Jon Gruebele Regional Vice Chair Local Group Newsletter Articles from 2022
December 2022 – Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do?
I confess. I’m a very bad boy. One of Region 4’s local groups has a deadline to submit newsletter articles on the first of every month. It is now 13 hours and 26 minutes since the submission deadline has passed, and I’m just beginning to write mine. Worse, I e-mailed someone else to remind them of the deadline just days ago. While my article will be submitted an hour or so, it’ll still be late.
How tragic was my failure? Probably not that bad since you’re reading this. I may have nevertheless caused someone extra work to accommodate my tardiness. Not good, and I apologize. Fortunately, all my articles seem to be right around 500 words. Apparently, all Mensa-related topics fit precisely into just that size. The editor can slide this article into the usual space; hopefully, that won’t be too big a struggle.
I often hear that our dues are too high, and we should fix that by using volunteers instead of paid staff. In a professional environment, people are highly incentivized to do quality work on time. Volunteers may not be. So what if my newsletter article gets submitted a day late? Is anyone going to hold me accountable? I suppose someone may give me demerits that will live forever on my permanent record, but otherwise probably not. Sadly, volunteers don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.
People want changes to the national website. They point out that many Mensa members are IT professionals. Why can’t we use them to help? Aside from significant security concerns, many want to be paid for their work – which means they aren’t really volunteers. We pay the editor of the Bulletin. That was once a volunteer job. Couldn’t that work again? After all, our local group newsletters are published by volunteers. They generally do a terrific job. Unfortunately, that’s not universally true. Sometimes editions don’t come out on time – or at all.
While American Mensa has a robust strategy with detailed key initiatives, goals, and metrics, we struggle with execution. Even when we initiate projects, they are often late or fail to deliver the anticipated benefits. Accountability is nearly always absent.
Correcting this will require significant changes in how we approach things. To start, projects must be chartered with details about goals, scope, motivation, deliverables, deadlines, and team members. Priorities must be aligned across the organization to ensure that work will proceed smoothly.As we enter our new fiscal year, I’ll be working as Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee to help initiate improvements with the AMC. As I’ve noted before, change is hard, but we won’t change if we don’t start. Then maybe bad boys like me can learn to get their articles submitted on time.
November 2022 – I Want to Change, But Can’t
I’ve often wondered about how we do things:
And that’s just the start of my list. After recently reviewing a Governance Task Force report from 2010, I discovered people have been asking these questions for a long time. A few of the juicier quotes were:
When I ask “big picture” questions, I often hear that others also think things should change, but it would be impossible to change them. Change management professionals would agree that change is hard, but can be done. So why don’t we?
Part of the answer lies in some members who feel the AMC is somehow nefariously trying to implement diabolical secret plans to thwart progress, local group success, and world peace. As far as I can tell, all our AMC members just want the best for our organization. Yet this underlying theme persists, sometimes derailing common sense initiatives.
Often, member-initiated change fares better. One example was the elimination of the Nominating Committee, a team that would seek out candidates for national office. Another was a bylaws proposal to remove the past and past-past Chair from the AMC. During the same election, an AMC-initiated proposal to completely update our bylaws failed. This may have also had to do with the size of the change, as it seems smaller updates fare better than big ones.
The moral is that if you see something that needs changing, you may have more success initiating that than if the AMC did it. You could present the proposal at an Annual Meeting or qualify it via petition. I’m not ducking responsibility. If you have a good idea, please bring it to me and I’ll do what I can to make it happen.
Finally, in case you hadn’t heard, our Region 4 member Timmy King resigned as Chair of American Mensa for personal reasons. Please join me in thanking him for his contributions and wishing him and his family all the best.
October 2022 – Volunteers are How Much More Attractive?
Informational e-mails for Chicago’s Regional Gatherings have often included the undisputed facts that “volunteers have 50% more fun and are 33% more attractive.” Recently, the Board of Directors (AMC) Volunteerism Task force completed a year-long review of the topic and published their findings under the July AMC meeting documents. It was one of the best written Mensa reports I’ve seen in a long time, even if it didn’t specifically mention the “fun and attractive” statistics. Our thanks go to Region 4 member and AMC Communications Officer Robin Crawford along with her team for doing the work.
The document is 47 pages long so a summary won’t do it justice; nevertheless, I’ll highlight a few of their top recommendations. They first recommended adding volunteerism to the AMC strategic plan. We did that at the July Board meeting. They also suggested:
These ideas can be applied at all levels of our organization, especially with Local Groups where the most volunteer hours are contributed. They helped me see how we could improve from where we sometimes start:
OK it normally isn’t really that bad. I’ve personally feel richly rewarded for the volunteer work I’ve done, even if it hasn’t always gone perfectly. One of my first volunteer jobs was working registration at an Annual Gathering (AG). It was a blast talking to people I didn’t know and making friends with my fellow registration workers. Somehow working registration instantly made me all-knowing, so I spent time directing people to the restrooms. I would also patiently listen to complaints about random speaker topics, the air conditioning, and the lack of their favorite snacks in hospitality. Apparently handing out badges gives volunteers infinite authority over all aspects of the AG. Who knew?
