Monday, June 13, 2011

Mensa and the Larger World

This started life as a column for the local Mensa newsletter. I happen to be Member at Large for Metro Washington Mensa. Our group covers Washington, DC, the inner suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, but part of the group extends out to West Virginia. Believe it or not, you can reach West Virginia in a few hours of driving. OK, maybe not at rush hour. This column might have some interest for people even in other parts of the world.

Here's the column -- unedited.

During my time as Member at Large – and even before –I've participated a bit in discussions about Mensa, especially our Metro Washington section, and the larger world. Some of us have noticed that we don't seem to have as many Saturday evening parties as we once did. Other activities have scaled back. People we used to see often and know well we now see rarely or not at all.

Some of these things can be considered normal. Some bright young people join Mensa in hopes of finding a similarly bright mate. Even some older people become active in Mensa for similar reasons. Just because you are, for example, over 70, does not mean you have completely lost interest in romance, for example (using a gentle term). The actor Tony Randall had, by all reports, a long happy marriage with his first wife. She was not able to have children. She died. What did Tony do? He eventually remarried to a woman 50 years younger than him. He became a father for the first time at 75 – yes, 75. In any event, some of the people who join Mensa for such reasons will become less active with the larger group after having achieved their goal. There are other social reasons for joining Mensa that, once the need has been met, may lead to less activity in the larger group.

There are other things at work as well. Some times an organization is born and grows to be large and active, but then people drift away for other activities. People may join a ski club in their 20s or 30s, but move on to other kinds of groups (e.g., a sailing club) in their 40s and 50s. A teenager may join a model rocket club but move on to a professional society by the time they are 30. People in Mensa could drift off to a local astronomy club, an arts organization, a fraternal organization such as the Elks, and so forth. When things like this happen, the leadership of the organization in decline – as well as the active membership – may want to learn why such things are happening and, if they truly value the organization, work on changes that will make the organization healthy again.

Today, however, there are factors at work that are affecting too many independent groups. It doesn't seem to matter whether the group is a civic organization such as Rotary, a social organization such as Mensa, or even various religions. Membership and activity are declining in too many places.

Let's look at the lives of our members.

I have in my role as Member at Large attended both Gen X and Gen Y events. Gen Y people have sometimes raised the point that they are very busy – too busy. Demands of work or school or both are very high. Too many young people don't even have enough time for a good night's sleep. The organizations for which they work want not just 40 hours/week, but 60, 70, 80 – and sometimes even more. That kind of schedule crowds out other kinds of things. Recently in a Rutgers alumni magazine I read how young graduate students would put in the long hours in the library and laboratory working to advance science – and also some time at a second job to bring in some needed money. This isn't healthy for those young people or the larger world. It isn't even healthy for the school that demands such sacrifices. People get tired from too much work. They make mistakes . They fail to notice important things. There are many reasons why people used to work only 40 hours/week.

Some of our older members face different kinds of challenges. Large numbers of people in their 50s are losing their jobs. Some have put the number as high as 40%. – and that was before the economy got so bad. People in their 50s used to have some sort of financial freedom. They'd saved their entire lives. Their children were grown and out on their own. Between loss of work and helping children with bills from their schooling, a good bit of that financial freedom has been lost. When someone goes from traveling to the Annual Gathering, favorite Regional Gatherings – or trips to Europe – to worrying about finding odd jobs to put food on the table, don't expect nearly as much social activity during remaining free time – even if it very low cost. This doesn't even consider what such a life does to free time.

What can we do about this kind of thing? Some of you know I am active in a variety of groups. Last month I wrote about St. Mark's. Some of you have seen my art on display in various galleries and other exhibit spaces (think Artomatic). I've occasionally brought up professional groups with a technical focus. Then there is political activity. I know I am not the only MWM member active in politics. Mensans are brighter than most people. Most of us are better educated as well. We can speak up in public forums better than most people – at least quite of few of us can.

We can also learn more about this social problem. One place to start is Take Back Your Time, an organization with a website at

That's enough for now. I am quite willing to discuss this and related things at any of our events.