How To Move Forward? Through Chaos To Action

Betty Bland – USA

To begin with a point about chaos, I unknowingly misstated some dates in my most recent report about the 2008 Adyar Convention (“Report from Adyar,” Quest, spring 2009). There were two deadlines for the 2008 election results to be turned in to the International Secretary. The first date, June 6, was the time by which all sections should have their votes in or they would be further solicited; the second date was the absolute deadline of June 28. A two-week extension, to July 12, was granted to the Indian Section, but they did not use it. This does not in any way alter my other observations or concerns about the need for reform.

Although no one is contesting the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, the problem remains that the machinations of the international elections are unsound.   For example, the international presidential contest in 1980, when Radha Burnier won over Rukmini Devi, was also fraught with differences of opinion.  In recent times, election procedures for International President have functioned smoothly because the candidate was uncontested.

The important issue now is to prepare with due diligence for the forthcoming election of a successor, whenever that may be.  The recent tempest is only a foretaste of that to come if we do not establish clear, unambiguous, and transparent procedures.  To this end, individual votes being valued so highly, we should have for every country a clearly established, certified membership roster of members eligible to vote.  Then each vote should be kept in a sealed envelope until checked against that register and counted in one central place with a number of tellers for each candidate present.  With today’s technology, there is no excuse for not making this a requirement for every section, without exception.

The proposals for Rule reforms that I put forth a year ago, with the exception of the procedure for electing a president, have stood the test of scrutiny, and should be brought before the General Council (GC).  In addition to a complete rewrite of election procedures, we need at the very least to follow Robert’s Rules of Order or some similar standard for parliamentary procedure.  This is critical so that everything is not left up to interpretation, such as what happened with the untimely termination of the vice president’s term, or the allowance of the president to vote twice, once as a member of the GC and once as the chair.  When a system does not work, it is time to fix it.

Members of the Society are widespread throughout all parts of the globe.  In order to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity we need a central anchor and meeting point where we can make contact.  For all of us who have related to Theosophy through a link with international headquarters at Adyar, Chennai, India, that lovely estate has become an identification point.   It provides a touchstone through which we all feel linked.

In maintaining that center point, it is necessary to establish some type of international governance.  Recognizing that each national Section is independent and functions autonomously, there are still a number of functions that have international applicability. These include: keeping the central site at Adyar functioning smoothly; hosting periodic gatherings; disseminating Theosophical teachings such as done by the Theosophical Publishing House; and connecting with and mediating for the local Sections around the world.

The management of these functions has slowly evolved from the 1890’s, and was relatively unknown in the last decades until the recent election controversies.  Very few of the General Secretaries of officially recognized Sections could travel to Adyar for the Annual meetings of the GC, traditionally held on Christmas day, so a system evolved of appointing a certain number of additional council members who might be more likely to be present.  As the number of Sections has declined, and the number of appointees increased, the latter has now become more than a third of the former. If we include the 3 ex-officio members (VP, Secretary, and Treasurer) who are approved by the GC on nomination of the President, then “appointees” equal nearly half the number of General Secretaries.  With a fluctuating group of General Secretaries who could attend, and the rest being appointees, the General Council basically has been a non-effectual entity.   Its most critical function, and that has not been often, is to nominate presidential candidates and approve appointments.

Instantaneous Internet communications and membership demographic changes have brought us to a tipping point as to the necessity for changes in the Rules by which the administration and General Council function.  Even the definition of a Section is out of date.  For example, Singapore with close to 300 members in one lodge is not considered a Section and thus has no voice in the GC, but other countries with just over 70 members distributed among 5 or 7 lodges (depending on the circumstance) are counted as official Sections and are fully represented.  In addition to Section definitions, we also need to guarantee verifiable membership rosters.  Now with enhanced data management and communication, every Section can be required to have centrally documented records that specify membership and voting eligibility.  And we need to move into the 21st century in our communications and information dissemination for the General Council members to communicate freely among themselves, for information dissemination and forums for the membership, and for a better use of technology for outreach activities.

Our Rules and procedures need a major overhaul.  In this effort we should be sure that this call for reform does not take on a flavor of partisanship, but is directed impartially for the good of the Society.

The chaos of discord can be the catalyst to move us forward.  Until the recent controversy, General Council members did not have regular communication among themselves, nor did the general membership have sufficient information or interest in the international affairs of the Society.  This is our opportunity to let the hurts and disappointments fall away, as we look for new and better ways to direct our affairs.

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