I’ve rambled on long enough. Please take a look at the Volunteerism Task Force’s report. It’s worth a read – and maybe volunteer for something and automagically become better looking!
September 2022 – The Ombudsman. Or is it Ombudperson? Ombuds?
At our July 7 Board of Directors (AMC) meeting, six motions were proposed to update our bylaws regarding the National Ombudsman. Only one passed.
As a reminder, bylaws amendments can be proposed by:
Once submitted, proposals are voted on by the entire membership, and a two-thirds majority is required.
The proposal that passed would reduce the Ombudsman’s term of office from six years to three, the same as AMC officers. While the term lengths would be the same, they wouldn’t be concurrent.
The other five motions didn’t pass – at least not yet. We aren’t in a rush since the next election won’t be until 2024. There’s still time to get them right, assuming we want to approve them at all.
One was about gender-neutralizing the term “Ombudsman”. I’ve used it in this article because that’s what the bylaws currently say. The proposal was to change “Ombudsman” to “Ombudsperson”. After finalizing the agenda, we discovered that the preferred term is now “Ombuds”. Normally, the AMC could have amended the motion and approved it during the meeting. Because any proposed bylaws amendment must be in the written agenda, we had to defer the motion to another meeting.
Another motion proposed making Regional Ombudspersons eligible to serve as National Ombudsman and allowing them to vote in the election. Yet another provided for a temporary Ombudsperson to be appointed in case of vacancy or recusal.
The more controversial motions dealt with aspects of the Ombudsman’s role:
Mensa has had ongoing discussions about National Ombudsman’s role. Is it fundamentally to mediate member disputes, or are they somehow a watchdog rooting out allegedly nefarious AMC actions? If any of these motions eventually pass, the membership will decide which direction our organization should lean regarding the role of our National “Ombuds”.
August 2022 – Doing Terrific Mensa Stuff
I’m continually delighted by all the wonderful things that happen in Mensa, almost all of which are conceived and delivered entirely by our awesome volunteers. In Region 4, we have two major upcoming events:
Regional Gatherings are a mix of speakers, food, games, tournaments, and fun. Each is unique. HalloweeM, for example, is home to the pun-tastic costume contest that presents coveted awards for best pun and worst pun costumes. This has always puzzled me a bit, since “best pun” and “worst pun” are essentially the same thing. Whatever, we’d love to see you there!
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) can also be a big part of your membership experience. Nationally there are over 130 to choose from, and many Local Groups have their own. Recently Chicago’s Rainbow SIG again sponsored an entry in the annual Chicago Pride Parade.
The crowd was estimated to be over one million, and the local ABC television affiliate also aired the event. Over 50 Mensa members and supporters marched or rode on our float. The banners read “Diversity is Smart” and “Rainbow Mensans” along with a small Chicago Area Mensa marquee logo. Funding was provided by member donations and Chicago’s Good Old Burt Spain (GOBS) trust. This year, Cat Sterritt was the organizer-in-chief and did a terrific job of pulling it all together. It's not every day that Mensa's name gets in front of a million people in a very positive way.
Marching in the parade is also a darn good time. One would think that after hiking 4 miles along the parade route, one's feet would be the body part that hurts the most. Not for me: it's my face that hurts the most. Try constantly smiling for several hours and you'll see what I mean. The energy from the crowd is amazing.As I write this, I’m preparing to travel to our Annual Gathering (AG) in Sparks, NV. I haven’t missed an AG in many years and am eagerly anticipating the many offerings. Being on the Board of Directors (AMC), I spend time in business meetings and our Region 4 Meet & Greet, but I’ll have a little time to sample some of the other proceedings. I’m also looking forward to the “Wild Mustang” tour. If you’ll be there, please be sure to say hello.
July 2022 – Board of Directors (AMC) Update
We held our regular AMC meeting on March 19 at our new headquarters in Hurst, TX. The meeting minutes were 37 pages long, so we talked about a lot of stuff. I’ve summarized the more important points below:
Our next AMC meeting will be at the Annual Gathering in Sparks, NV on Thursday July 7th. Members are welcome to attend and optionally address the AMC. We’ll also have our Annual Business Meeting on Friday July 8th. There, our previous year’s results are presented. Members can also address the meeting and submit bylaws proposals. If approved, bylaws changes would be voted on by the entire membership during our next elections in 2024. I hope to see you there.
