More than anything else, this is a time for Freemasonry to face reality and to be absolutely honest about the state of the Fraternity. We’ve looked in the ‘rear-view’ mirror long enough. The glory days are behind us -- and not even a miracle will return us to the 1950s and 1960s when many Lodges were holding special meetings in order to accommodate all the new initiates.
In all honesty, we must ask, "Why would a man want to become a Mason today?" There were very good reasons to become a Mason 40 years ago.
Being a Mason brought a man prestige in the community. It set you apart. A member of the Masonic Fraternity was a member of an elite group. This has all changed. Recently a Grand Master talked to two U.S. Senators about becoming Masons. Both turned him down!
What’s the popular view? Simple. People think we’re either dead or dying. Or, worse yet, irrelevant. There was a time when being a Mason put a man in touch with the right people. In many communities, the Masonic Lodge was the key to rubbing shoulders with the decision-makers, the movers and shakers-- the business and civic leaders. Everyone was a Mason. Only in rare instances is this true today.
Forty years ago, being a Mason made a difference in your career. We all remember the so-called "Masonic companies," firms that were filled with Masons from bottom to top. If you wanted to get ahead, you became a Mason.
The same was true if you were a local insurance agent or real estate broker, a barber or a butcher. Being a Mason gave you a network in the community. That’s how your business grew and prospered. In other words, there were power incentives for a man to become a Mason. Masonry conferred upon its members status, prestige and influence.
This is not the way it is today -- at least our sons and their friends are not impressed. When a friend of mine walked into my office and saw Masonic mementos, he said, "Why in the world do you want to be a Mason?"
In spite of the dramatic and far-reaching change in Masonry’s status in American society, there is no reason for despair. Masonry still fits the times -- not withstanding the fact that we have been horribly negligent in communicating the message. As much as in any other period, Freemasonry has a powerful role to play.
Masonry sets forth the values that make life worthwhile. It is clear that the 1990s are a period when there is public recognition that traditional values make a difference. Having "discarded" the importance of basic ethics for the past 25 years, there appears to be a return to the bedrock beliefs that made this country great -- the family, loyalty, hard work, honor and integrity. The basic -- and essential -- virtues.
In his recent book, More Like Us, James Fallows makes the issue crystal clear: "In the long run, a society’s strength depends on the way ordinary people voluntarily behave."
This has been the message of Freemasonry for the past three centuries! And it is just as true today as it was 40 or 200 years ago.
Masonry gives a man a positive picture of what it means to be a man. In a time when numbers are more important than a man’s name, this is a message that makes sense! No group or organization gives recognition to the worth of a man’s life as does Freemasonry. The Masonic message is simple: "You’re important." As Masons, we make one thing clear. "As a man, you have tremendous potential and we’re going to show you how to become the best." Masonry never looks down on a man. Masonry denies that a man is basically "bad." Masonry sees the possibilities in a man and gives him a way to reach for the stars.
Masonry separates a man from the crowd. The most incredible fact about being a Mason is that you can never, never forget that you are one. You can forget your wife’s birthday, but you can’t ever forget that you are a Mason. Show me a group that can make such an indelible impact on a man’s life?
As a Mason, I can never forget that I have a responsibility to live and conduct my business according to the tenets of Freemasonry. I can never be lost in the crowd. For a man to say, "I’m a Mason" sets him apart from other men.
Why, then, with all that we have to offer are we, as a Fraternity, slipping into the darkness of obscurity? Why are we not just fading away, but actually disappearing in an ever increasing rate?
The problem is not Masonry. The problem is not our beliefs or our ideals. The problem is one of leadership. Or, more to the point, our total lack of leadership at every level! For the past several decades, we have been in the midst of a leadership crisis -- and it’s killing us.
Let’s take a look at "Masonic leadership." The major qualification for being a leader in our Fraternity is time. If you can devote the time, you can get to the top. In the same way, leadership in Masonry is viewed as a "reward for good behavior." If you do what you’re told, attend a thousand meetings, and stay in line (in more than one way), you’ll get a jewel hung around your neck.
We even think that "going through the chairs" is "training." As a matter of fact, it is training of sorts. But what does a man learn? One thing that’s important, he learns how to play the game so that by the time he gets to the top he has achieved total ineffectiveness. He is completely useless as a leader!
If we take a closer look how we behave when it comes to leadership, the picture becomes quite clear. To put the matter bluntly, we are experts in putting the emphasis in all the wrong places. In other words, we do it backwards.
Masonry suffers from what I call "The Mussolini Syndrome." Benito Mussolini’s greatest achievement was making the trains run on time in Italy. The nation was in total chaos, but the trains left the station on time -- every time. This is the way we are as Masons. Here are just a few examples.
We are experts in getting meeting notices out -- on time. We meet every deadline. We take pride in such an accomplishment. The fact that no one comes to the meetings because they are so dull and boring doesn’t seem to distress us. We are experts in keeping accurate records. No one in the world can hold a candle to us when it comes to record keeping! We are the best! The fact that the statistics are going down hill at an ever increasing rate doesn’t seem to bother us. The accuracy of the figures is more important than their meaning.
We are experts in making reports. Our reports are always in proper form. We always use just the right words and no one’s name is ever left out. We take inordinate pride in our reports. The fact that 99% of our reports are totally meaningless doesn’t seem to faze us. We ignore the fact that our reports are all form, totally lacking in meaningful content. And then we have the audacity to repeat them year after year! Only the names and dates are changed.
