By Charles M. Pickett
In any organization there are members. In the VFW they are comrades, which sounds Bolshevicky (to borrow from Steinbeck). But in my brief time in the VFW, I recognize membership is qualified by participation:
- active members
- passive members
- supporting members
- inactive members
- members in good standing
- engaged members
- re-engaged members
- ghost members
- expiring members
- expired members
- deceased members
- lapsed members
- former members
- annual members
- life members
- legacy life members
- charter members
- chairmen, chairpersons
- committeemen, committeeperson
- and different job titles
If you have “active members” how to you then refer to “inactive members” without sounding judgemental or even bittter, as in “we have a lot of inactive members who don’t ever come down to the post and scrub the floor.” Because, in that one sentence, both groups come off as victims. The active member paid dues to scrub floors because nobody else will (victim/martyr/bitter). The inactive member is disparaged as unhelpful, less committed, and is regarded as being of little worth (victim/slander). Inactive means not engaging in or involving any or much physical activity, not working, basically lazy.
Engaged, in this instance, means to participate or become involved in, to establish a meaningful contact or connection with. The antonym is unengaged (not disengaged).
So what is the point of this little blog post?
How you refer to members might just define how you view the mission and purpose of the VFW.
- Active and inactive members are expected to work and sacrifice for the post and VFW programs.
- Engaged and unengaged members take advantage of the charitable and social opportunities the VFW post organizes.
Those two perspectives can translate to this:
- I’m not renewing my membership because all they want me to do is scrub the floor.
- I’m not renewing my membership because I couldn’t make any of the meetings or fundraisers last year.
- This inactive member sees VFW membership as toil. What has the VFW done for me?
- This unengaged member feels he wasn’t a good member. “I wasn’t around.”
- I have jack crap for the floor scrubbing scenario. Guilt and shame are not a way to build up camaraderie.
- The unengaged member can be turned or re-engaged. They can be reminded they are valuable members of the team because they have joined our ranks, paid their dues, and spread the good word about the VFW. “I’m a VFW member” is a strong statement in any community. Sure they couldn’t “take advantage of the fun social and charitable opportunities with their fellow veterans last year” but there will be other opportunities next year.
In other words, as I think and write, unengaged members are not lazy slackers. Perhaps they have night class every Tuesday night for the next three years and can’t make meetings. It’s the difference in “where have you been” to “we’re glad you could make it.” Comrades should see the VFW as an honor and an opportunity, even if they can’t or won’t participate. The majority of our members support the VFW in deeds (joining) and dollars (dues) by joining the ranks of American veterans in this great association. Considering the question from this perspective, all of our members should be viewed as “valuable” members.
As the number of living veterans dwindles, it is important to reconsider how we value or devalue participation in the VFW. Perhaps we should seek ways to engage or reengage our dwindling and increasingly “valuable” members.
To paraphrase, ‘organizations are defined by what they do, not what they say.’
But, how they say things will define who they are.