June 2022 – Having Fun with Mensa
Surveys show most members don’t participate in Mensa activities, preferring to get their entertainment from the Bulletin and reading wonderful articles in their Local Group newsletters – maybe even this column? OK, perhaps not that.
Over a span of just over three months, I personally intend to attend:
Sadly I won’t have time to attend the Colloquium on “Giftedness Across the Lifespan”, not to mention a whole bunch of other local group events including those posted on the national website. Really, there’s only so much fun one person can have.
Many of us also read Mensa’s electronic offerings. To see what’s available, you can review your communications preferences on the national website by navigating to My Mensa -> My Membership Profile -> My Communications Preferences. Among others, I enjoy Mensa Brainwave. It offers news about interesting scientific developments. Some people love seeing content posted in Mensa Connect, others not so much. In each of your subscribed Connect communities, you can elect to get notifications every time something is posted, a daily digest, or turn off notifications entirely.
Hopefully at least something here will prompt you to have more fun with Mensa, and I hope to have you join us at an event soon!
May 2022 – Acts Inimical
At this year’s Academy Awards, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. Had one of our members slapped someone at a Mensa event, the police could have been called. We could have also initiated a hearing to determine if that constituted an act inimical to Mensa.
Like the U.S. legal system, Mensa’s hearings process is adversarial. First someone needs to bring a complaint. Then a regional or national hearing may be held where both the complainant and respondent present their viewpoints. An impartial panel decides if sufficient evidence exists to sustain the complaint, and if so, which sanctions to impose. If expulsion is recommended, the Board of Directors (AMC) must concur.
It’s an imperfect system, although I haven’t seen a better suggestion. While it protects the accused’s rights, it may force a victim to relive a very unpleasant event. The victim may therefore choose not to initiate a hearing. Even if others bring charges on the victim’s behalf, getting sanctions may be difficult without the victim’s cooperation. That leaves the perpetrator to potentially reoffend.
Our Actions Still in Effect (ASIEs) list only nine members who have been expelled over the years. While not every bad act merits expulsion, that number seems low. Historically, we – along with much of society – have collectively tolerated bad behavior. The cliché of a male boss chasing a female secretary around a desk was a “joke”, not something to be condemned. Times have changed. Such behavior was never OK and must not be tolerated.
At a recent St. Louis Area Mensa monthly meeting, representatives from Alcoholics Anonymous spoke about their organization. I asked what they did about people who did bad things. Interestingly, they have no formal mechanism to kick anyone out of the organization. Someone stealing money from the coffee fund might instead be shunned or at least subjected to a very pointed discussion.
Perhaps we can learn something from them. If you see something, say something. If you are uncomfortable confronting someone directly, speak with an event host or your Local Group leadership. I’m not shy about protecting our members either, and my contact information is below. We need to cultivate a culture where people feel welcomed; accordingly, our national events and many Regional Gatherings now have formal and enforceable codes of conduct.
We continue to debate other aspects of member safety. What, for example, should happen if a member is convicted of a violent criminal offense? Which specific offenses might disqualify someone from membership? We have members whose offenses were many years ago and who have apparently been rehabilitated. Should they be refused membership? What if a conviction is overturned on appeal? Should becoming a member require a background check along with an IQ test?
None of these are easy questions. If anyone has answers, I’m all ears.
April 2022 – More Complaints
In my June, 2019 newsletter article, I wrote about people who complain – and why I liked to hear those complaints. People who complain still care about Mensa and want to make it better.
Unfortunately, most complaints come in the form of: “Somebody should do something about this!” “Somebody”, of course, means: “not me”.
There may well be good reasons for this. Some people may not have the time or skills to help. They may perceive – perhaps incorrectly – that because they’re not in a leadership role, they can’t make changes. They may have tried to help in the past but were met with resistance. We’ve all heard the excuses from “We’ve always done it this way” to “That’ll never work” – among many others.
If you have a complaint about Mensa, instead of dashing off a scathing social media post or e-mail, consider:
There are many other possibilities, so get creative! To misquote John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what Mensa can do for you; do something for Mensa.” Volunteers are much happier with their Mensa experience – and themselves.
Finally, when you see a volunteer, please take a moment to say “thank you”. Toward that end, I’d like to say “thanks” to all our volunteers in Region 4 and specifically to:
And of course all the board members, editors, proctors, testing coordinators, membership officers, treasurers, secretaries, ombudspeople, webmasters, scholarship chairs, area coordinators, and everyone that helps in other ways.
Sadly there isn’t enough space to name you all, so if you don’t see your name, please know that I’m grateful for what you do too.
March 2022 – Mensa Trivia
Because the CultureQuest® trivia competition is coming, below are a few Mensa related trivia questions as a warmup.
