Great fun was had by all at Buckingham Palace last night. We were celebrating 100 years since the Society added Royal to its name (if you’re interested there is a chance tomorrow to hear the world’s expert on RSA history, Dr Allan, explaining how the title was first granted). The evening was a wonderful mix of the grand and the informal, and having a dozen or so Fellows from the US joining the 100 plus from the UK added greatly to the mix.
But for me there was a note of tragedy too. Ever since I arrived at the RSA I have relied on an apocryphal (‘made up’ some might harshly say) story about my first staff meeting. In the story I claim I announced to my new colleagues that we would be doing things very differently at the RSA in the future. As a powerful symbol of this I was going to drop the ‘sexist’ moniker ‘Fellow’ in favour of the more democratic title of Member. I was very pleased with the response to this innovation until someone came up to me as I was leaving the meeting and said:
‘It’s a great idea to drop the title Fellow, but are you sure people are going to want MRSA after their name?’
Some of my colleagues (hi, Vivs) have heard this joke so many times that they have threatened to set light to themselves (or me) if I embark upon it again. But it works, so I keep wheeling it out.
But last night my short speech with its opening anecdote was preceded by that of RSA Chair, Gerry Acher. Being on next and feeling appropriately nervous in the magnificent setting and in the company of HRH, I was only half listening. So when a ripple of laughter went round the room I had to perform that strange process of forcing my subconscious short term memory to rewind and play. Yes. It was as I feared - Gerry had used the MRSA joke.
So that’s it! From this day on the joke is consigned to the archival vaults of the RSA only ever to be heard of again when a future Dr Allan is rummaging around for memorabilia for our 200th Royal anniversary. Let’s hope by then the response he gets is ‘what’s MRSA?’
Al Mathers, former RSA Director of Research and Learning, explores the importance of introducing reciprocity into the work of social change organisations like the RSA.
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