Re-envisioning the O.T.O. in a pandemic – part 1

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The problem

No one joined the Order because we have great classes on Google Meet. Our core services of initiating and celebrating the mass are limited or unavailable. Our core values of fraternity and hospitality are challenged by social distancing.

Our needs for connection, belonging, and purpose don’t disappear simply because we can’t interact in our usual ways.

The doing

12 local leaders came together for a 3-hour workshop. We time-boxed to 3 hours but could have easily used another hour. Nonetheless, the creativity and ideas that came out of the workshop were inspiring, and there may be additional future opportunities.

The process

Design thinking is a process developed at Stanford University’s d.school and uses empathy to help understand needs. Once we have a deep understanding of the problems, it becomes easier to challenge assumptions and find breakthrough solutions.

We used a modified version of “classic” design thinking, with the following steps.

Step 1. Empathize – design thinking has its foundations in empathy. People paired off and interviewed each other. Interviewers were encouraged to be curious and ask, “why” as much as a child would. Interviewers dig for stories and emotional content.

Step 2. Define – needs are uncovered in step 1. This steps starts driving towards solutions by:

  • questioning assumptions
  • asking how to amplify whatever good is currently happening
  • asking how to remove or decrease the bad
  • identify unexpected resources
  • create analogies from identified needs or contexts

Step 3. Ideate – in this step, participants work to identify solutions. We use sketching as it frees up parts of the mind that are not as available when using words.

Step 4. Testing – design thinking is a flexible process and due to time constraints, we tested by sharing with the entire group.

Themes

We had some high level themes for identified issues.

  • leadership burnout
  • physical and mental health challenges due directly and indirectly to the pandemic
  • struggles with engagement and turnout for webinars
  • social needs are hard to fulfil
  • spiritual needs are mostly absent from current services

This article will focus on identified problems. A follow up article will share the solutions that the group found.

Burnout.

Local leadership is stressed, lacking sustenance, and is at risk of burnout.

Each of us stays in the Order for different reasons. What sustains and nurtures us are questions we each need to answer for ourselves. But when the entire infrastructure of an organization is pulled apart, whatever fed any individual member, may not exist anymore.

On a plane, we are told to put our own oxygen mask on, even before helping our children.

It is impossible to feed others when you are starving.

Physical and mental health issues are impacting our membership.

This issue is not limited to our Siblings.

Alcohol sales and consumption have sharply spiked in the US as a whole. Membership is not immune to this broader impact on the country. Lack of social interaction and exercise are also contributing to additional health issues.

Keeping people engaged is hard. Social needs are not well fulfilled.

This isn’t a shocker. People are using video calls for work and many don’t want to also use it to socialize. Sitting in a room with people is not as draining as sharing a screen.

Differences in online vs face-to-face meetings:

  • Online meetings are focused on everyone’s face.
  • There is no eye contact. It’s hard to tell if a person is listening.
  • With your face is the main focus, people can feel like they’re being watched and become hyper aware of how they look. Your brain is distracted by how you are appearing to others. Are you smiling enough? It’s exhausting.

Being socially connected with others is not the same as being on a video call together. And many people are burned out on virtual meetings. People that were enjoying online classes may not be showing up for them anymore.

Spiritual needs are not well met.

Magical practices can be solo or in a group. Many people find that the social aspects of the Order keep them more accountable in their solo practices too. Curiously, solo practices have also suffered in the pandemic due to lessened social bonds.

Surprising insights

The group surfaced a few points that provided deep food for thought.

Sensory inputs are constrained. We meet on Google Meet and we have sound and sight. But when we see each other in person, we also have touch, smell, and taste.

Are there ways to bring more sensory modalities into our interactions with each other? (This is one of many points we will look at in part 2.)

People need to play. While this isn’t a core part of what we usually think of as O.T.O., play facilitates social connection and makes us feel good.

Play is relaxing and makes us feel good.

In part 2, we will explore some ways to facilitate play in a safe, socially distanced way.

Part 2 is coming soon and will be a list of ideas that came out of the workshop.

Love is the law, love under will.

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