By Walter Boomsma
What does the Grange stand for? Or perhaps a more interesting question would be “What do people think the Grange stands for?”
Of course we can refer to our Declaration of Principles for an answer. While this is a noble task (and might be the basis for a lecturer’s program), we’ll get an official but somewhat conceptual understanding. I wanted something more basic and down to earth. Therefore, I decided to step outside the Grange Circle.
One perception I encountered seemed simplistic and to the point. It suggested that the Grange is “a fraternal organization… that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.” There’s a lot to like in that definition.
As with any organization that has a long history, there’s the opportunity for some blending of the past and present. Another description I encountered focused more on the historical outlook suggesting the Grange was founded “to advance methods of agriculture, as well as to promote the social and economic needs of farmers.”
Turning again to an official source, the preamble to the National Grange Constitution explains, “The ultimate object of this organization is for mutual instruction and protection, to lighten labor by diffusing a knowledge of its aims and purposes, to expand the mind by tracing the beautiful laws the Great Creator has established in the Universe, and to enlarge our views of creative wisdom and power.”
I’ll never forget one call I got from a client during my consulting career. He’d been to a conference over the weekend on the topic of creating organizational excellence. He called me Monday morning and said, “I’m really fired up and motivated. I want to make this organization into something great. But I’m sitting here at my desk and I don’t know what to do or where to start!”
So the pressing question might be how we take these somewhat lofty purposes and give them meaning in our daily lives. If we can’t translate those purposes into practice, we may find ourselves no longer relevant. It’s practice that gives purpose meaning.
To use an agricultural metaphor, we also have to be careful that we aren’t getting the cart ahead of the horse. In my brief research I did not encounter anything suggesting that the Grange stands for membership growth. I’m not, certainly, saying membership growth is not important. But it’s a cart that should naturally follow purpose. There are a few lines in the Declaration of Purposes that do include a subtle reference to membership growth.
“We propose meeting together, talking together, working together, and in general, acting together for our mutual protection and advancement. We shall constantly strive to secure harmony, good will, and brotherhood, and to make our Order perpetual. We shall earnestly endeavor to suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, all unhealthy rivalry and all selfish ambition. Faithful adherence to these principles will insure our mental, moral, social and material advancement.”
If we do those things outlined (meeting together, working together…), we “make our Order perpetual” by attracting like-minded and like-purposed folks.
If we did have a clearly defined purpose–one that can have different emphasis locally; that’s one of the beauties of a grassroots organization–and we were working within those principles… could we see that last sentence in declaration of principles being rewritten to read, “Faithful adherence to these principles will insure our mental, moral, social and material advancement as well as membership growth.”
Groucho Marx is often credited with saying he wouldn’t join an organization that would have him as a member. It’s a funny thought but it makes the point that one factor in people’s choices around affiliation and joining is about shared values. The early days of the Grange were quite heady and, most would agree, the explosive growth of the Grange was phenomenal. Certainly part of it was due to the passion of the founders and early leaders. But ultimately, people joined because of common purpose and values. And what Grangers did in practice reflected those values. They looked at what the Grange was trying to do and said, “Hey, I want to be part of that because I believe in it!”
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.