Friday, March 12, 2010

Org chart

At some point in your journey to adulthood, you reach the point where you look at the organizations adults belong to, and you wonder what any of them have to do with anything. There they are, with their slates of officer, their elections, their banquets, their treasurers and balance sheets, their conventions and conferences, just like it mattered. Like it had anything to do with the real world. Like anything changed because of the outcome of their parliamentary procedure.

And then you become an adult, and you realize: It does matter. Not on the outside, usually, but on the inside. And on the inside is where people live. The old joke about faculty politics being so contentious because of how little is at stake? Only true from an objective point of view. For the people that have to live in the institution that is formed by faculty politics, it matters a heck of a lot.

Part of the reason I enjoy being a part of the leadership in my little corner of the academy is that I flip back and forth from the not-mattering to the mattering quite adroitly. I understand that the question of who is appointed to what committee is not of moment to the larger sweep of history. But I also understand that it is of moment to the history and future of the organization ... and that people care about the organization, because they have chosen to live within it and to accept it as a constituent of their identities.

When I was a kid, my dad belonged to the local Kiwanis Club, and I vividly remember the one year he was the officer with the responsibility of organizing some regional convention. He put us kids to work putting together name tags and checking off lists. I'll never forget running across the name Orvilline Gumm on the registration roster, the wife of some Kiwanian who possessed, still to this day, the best name I've ever come across in the wild.

I didn't know what my dad did in the Kiwanis Club, other than have lunch with a lot of other men regularly, attend the travelogues at Memorial Auditorium that the group sponsored, and go to the national convention with Mom every year. But I think I know now why he worked for them and what he got out of it. The arcane ways of organizations, the procedures and the offices and the subcommittees -- they create the world, or a very small part of it, for some number of people who voluntarily agree to live some part of their life within it. It's no wonder that people actually care.

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