules at International
level is going to stem the tide of declining members. The only conclusion
one can reach is that it is a red herring to distract the attention of
members from the real issue and at the same time seize control of the office
of International President.

If only these clever, street smart, leaders would take the time to look at
what is going on in their backyards and see the problem in the backyards and
spend the time and energy in addressing the membership decline problem, a
lot of good could have come to TS.

Internet and its role to help TS:

It appears that when one gets the title as a member of the elite group -- GC
-- a blindness sets in with regard to use of Internet for multi-way
communication with members. While it is well known that GC members have
extensively used it for communication and planning within the elite group,
they do not seem to see Internet as a tool for multi-way communication.
Internet is here to stay and its power is growing. It will be here after all
of us are in Devachan.

Internet discussion forums are very unique in that the most active ones are
not censored by anyone; it is self-censoring (moderating) in that when
someone goes to extremes, other members are going to jump in and taken care
of it. Secondly, it is an unusually level playing field. We do not know
anything about the background of the participants, unless the participant
voluntarily discloses personal information, so when we interact, there is no
stereotyping bias based on race, religion, creed, gender, national origin,
color, belief, age, height, weight, color hair or no hair, educational
achievements, letters or number prefixes or suffixes, association with one
or more organizations or none, etc. So the message exchanges are not
distorted because of the above of the factors and hence, everyone is treated
like everyone else. So some of those who have been accustomed to power and
prestige and deference (on account of their positions or scholarship or
education) will suddenly find themselves treated as an ordinary individual
like everyone else. For some who have grown up in an environment which is
not like the above, it takes time to adjust and once the readjustment phase
is over, one sees the uniqueness.

Participants, all of whom participate at their own time, some round the
clock, and hence when any question is raised, many times within minutes one
gets a response possibly from other side of the globe. Many participants
will confirm that participation here for 3 years has provided them
information they never knew in 30 years.

The key role of Internet is information distribution and communication. In
this role, it protects the interests of the common man/woman, members and
organizations in that any detrimental information when leaks out, gets
distributed world-wide immediately and this protects the public interests.
TS and its members have seen this first hand since December 2007 when the
election started. This will continue and no amount of fighting Internet or
trying to move discussions to controlled environment is going to work.

Thanks to Eldon for this list and Anton, Erica, & Katinka for their
websites/blogs. They have protected the TS and theosophy from being harmed.
Still all of us need to be very vigilant lest some development is not picked
up timely before it leads to harm.

M K Ramadoss


Links for more info to keep uptodate on TS matters:




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