We’re experts in holding ceremonies. Frankly, we’re good at ceremonies. We practice and practice. We aim at perfection. I suppose that’s a noble goal, in a way. What seems to escape us is that there’s no one there to see them. The membership is disappearing and all we’re left with is empty Temples. For some reason, this doesn’t seem to disturb us because we just keep on repeating the same old ceremonies -- all by ourselves.
We’re experts in taking care of our buildings. We are proud of the way we respect our Masonic property. Certainly, taking care of our buildings is better than to allow them to fall into disrepair. But, once again, we always seem to miss the point. Buildings are for activity -- and there’s nothing happening of any significance in our Temples 99% of the time. Again, this doesn’t bother us enough to demand action from our leaders.
We’re expert at putting men on committees. Take a look at the roster on any Masonic organization and you’d think that with so many men involved, mountains could be moved, every name is there. All are neatly printed. All are in proper order. Yet, it doesn’t seem to bother us that our committees are little more than empty shells. They lack talent, skill and ability. For the most part, they have no power or authority. They are to do as they are told. For the most part, they are to do nothing.
If we happen to find a man with talent, we toss a cabletow around his neck to make sure he doesn’t do anything new or different! Or, as we say in the west, we hog tie him. We only want him to repeat what’s been done the last 40 years.
With all this in mind, why doesn’t Masonry get strong, creative leaders -- men who are capable of taking our Fraternity into the 21st century?
The answer is clear: We don’t want strong leaders! We don’t want new ideas. We don’t want interesting programs. We don’t want excitement. We don’t want the boat rocked. Anyone who tries to be "different" by being innovative or creative will have his wings clipped quickly by a group of men with the term "Past" after their names. This is why we have the type of leaders -- at every level -- we do today.
Let’s face it. Our leaders clone themselves by bringing in replacements who are like themselves. Over and over again it happens -- and nothing changes because nothing can change. This is our problem.
A competent man with real leadership potential may love Freemasonry, but he is not going to spend his valuable time "doing what he is told," knocking his head against a brick wall, or going through the motions just to get to the top.
In effect, the Masonic leadership message is clear: Behave yourself. Put in the time. Don’t rock the boat. Do as you’re told. Keep your mouth shut. If you speak, just echo what the "leader" has just said. Don’t come up with new ideas. Bow and scrape. Don’t question anything. And, if you’re a good fellow, you’ll get the Masonic goodies. In other words, we have exactly what we want and what we deserve: a Fraternity of petty and pathetic bureaucrats -- and it’s killing us.
If this is the current leadership situation, what needs to change to meet the challenge of the decade ahead -- and beyond? We need leaders with very specific qualities:
Our leaders must possess imagination. We need leadership standards. We need job descriptions for leadership positions. We need to get down on paper what we expect from those who guide us. What are their goals and objectives? What do they want to accomplish while in office? The membership has a right to know what our leaders are thinking. What are their ideas? Are they just carbon copies of those who have gone before them, or do they possess the abilities necessary to move our Fraternity forward?
Our leaders must be able to bring a sense of excitement to the Fraternity. Frankly, we should get down on our knees every day and thank God for our members. No single group of men puts up with more dull nonsense than do the Masons of America! And then they keep on paying their dues year after year!
Leadership means being able to move men’s hearts, to make them proud of their Masonic membership. Leadership means being able to motivate men to action. It means getting Masons to come out of the closet and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the Fraternity.
Masonic leadership means a willingness to take bold steps. The job today is one of getting Masonry on TV and in the newspapers. It’s being out in front and highly visible. Yet, we seem to think we’re doing something important if we have a booth at a county fair. That’s nothing. We need blimps! If we don’t start thinking big, we’re through.
Our leaders must possess a new vision for our Fraternity. Where do we want Freemasonry to be in the year 2000? How are we going to get there? What must happen to get things moving? How are we going to mobilize the resources so that we make a difference? This is the vision that can put Masonry on the map -- where it belongs.
If a man does not have this kind of vision, if he does not possess the skill to make things happen, then he should not be elevated to a leadership position.
Masonry can once again provide men with status, prestige and influence.
That’s possible because the times are right. But it will only happen if we have leaders with courage and conviction.
So, what’s my advice? How do we get leaders who can make a difference? Frankly, we need men who are willing to be daring. I recommend this approach:
"If you have a good idea, go ahead and do it because it is much easier to apologize than it is to ask permission."
I realize that such a strategy is subversive, but saving our Fraternity makes it right for the times. In the same way, we must start ignoring the past and start adoring the future. We’ve looked in the ‘rear-view’ mirror long enough.
Finally, we must stop worrying about how important we are and start thinking seriously about what it’s going to take to save Freemasonry. That’s leadership. And that’s setting the pace.
A presentation of John R. Graham, 33º, consultant in public relations and fund raising to the Northern Jurisdiction Scottish Rite and other Masonic Bodies, at a 1993 Scottish Rite regional work shops. The written word is not as effective as he, a former minister, who really fires up an audience. You will like some parts and not like other parts —but please— think about it. Reprinted from the Southern California Research Lodge Papers, by Kena Computer Club, the home of Hiram’s Oasis, the Masonic Computerized Bulletin Board, 703-938-4990. For further information write: Kena Computer Club, PO Box 456, Merrifield, VA 22116.
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