Anne Ford 2014-12-09 03:41:39
From paying fines for silly offenses to wearing Colonial-era hats, club members draw closer by embracing decades-long rituals and practices. When John Girvin has a meaningful life event to tell his fellow Lions about—a wedding anniversary, say, or a birth in the family—he doesn’t hunt down their email addresses, send a group text, or even post the news on Facebook. Instead, he tucks a $5 bill in his wallet and heads to his Lions meeting. For at least 30 years, maybe longer, Lions in Lexington, Kentucky, have reserved a portion of their weekly meeting for personal announcements. Any member who so desires can pay $5 for the privilege of stepping up to the microphone, ringing a bell and sharing his or her good news. (The occasional announcements that someone has finished paying for a child or grandchild’s college tuition are especially popular.) The proceeds go into the club’s charitable funds. If that sounds pretty simple as club traditions go, it is. “We collect a little bit of money, and everyone gets to toot their own horn, so to speak,” shrugs Girvin, president. “It’s not something that gums up too much time in the meeting, and it makes it interesting; you learn more about other people’s lives.” But don’t be fooled. The Lexington Lions’ bell-ringing tradition isn’t just a pleasant way to pass a few moments during meetings. The benefits it provides are bigger than one might believe. In preserving a formal but fun way to share personal news, the club is making sure that its members feel connected and valued. And anyone who’s ever felt truly valued by a group knows that that feeling makes it a lot more fun to participate. Just ask an expert. “Traditions are important, even essential, for strong groups,” says William Berkowitz, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. “Since the beginning of recorded history, traditions have been something that bind the members of a group together. Why should someone take the time after a busy day at work to go to a Lions meeting? Because they get some benefits from doing so, and one of those benefits is feeling that they belong, that they are connected to something larger than themselves.” In others words, making sure the members of your club are enthusiastic, committed and engaged can be as simple as, well, ringing a bell. The Lexington Lions Club is just one of many that have used the power of tradition to maintain both their membership rolls and their status as vigorous community participants. That’s the “highfalutin” take on traditions. To be less eloquent, traditions often are plain fun or silly, a kind of perpetual icebreaker to help members feel at ease, a reminder that while service is serious Lions are friends who like to have a good time and enjoy one another’s company. Just as simple as the Lexington Lions’ bell-ringing, but no less meaningful, is the longstanding tradition of the Poulsbo Noon Lions Club in Washington. Each week for at least 20 years, the club’s Tail Twister has selected a “mystery Lion.” Before the meeting begins, all members shake hands with each other. During the meeting the Tail Twister announces the identity of the mystery Lion. Anyone who has not shaken hands with that person must ’fess up and pay a fine of 25 cents into the club’s general fund. “It seems to promote a little bit of camaraderie,” says Tom Settle. “It gets people to talk to each other, and it makes sure that no one is ignored, especially the new members. I would encourage other clubs to do the same thing— anything to get people to recognize each other.” Another fine (no pun intended) club tradition comes from Portales, New Mexico, home of the Portales Lions. Since the early 1980s, says president Lonnie Berry, any club member who is quoted in the newspaper or appears on television without mentioning that he or she is a Lion is fined a grand $1. “It’s just a good-natured thing,” Berry says, “a way to encourage our members to promote their membership in the Lions.” It’s also a way to make sure that the club members themselves are constantly reminded of their identity as Lions (as well as to fatten the club’s administrative account a little bit). Berry himself found that out a few years ago when he wrote a recurring column for the local newspaper. “At the end of each and every article,” he smiles, “I always stated that I was a proud member of the Portales Lions Club.” Traditions can also facilitate connections on the club level. For example, the clubs of District 44 N of New Hampshire do an excellent job of keeping in touch with one another, thanks to a tradition that stretches back at least three decades—stealing. Donald Ager, secretary of the district’s Hillsboro Lions Club, explains: “Each club goes to visit another club, and they try to confiscate a piece of paraphernalia from that club and bring it back. The secretary of the club that was successful in getting something writes a letter to the club they got the material from and lets ‘em know that they can retrieve the item by making a return visitation.” Most often, he says, it’s the president’s gavel or the club bell that’s the first to get stolen, but on at least one occasion, a Lion made off with another club’s entire tabletop podium. On another, even more memorable occasion, a Lion who was in the process of making off with another club’s banner was picked up bodily and carried back into the clubhouse, banner and all. Not only is it immensely fun to get a little lightfingered, but the tradition has the obvious benefit of encouraging inter-club camaraderie as well. In addition, when two clubs get together, it gives each of them a chance to get new ideas, points out Ronald Landers, secretary of the Houston Spring Branch Lions Club of Texas. “A lot of times a club by itself can’t come up with all the ideas it needs,” he says. “If you visit another club, you find yourself saying, ‘Oh, we can try that fundraiser,’ or ‘We can try that service project.’” To that end, his club’s district, 2 S2, has a longstanding tradition that entails passing a “big ugly gavel” from club to club. “It’s big and ugly, that’s right,” Landers says with a grin in his voice. “The head of the gavel is about the size of a coffee can. What happens is, a club will go visit another club, and if the visiting club brings three or more members, it can claim the gavel. If the club has its own pin, they’ll attach it to the gavel. Sometimes it’s stolen every three or four months; sometimes it’s stolen every week.” Either way, the gavel tradition ensures that the district’s clubs stay connected and that their ideas stay fresh and new. Some traditions, meanwhile, serve as symbols of the Lions in the larger community. The Rising Sun Lions Club of Maryland, for example, uses a 20-foot-tall coffee pot— built by one of their members back in 1937—as a float in community parades. “Everyone recognizes it,” says Mary Beth Jackson, president. “Everyone knows it’s the Lions when they see the coffee pot.” And each year since 1954, the Lexington Lions of Massachusetts have honored an outstanding community leader on the third Monday in April by presenting him or her with a white tri-cornered hat, reminiscent of the sort worn in the time of the American Revolution. The tradition makes it clear to all that the Lions are a longtime fixture of the Lexington community, says club historian Doug Lucente. So how does a club that may be struggling with membership numbers or participation levels go about establishing the type of tradition that will help remedy the situation? Berkowitz, the expert, counsels patience. “Traditions aren’t something you can institute all at once, because by definition, a tradition takes time to sink in and get established,” he says. Second, realize that traditions are just one part of what it takes to ensure a club’s success. As Berkowitz adds, “Traditions aren’t the only thing that’s important in group maintenance. There are other factors that are effective in keeping people attached to groups, such as strong leadership, having a good organizational structure and having common tasks to do.” Finally, make sure that whatever tradition you implement helps your members feel valued and connected. Take the Danbury Lions of Connecticut: Since the late 1980s, they’ve planted a tree for each member of the club who passes away. The plantings take place as part of an annual ceremony. “The current president will read off the names of the members in attendance at the meeting, and a bell is rung once every time the person’s name is called,” says Keith Beaver. “The last names we call are the members who have passed away in the previous year. Obviously they’re not able to answer, so the club is put on notice that this member was not able to answer the call of the bell.” Sad though the ceremony is, it reminds the Lions in attendance that they are part of something bigger than themselves— an honorable service organization whose work will go on even after their death. Says Beaver, “I usually don’t get through it without crying.” Tail Twisting is a longstanding Lions tradition that increases club cohesion. Read more at lionmagazine.org. • In 1939, the tricks of Tail Twisters often “made members blush” (August 1939 LION). • Tail Twisting is not for everyone, but it’s still going strong today (March 2009).
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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