Nonetheless, it was time to do the thing. And, during a New Year’s cleaning event around my house, I happened upon my Toastmasters membership pin.
Toastmasters is a fraternal organization dedicated to helping people be better speakers and group leaders (I’m a member of club 5908). At its best, it teaches people to be better public speakers and better organizers (at its worst, it’s a tedious and ruined evening listening to terrible bores like me monopolize the conversation).
Self-deprecation aside, I am a pretty good speaker. I’ve had hundreds of hours of practice as a teacher and communicator. I joined because a friend of mine was interested; I stayed because I found my speaking skills got a lot better in a very short time. I continued in my membership well past the first year because I found that the leadership training was even better than the training in public speaking — how to evaluate, how to plan, how to organize yourself (yes, that’s my 2016 bullet journal under the pin), how to organize others, how to manage people, how to lead. It’s a pretty magical organization, despite the fact that you will not learn how to cast spells or establish a magic circle. You will learn how to cast a spell over your audience, though… and maybe persuade them to see things from your point of view. That’s pretty magical, even though it’s not either of the Druidic groups to which I belong.
It matters because leading people can go so terribly wrong. And while one person can accomplish much, it can be pretty off track of what everyone else is doing. I’ve written about this before, how one of the signs of the slow death of democracy is the death of our civic organizations. Small-scale civic organizations like the Freemasons and Toastmasters are where Americans learned how to be democratic, and to vote within rules and guidelines. It’s where they practiced making arguments and hearing other peoples’ arguments, and learning both to refute them and to accept them. Other people are annoying, yes — Sartre famously described Hell as other people in No Exit — but if you don’t hear or learn from other people, or learn to speak to other people with differing view points, you never learn to persuade them of anything.
This is not an academic exercise, either. The Occupy movement’s leaders also noted that they didn’t have much in the way of organizational skills that were genuinely democratic and rooted in parliamentary procedures, or helpful for working across diverse interests. Professions like lawyering are tremendously unbalanced, and becoming more so. Activist groups are often elitist and run by the college educated (and accomplish little), where civic organizations are open to a broader cross-section of people. We have genuine nut-cases running for political office in the United States right now (or worse, they’re genuinely power-hungry leaders willing to sound like nutcases for the sake of votes), and a damaged electorate that doesn’t know how to listen, doesn’t know how to speak for itself, and doesn’t know what a good or a bad argument sounds like.
And so I chose to charge my Toastmasters pin this morning: to make people notice it. To make people ask about it, and eager to learn more when I talk about it. To join my club or another club. To reinvigorate the skills of leadership and communication in my local community when I wear it.
You’ll notice that I’ve said a great deal about why I think it’s a good idea to join civic organizations like Toastmasters, and that I’m going to wear this pin to encourage you, readers, to join something like it — to learn skills, to build community and culture, to be part of the last homely house. But, as with many of these Days of Magic posts so far, I’ve not said much about how I went about doing it.
That’s because I’m showing you a mystery, folks. The inner workings of magic, the grimoiric words and totemic actions are sometimes important. But just as important is the why of what we do. For better or worse we are bound together in this common life of town and state and region and nation and planet. And some of the skills of magic can only be developed by acknowledging that other people matter — and then working with them to establish a common life of mutual respect and support.