If you haven’t participated in CultureQuest® before, give it a try. Teams of up to five people meet virtually and answer pesky questions about things that don’t matter. It’s a lot of fun – and rather humbling. Apparently, there are many things I don’t know. Registration closes March 31st and the event is on Sunday April 24th at 4:00 PM Eastern, 3:00 PM Central. The top teams get cash prizes.
P.S. CultureQuest® is more fun than this quiz was!
February 2022 – How the Sausage is Made
Definition: com·mit·tee. noun. /kə-ˈmi-tē/. The place where good ideas go to die.
“I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
Change in American Mensa comes in many ways. Some is unofficial, simply the product of changes in society and reflected in our organization. Behavior that once may have been tolerated is now roundly condemned. Some egregious enough can become grounds for disciplinary hearings or even expulsion from Mensa.
Officially, changes to Mensa’s international constitution may impose new requirements on American Mensa. Changing American Mensa’s bylaws requires a two-thirds affirmative vote of our membership at a special or regular election. Putting a bylaws change on the ballot can happen via:
Changing the International Constitution and our bylaws are intentionally difficult and hence are generally only used for high level issues. Changes to our Actions Still in Effect (ASIEs) are much easier. Here, all that’s needed is a majority vote by the AMC at a scheduled meeting. Any AMC member – including appointed officers – can write a motion. If a seconder approves, the motion will be put on the agenda. Then voting AMC members can approve it, defeat it, or send it to a committee for further consideration.
Interestingly, proposals made by individual AMC members tend to fare poorly compared to proposals coming from committees. Perhaps that’s because committees have multiple people considering potential ramifications before they’re submitted. Sometimes the AMC will find a motion objectionable and attempt to “fix” it by amending the language during the meeting. This seldom goes well.
Bottom line, working through committees is the best way to accomplish ASIE-level change. I currently participate on three: Strategic Planning (as Chair), Name & Logo, and Research Review. I’ve written about the first two in previous newsletter columns. Research Review was established to consider proposals – usually from academics or governmental agencies – to use our members for studies. One recent example was a state wanting to survey Mensa members about gifted education. We do have exacting criteria to approve these proposals, including confidentiality and adherence to the Federal Policy for Protection of Human Subjects.
We currently have 28 volunteer committees and a couple of task forces helping to make Mensa better. Some work with an appointed officer (such as Marketing); many also work with the National Office. A listing of the committees is on the website under Lead -> Board of Directors (AMC) -> Committees. Members are always welcome to apply to help with these teams.
January 2022 – Yellow Postcards
I have seen many members’ comments about Mensa’s oral history project. Some were favorable; many were not.
The project was initiated by our national office. American Mensa’s former Chair and the History Committee Chair were consulted although didn’t make the final decision. I and the other AMC members were not consulted. We were only informed that a third-party company, PCI, would be collecting members’ stories. They would sell the compilation to recoup their investment. Mensa would neither pay nor receive money. PCI apparently does this work for many organizations.
Unfortunately, many members were surprised to receive PCI’s solicitation. The e-mails and postcards seemed scammy. After the initial outcry, the national office worked with PCI to improve the wording for subsequent communications.
Many members felt Mensa ignored their communication preference set on the national website to exclude them from external promotions. Initially, we were told this was a “project” that would benefit members, not an external “promotion”. Given that PCI was selling something, that’s a distinction without a difference. We should respect members’ preferences. Belatedly, a separate preference to opt out of oral history solicitations was added to the website.
Here were the early November statistics:
At the August AMC meeting, our Executive Director expressed his deep regret for how the project was rolled out and apologized for our members’ frustration. He worked with Communications Officer Robin Crawford to craft corrective motions for the AMC to consider. Concerns about some wording prompted us to refer them to our Membership Committee. They should submit updated motions for our March meeting. Meanwhile, we have requested external projects be put on hold.
We must still partner with outside organizations to keep dues affordable. If you’re over 50, you can join AARP for $12 yearly. They accomplish that by getting revenue from companies selling everything from life insurance to cruises. We don’t want to turn Mensa into the marketing machine that AARP is, but $12/year dues sounds a lot better than $79/year. Perhaps there’s a happy medium somewhere?
Our other challenge remains – as always – communication. This project was widely advertised through advance e-mails, inclusion in Mensa Wired and Mensa Leader e-newsletters, and even in the Bulletin. Yet people still said they hadn’t heard about it when they started getting postcards. I’m not sure there is a solution to that one, but ideas are always welcome.
Feedback? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone/text at +1 309 693 1359. Region 4’s Facebook group is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/americanmensaregion4.
Copyright © 2022 Jon W. Gruebele. All Rights Reserved.