I’m about to launch into what amounts to a pep talk, and I hate pep talks.
They don’t work for me. The emotions fade quickly, and then I’m left with the same circumstances and no more solutions than I had before. I’m left even more cynical. Don’t give me a pile of shiny, trite mantras that don’t point me where to go next.
I’m not pretending to have all the answers here, so why am I even writing this? Because I see a lot that makes me feel positive about the future. You choose whether I’m being trite or not. If I get to be dismissive about empty motivational speeches, it’s only fair that I be equally dismissive toward the gloom and doom demotivational speeches many of us have been giving lately, even if unintentionally.
It’s a gloomy, drizzly morning here in Nashville, and I’m in a great mood. Maybe it’s because right now I’m putting together the convention issue, spending the day looking at pictures and recalling the sights and sounds of Anaheim. I’m recalling performances that inspired me, time I spent with some of the greatest people in the world, and the joy of watching what seems to be a younger mix every year lighting up in the lobbies and the stages, getting the same thrill the rest of us got when we discovered barbershop harmony.
Maybe it's because every day I get emails and phone calls from chapters and quartets that are doing something right—stuff they’re proud of. I'm never at a lack for material, only for places to put it all with limited time and resources.
Maybe my positive mood comes from continually running lists of hundreds of new men who join our chapters every month. (Of course, if you do the math, a slightly higher number die or do not renew.) But it occurs to me that even if we have a lot of chapters in a rut, we have A LOT of chapters that are not. And who decided that the struggling ones have to stay that way, that they're just hopeless?
Transitioning up instead of out
Believe me, I've got my eyes wide open to the nature of the challenges we face as a Society. But I don't buy the gloom and doom talk. That's not being a Pollyanna or putting my head in the sand. I really do see important changes in Society culture taking place right now, somewhat painful but necessary changes. I don’t see our Society dying, I don’t see us in our golden waning years. I see us in a transition stage.
Each of our chapters is perfectly aligned to get the results it is currently getting. So are our districts and Society structure. Our patterns and culture are delivering what they’re delivering, and we’ll have to do some things differently if we’re going to get better results. That much is clear. We’re in the painful “discovery” process. If our Society were a marriage, we’re getting counseling right now.
But you know what? This hand-wringing is a great sign that we all acknowledge that new actions are needed. THAT'S HUGE! Back to the marriage analogy, I’ve seen a lot of struggling marriages turn into fantastic ones. In most divorces I’ve seen, the common factor is that at least one of the partners just gave up. They were tired of the dysfunction, nothing they tried seemed to work, and they lost hope that this marriage would ever be what it once was. I know that’s an oversimplification of a very complicated, heart-breaking dynamic, so please, no offense intended. But by definition, a failed marriage is one in which at least one partner ceased to be committed (or never was committed) to the work of making the relationship work.
On the other hand, I read a study on struggling marriages in which the couples decided to stay together anyway. Five years later, 85% of those couples reported a much healthier and happier marriage. By the study’s measures, this group had the same degree of marital difficulty as the couples who chose to divorce. The only factor that separated the divorcing couples from the “struggling together” couples was the conscious decision of these unhappy couples to stick with their marriage anyway. (Might I add, these couples began the five-year period acknowledging that the relationship was struggling. That's better than being dysfunctional and not admitting it.)
Did the ones who stayed together have more hope? Did they have more maturity? Were they doing it for the kids? Were they really as dysfunctional as the ones who divorced? I don’t know. For whatever reason, they were more committed to making it work than they were to dissolving the marriage. And 85% of the time, things got markedly better with time. Think about that when it comes to your relationship with your chapter. Sometimes, what you're doing that "isn't working" may start to work, or you'll find a way to make it work. And if you really can't make it work, you're not being unfaithful or defeatist if you simply form a new chapter more to your liking.
Better times ahead
We’ve got something great that deserves preservation, and a lot of folks who want to preserve it. I’m spending time in meetings, on the blog and on the phone with people who are equally concerned about keeping harmony alive and thriving for future generations. Yes, there are often conflicting perspectives and priorities. I also see common causes and concerns and solutions we can all rally around. And I see a lot of good-hearted people who want to make things work. I don't believe the gloom and doom that suggests we can't.
If we stick with each other long enough, we’re going to figure this out, broader Society level and chapter by chapter, man by man. We don’t have to agree on everything, we don’t have to be perfect or even close to perfect to be happy and thriving. Most of us agree that certain things need to change. What a great first step! Now is the time for hope, the belief that you can make it work in your chapter, Society-wide, that the “magic” will return if it isn't there for you right now. We may have to change our expectations, give something to the relationship we're not currently giving. We’ll likely have to break some old habits. But I think we’ve got enough committed men to make this work. Man by man, chapter by chapter.
I give us better than an 85% chance of sunnier days ahead. I, for one, love this Society and I’m in it for the long haul. We make beautiful music together, and it’s a relationship that will continue on far into the future, even as others, as they always have, decide to give up because it's not worth it to them.
We may be calcified in some of our ways of thinking, we may always have our disagreements and divisions, but overall we're the right kind of men with the right kind of motives. I have no doubt we can fix what needs fixing and point ourselves in a more positive direction, man by man, chapter by chapter. I think our Society in a time of transition, and I think we have the ingredients to change into something stronger and better than ever ... if enough of us are committed to making it work.
How about you?