Dedicated to America’s favorite flower: the Rose!


ROSE Society Membership Issues

By Jim Delahanty


The signs have been there all along, but it is impossible to know exactly when the tipping point occurred. Perhaps it was when people disavowed a responsibility to respond to invitations to weddings or parties, requiring pre-paid stamped and addressed envelopes, which in turn were equally ignored. Perhaps it was when television sitcoms portrayed conversation as a series of one-liners fit for Borscht belt comedians. Or perhaps it was the disappearance of the concepts of honor or shame in our political class. But the net result seems to be a sea of individuals in public places, blithely ignoring those around them in the preoccupation with cell phones and ear buds.

It does not really matter what the venue is— whether walking in the mall, driving on the freeway, or waiting in an airport. Each individual is lost in the delight of starring in his or her own personal movie with all others pretty much cast as robotic extras.

What has the foregoing to do with rose society membership? Plenty. For the past few years, this retreat into self has yielded fewer and fewer members for volunteer organizations. Have you never been puzzled by the number of excellent articles on how to treat new members of rose societies and to recruit potential members? Why should it be necessary to tell people to treat newbies as they would want to be treated? Didn’t we all learn that in kindergarten? And the answer is that the unbought grace of social interaction has pretty well been lost in a succession of generations ever more individualized and ever more conscious of rights rather than duties.

And those trends run counter to the very existential imperatives of membership in a local society. Belonging to a rose society exemplifies the acknowledgement of something more important than the self; the purpose of a rose society is testimony to the enduring value of the rose in the lives of both individuals and the community.

This is one of the reasons that tax exemptions are extended to local societies—the belief that the existence and activities of that group bring otherwise unobtainable value to the community at large. Whether this commitment to the rose manifests itself in community outreach and education programs, maintenance of public rose gardens, competitive rose shows or simple displays of roses in celebration of their existence, the essence is the commitment to something outside the self.

Putting it bluntly: no one gets rich belonging to a rose society; there are no material rewards associated with that status. In fact, all of the effort and diligence bring only ephemeral or spiritual awards, if that. Much of the satisfaction of belonging to a rose society is purely internal to the person.

Now this does not mean that efforts to improve membership numbers are doomed to fail. But it does mean that perhaps our goals and expectations have to be re-framed in terms of that class of the population no longer concerned about getting things in life but in giving back to the community or to the world at large.

The notions of ever being a mass society group will fail in the light of a civilization focused on the here, the now and the personal. Perhaps people can only be enlisted in special one-time only projects like a garden renewal, or a beautification project, or some other function, but not for the duration and not for much more than that singular experience. Perhaps there will be a long term period in which successive generations individuate at the cost to the community of vibrant volunteer organizations.

Another impediment to rose society development is the growth of intolerance of political or cultural opinions that differ from one’s own. In the rose world this finds expression in the contempt and vilification of exhibitors versus non-exhibitors, those committed to organic horticultural practices versus those utilizing petrochemical remedies and practices, and those promoting modern versus Old Garden roses as the paradigms for rose development.

The curse of being an organization appealing to the widest possible range of members is that the extremes opt out early; there are those who will never belong to the American

Rose society so long as it promotes or accepts the support of any petrochemical manufacturer.

And there are those who think as my friend, Bob Martin, states: ‘An unsprayed garden is a diseased garden.’ can these two points of view co-exist? In another world, the answer would be that each respects the opinions of the other.

In the current world, however, those on one side of the issue regard those on the other side as polluters of the planet, endangers of the genetic inheritance of mankind, and eco-terrorists. On the other, hysteria, megalomania, and fruitcake are terms too freely disseminated. The difference is not just that the other side is wrong, but that it is criminally or psychotically wrong and co-existence is a matter of compromising with evil.

Science loses its independent value and simply becomes a weapon for use on one side or the other. So long as this strain (and stress) continue in our culture with its attendant rigidity, rose societies will be limited to those willing to mute the differences or associate only with like thinkers.

What is to be done about this? In terms of the larger problems of civic indifference and ideological intolerance, not much. But in terms of seeking out rose society members, perhaps the emphasis should be less on what is to be gained from rose society membership, but what is to be given.

The answer to our membership problems might lie in seeking out those who, in Dean Hole’s memorable phrase, ‘have beautiful roses in his heart.’

Rose societies cannot be built with those who worship lesser gods. Rose societies must be a retreat from the crass and contentious rather than an extension of that ugly world.

In short, membership drives must be directed to a small but delightful subset of humanity as currently expressed in our cultural memes.

Find those with roses in their hearts.

Jim Delahanty. “Civility”. The Pacific Rose. Editor’s Note: We received Jim’s last article just a few days prior to his passing and are honored to be able to publish it.

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