Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Toastmasters Dogma?

Last week, in my Toastmaster's Friday post, I mentioned 'Toastmaster's Dogma'. I had a few people ask what I meant by that, so this week, I'm going to delve into it.

First, let's define 'dogma'. At, it's first definition is: an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine, teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy. It is also defined as a belief that is settled with certainty and conviction. It's also, of course, a rather fun movie with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Dogma, in and of itself, is not a negative concept. It is often used negatively, usually in context with the abuse of principles and tenets within an organization. Dogma is repeatedly used in referring to cults and other oppressive, non-religious organizations with a strong, defined set of rules in its culture.

I deliberately used this word last week, despite its negative connotations, in concert with what is occasionally a negative practice - using Toastmaster's guidelines in an oppressive manner. That is, putting the culture of the organization ahead of the culture of the people in it. I had heard that an incoming coach was being a bit pushy when it came to applying TM standards. This didn't surprise me. After all, a coach typically is assigned because a club is NOT meeting standards, and in the instance, the club was hanging on by a thread.

Toastmasters is filled with a combination of rules, promises, guidelines, as well as traditions that are often confused for the previous three. As a large, worldwide organization that has existed for 80-plus years, this isn't surprising. For it to have lasted this long, in fact, it's most likely necessary.

How these rules, etc., are applied is determined by imperfect human beings. Some of us homo sapiens are more strict than others. From member to member, the firmness of these guidelines have more settings than a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed. As discussed last week, the result are a vast variety of club cultures.

Back to 'Toastmasters Dogma'. I believe the tenets of the organization are sound, and necessary to the overall health of the organization, and the individual clubs. I also believe there must be flexibility.

Copyright, most likely, Toastmaster International.

The dogma doesn't become negative until it infringes on the rights of an individual to say 'no' without recrimination. When one person or organization decides their goals are more important than their members goals (note: this works differently in a non-profit, volunteer run, personal development group than say, Microsoft). If I don't want to be your VP of Membership, it shouldn't mean you don't like me anymore. If my club doesn't want to be President's distinguished or send folks to training, it doesn't necessarily mean we need to be 'coached'. If we don't send a contestant to the Area Contest, it doesn't automatically mean we're a bad club.

Last night, I went back to the club in question from last weeks post. I still need a club to join, and this club fits my schedule and my geography. That, and I wanted to see if the 'Toastmasters Dogma' was as bad as I had been told by the incoming coach.

Turns out, they were back to deciding whether or not they were going to remain a club. The coach was there, but didn't inject himself into leading the discussion, but was more of a resource on technical questions. The club has let its dues lapse, so there is technically no club, but TI is giving them some time to regroup. They had 3 members there (ice kept at least 2 others home), the coach, and me. They needed three officer names to give TI, IF they were going to continue.

The new club leader, a fairly new TM, showed enthusiasm for both the club continuing, and for Toastmasters goals & ideals (or dogma, but with a more positive connotation?). He was going to be president. The second member wanted the club to continue, and was willing to be 'whatever' to fill the need. He's also very new to TM. The third member was the old president, who had to drop out for awhile due to commitments with his company (as in HIS company, not where he works). He seemed willing to be a member, but realized his limitations and stepped back from being an officer.

The club coach couldn't be an officer, because you can't be a coach and a member until you're a coach first, and you can't be a coach until the club actually exists and approves you as a coach. I went through this back in the Spring when I was going to be the coach. Complicated dogma, but reasonable.

That left me. Was I going to commit to this club? More importantly, COULD I commit to this club? I was thinking throughout the discussion about my time commitments, what I could to be a useful member, weighing the level of commitment from the folks there. I didn't want to start something that was just going to collapse in another few weeks.

By the end of the night, I was name Vice-President of Education as well as Public Relations, based on my experience with TM, the small size of the club (which means VPE won't be too tough, to start), and my strong desire to handle PR.

The club seems to be back in line with the 'dogma', in a very positive sense. The coach didn't seem overly dogmatic, and I'm fairly certain the five of us there can provide enough push and pull between dogma and humanity to keep the club lively but still effective. Hey, they may even meet the DCP requirements within a year, like the coach needs to get his credit.

But what's most important, in my eyes, is not that they become a great Toastmasters Club because the 'dogma' is met, but that the members realize how much better the overall experience can be when they don't ignore the 'dogma' altogether. We homo sapiens need structure, as long as the structure isn't used to crush us.

So there you go. That's what I think of 'Toastmaster Dogma'. It should neither be a toy poodle or a Doberman, but perhaps simply a Toastmaster's loyal friend. As far as 'dogma' itself? It's positivity or negativitiy is only what you make it.

By the way, if you're near Broomfield, CO, and want to visit a Toastmasters group back on the rise, come out to Solar Speak, 7:00 pm Thursdays at Sil Tehar Motors, 150 Alter St. Park below, go up the stairs on the side, enter and find the elevator in the back, and go to the second floor. We'll be happy to see you!


  1. About "dogma" and the TM Promise, when I printed it, I took out (should not have of course) the paragraph about "obeying to all TM rules" how can a new comer (even an experienced TM) know all of them? I did buy all the available books and manuals of Ralph Smedley, and I am more going after his spirit of experimentation. Encouragement, and feedback.

    Other "dogma" is that you should not use "bad" words at a TM meeting. I did use 2 "4 letter words" in a Humorous speech, and after laughing, they gave me the feedback not to use them "remain clean". I did use them after reading on the TMI Website that they do not regulate how one speaks in each club... but the "dogma" remains "we should speak clean" even when some things are said to provoke fun.

    Good luck with your club! VPE is the most difficult and more exciting job at the club!

  2. Julie70, there's a club in District2 that wouldn't mind having you. Rich mentioned last time - Frankly Speaking, where freedom of speech rules. At my very conservative club, I did Patton's speech for a project. The only person who took issue was the pacifist..



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