Renewing the Promise of Mensa (1980)
In a typically Mensan way, Mensa itself is an underachiever. The inherent idea of Mensa, which goes beyond the society’s constitutionally stated purposes and its possible role in the world at large, seems to offer a promise to its members. Though the terms of the promise may have yet to be crystallized, its reality is certain. Perhaps it found its best recent expression in the inaugural address of AMC chairman Gabriel Werba, who hopes "to stimulate within Mensa a climate of intellectual excitement." The hope acknowledges the fact: Mensa is not fulfilling that promise.
The essence of Mensa is the quality of the relationships it engenders among its members, and government is merely a means, not an end.
Exactly what is Mensa’s potential for its members, and how and why is it failing to realize its potential? How has it fallen short of the vision of its early leaders--a vision that is in some way renewed with every new member who enters, so long as we continue to project that vision as our identity? To what extent can we look to our leaders to guide us toward an accomplishment of our best hopes? And how can we individual members help Mensa to become an achiever by its own standard?
On March 16, 1980, five members of San Francisco Regional Mensa met for the better part of a day to discuss those questions. Called together by Darrell Bross, the group included Sander Rubin, JoAnn Malina, Cynthia Dutra, and Meredy Amyx, all of whom share a love of Mensa and a deep concern over the issues raised. This committee has no name and no official standing in Mensa, and yet its activities go to the very heart of Mensa’s existence.
Our first challenge was to define the question. We began by reviewing a selection of written materials, culled primarily from the Mensa Press and representing a span of more than ten years of Mensa’s history, that pointed to the problem and in some instances to possible solutions. An extensive and often profound exchange ensued, drawing upon the ideas and experiences of the five participants to analyze a nebulous body of uncertain assertions and ill-defined feelings. From the discussion emerged a preliminary formulation of Mensa’s present relationship to its potential.
What follows is a summary of the statements and hypotheses generated during the six-hour session and during subsequent communication among members of the committee. If not exhaustive and definitive, this formulation should at least furnish a foundation for further discussion among Mensans.
There is evidence of a disparity between the expectations of incoming members and the reality of their experience in Mensa, and there is evidence of a tendency among those who remain in Mensa to modify their expectations accordingly. The result is that a commitment to the promise of Mensa seldom governs the efforts and activities of those who are involved in the society. Any or all of the following may be contributing factors.
- The publicity brochure describes an ideal or idealized Mensa to which we rarely or never measure up, thus guaranteeing surprise, if not disappointment, to the majority of those responding to that publicity.
- Those who are actively involved in Mensa tend not to be those whose intellectual needs are satisfied in other areas of their lives; there is a reason--possibly to be found in the prevailing tone of frivolity--why such people who do join are generally not motivated to participate, to our collective loss, and why more such people do not join at all (might serious research disclose the reason?).
- Individuals conditioned throughout their lives outside Mensa to accept their places in any hierarchy and to be passive recipients of authority from above are not prepared at the outset to take an active role in a society of equals, and the superficial structure of Mensa reinforces the ordinary member’s sense of belonging at the bottom of a hierarchy.
- There is often a motivational discrepancy between affiliation with a group that has a high intellectual tone and desiring (or daring) to take part in such activities oneself; therefore attendance figures betray a preoccupation with social events over intellectual exchanges--a preoccupation that may not accurately reflect the preferences of the membership as a whole.
- Leaders in Mensa may by virtue of their place in the hierarchy become isolated from ordinary members, out of touch with their needs and expectations; they may also attach an inappropriate degree of importance to the maintenance and forms of political leadership at the expense of fidelity to the essential nature of the organization.
- Mensa as it is, even if not as advertised, offers enough satisfaction to a high proportion of its members that they may compromise or simply forget their initial expectations, even while retaining a lingering hunger for something more.
- Members who may strive to promote a reevaluation of priorities in Mensa run the risk of being misinterpreted, of having their words and actions perceived as threatening or disruptive to the established leadership; thus caution or fear may discourage such members from voicing legitimate concerns about the condition of the society.
This informal committee does not wish to detract in any way from what Mensa now is, but rather to help it progress toward the best that it can be. We believe that those who want to see Mensa fulfill its potential are responsible for working toward that end, whether or not they occupy any official position in Mensa’s government. We believe that the relationships of member to member and of member to group must not be overlooked in the process of building the organization; that, in the words of Sander Rubin (in his final report as AMC’s past chairman, May, 1979, Bulletin), "The essence of Mensa is the quality of the relationships it engenders among its members, and government is merely a means, not an end."
If we Mensans look toward our leaders for a prescription of what Mensa ought to be, we are misguided. Acknowledging the extent to which our leaders do influence the quality of membership, we must look toward ourselves for the standard by which that quality is to be measured. And we must see in our leaders a primary commitment not to the status quo but to the promise of Mensa as it touches each member.
It is the conviction of this committee that the first step toward a realization of Mensa’s potential must be a deep and thorough examination of such issues as have been brought forward here. We offer this summary of one discussion among concerned Mensans in the hope that other members may wish to pursue these questions themselves and that together we who share a personal interest in the promise of Mensa may actively contribute toward its fulfillment.
Written by Meredy Amyx on behalf of the committee of five for publication in the June, 1980, issue of InterLoc.