The Round Table
When the American flag was raised at Ground Zero in New York City shortly after the terrorist attack, I, along with many others, felt the growing lump in my throat and the wetness in my eyes. For I saw the symbol of our country being raised amidst the rubble of building and flesh and could feel the multiple images and emotions that the flag and that one image invoked.
The picture of the firefighters raising the American symbol was as vivid in my mind as the Marines raising the same symbol at Iwo Jima.
The power of the symbol. I have long thought that symbols play an important part in our everyday lives — emotionally, spiritually and intellectually; however, the picture of the American flag cemented those thoughts into a conviction.
Some time back, I started thinking about the Mensa symbol (logo) and what it signified to me. Although I feel a great deal of pride in being a member of Mensa, I am not emotionally moved by our logo. So I started doing some research on its history.
Browsing the website of Sander Rubin (Chairman of American Mensa, Ltd. 1969-1973), I happened upon an intriguing logo that was similar to our current one but with a slight modification — the table was round. Almost as soon as I read the article on Sander's site, I started to campaign for a change in the logo. With Sander's permission, I borrowed heavily from his history, his letters and his files. I had begun to feel a pride that I did not feel with our current logo.
The current logo was designed around 1970 (replacing our "original" logo, circa 1946, shown at the right, which depicted three individuals sitting around a "round table" with the "M" protruding at the bottom of the table). After the logo we now use had been selected and was in the process of being adopted, an Australian Mensan commented in print that the logo was not appropriate for a "Round Table" society. Sander, who was Chairman at the time, immediately recognized the appropriateness of that observation and wrote to Peter Devenish in England, who designed the current logo, asking whether he could modify his design. He did so, but it was way too late to implement the change (we had already printed brochures, stationery, etc.). Then Sander got the IGC (now the IBD) to pay Devenish a nominal sum (about 12£) for his design and to adopt it officially as an alternative. Mensa, at the time, was too poor and too disorganized to proceed with a conversion forthwith after printing the brochures, etc., and the present logo with a square table became entrenched.
We use the round-table metaphor every day when we describe our society in brochures, websites, our recruiting and even in our conversation. We just don't put it on our logo. The rounded table logo should require no complex legal maneuvering to begin using. It is close enough to the square logo for existing registration to offer protection.
The power of symbols and metaphor affects us all. Symbols are one of the most powerful communication tools ever invented. A symbol has complex meaning; it not only has a literal meaning, but additional meaning(s) far beyond the literal. Most significant symbols convey an indefinite range of meanings. For example, what different images come to mind when you see a Nazi swastika, a Confederate flag, a church cross, or even a Mercedes hood ornament?
Then what comes to mind when you see the Mensa logo? Indeed, it does not elicit forceful images, as do the above examples. Nor should it. But does it evoke the image of the round-table philosophy we refer to so frequently? Does it invoke our strength and unity on a worldwide scale — does it say that we are founded on fundamental principles such as respect, tolerance and appreciation of cultures and traditions of others?
When I first joined Mensa, new members received a yellow map pin to wear in one's lapel as a sign to other members that you were a member. I did not see this as much secretive as I did symbolic. I still have that pin today, and the images it conjures are more in tune with the round-table philosophy than those conjured by any logo pin sold in the Mensa Boutique.
The Round Table — What image(s) comes to your mind? I see a place where everyone in attendance sits in equality, each with vaguely similar yet distinct visions, where all are heard, yet none favored. A place to clarify rather than obscure. A place to simplify rather than complicate. A place where justice is performed and bias is absent. A place to build rather than to destroy. A place of integrity rather than corruption. A place of respect and pride rather than scorn. A place of character and moral excellence. A place of true stewardship. The table is the meaning. The table is both the metaphor and the philosophy.
The Round Table metaphor may be a key in helping to forge the unity and the direction we desire in our society. Symbols point to deeper truths that we usually experience as a culture.
The original vision of Mensa appears to have become obfuscated, ignored, or just lost amongst the rubble. We can at least get back on the right road by raising the flag and incorporating the round table in our logo.
— Don Taylor
[Author's Note: To let the AMC know how you feel about our logo, send your comments to Don Pendley, AMC Development Officer, at Development@us.mensa.org — D.T.]