Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Choices of Men

It is popular among Masons to assume that the fraternity does not need to "recruit".  Without going into detail about claims that membership numbers are declining, or that Lodge finances are attached to membership roles, or that Lodges are not satisfied with the quality of membership they are attracting, let us stipulate that, no, the fraternity does not "need" to "recruit.  Hopefully we can at least agree that the Lodge needs to concern itself with the quantity and quality of men it is attracting.  Hopefully we can agree that to the extent that new members can be brought in of good quality, and in appropriate numbers, it is a good thing for the craft.  Accepting the historical "waves" of membership interest that has occurred in freemasonry since the inception of it's speculative nature, the survival of the fraternity depend upon a minimal amount of input.  Accepting also the diversity of a given Lodge, the success of the Lodge depends upon the quality of individual it attracts to it's rolls.  Freemasonry recruits through attraction.

If this is so, the craft is in the business of being attractive to men.  Men have to look at a Masonic Lodge and want to be a part of it.  Men have to look at freemasonry and want to experience it.  Even if a Lodge believes it does not need to attract members, it needs to do the same things.  Retaining current members is another concern.  Fighting against anti-masonic prejudices is another concern.  For so many reasons, it is the business of a Lodge to address how it is perceived by others; by non-masons.

Just because a lodge attracts someone does not mean they admit him.  But a lodge will never admit a man they have not first attracted.

With regard to men, it is useful to consider some of the other things that also attract the attention, dedication, resources, and time of the men freemasonry hopes to also attract.  Considering the alternative options men have, it is useful to consider why they will choose the path of freemasonry in addition to or instead of the other options they have available to them.  Here I am writing from the perspective of a Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, which hopes to achieve high visibility among African-American men, it is hoped that lodges of all communities can relate to these considerations.  Options such as greek letter fraternities, Church or other religious groups, Political groups, Civil Rights groupsm the NAACP, the National Urban League, Fatherhood Advocacy Groups, Professional Groups, and other non-greek, non-masonic fraternal organizations are all competitive against Prince Hall Freemasonry for the time and resources of men.  Add to this one's family, his church, mosque, temple, job, and non-organizational family life, and modern men have a myriad of choices.

Freemasonry would like to believe it can occupy a space in a man's heart, mind, and calendar that fulfills many of his motivations at once.  Within freemasonry there is the opportunity for spiritual growth, professional networking, community service, personal development, and fellowship.  But this is only for those men who come to an awareness of the craft after first having been attracted to it.  It is worth the time and effort for masonic lodges to look inward and try to determine what makes them attractive to the men they would like to reach, versus what makes other options attractive for those same men.  The ideas presented here are only intended to help identify possibilities.

So what attracts men?

Of course, I am describing a particular kind of man here.  As a Prince Hall Mason, I've said I am interested primarily from an African-American perspective.  I am thinking of men who generally share characteristics with myself.

Men like to work.  I think most men are attracted to environments where there is work for them to do. At least some of the time, something physical is desired.  Men are attracted to masonry because it utilizes the language and imagery of physical labor.  Masons describe their doings as "doing the work", or laboring "in the quarry".  The fraternity is not described as a club, but as a "Craft".  It implies action and skill (men certainly don't assume they might end up sitting in a chair for two hours).  The actual activity of membership is physical.  There is movement, activity.  Once a man has become a mason, this aspect of his participation continues to be attractive.

Men like to serve.  Particularly men who consider themselves fortunate, "blessed", or successful, tend to be motivated to help others. Freemasonry attracts men who are looking for opportunities to do things that benefit others.  This is a deep motivation, and masonry can tell a better "story" about this than can many of the other options men have.  Not that this is true, but one impression of masonry is, if you took church, removed the preaching, tripled the "giving to the poor", and added some cool "funny hats", you would have freemasonry.  If you are a spiritual or religious man, you should be attracted to the charitable opportunities of masonry.

Men like to mentor and be mentored.  To be sure, fellowship is important.  However, men are also attracted by the opportunity to get quality time with men of different generations. To have a structured environment where an older man will take some time and talk through some of the things of life and the world, is like gold to a man with a young family, trying to figure it all out.  If more men knew that this is available inside a lodge, there would be a line outside.  Indeed, some of the elder brethren inside the lodge are not even aware that some of their younger brethren are seeking this particular kind of fellowship.  Men also like to share their wisdom.  Some men with Grandchildren and great grandchildren are dismayed to learn that younger men are willing to walk the paths of foolishness rather than learn from the mistakes of others.  The presence of hungry men who specifically crave male mentoring is like gold to these men.  Our communities sometimes now make mentoring relationships available to teenagers.  But when a man enters his career or professional life, he often has to fend for himself.  In the African-American community, where the crisis of fatherhood is historic, the need does not disappear just because one has had children and is attempting to be a good father and husband.

These are just three things that should make masonry a highly attractive thing to men; not only to non-members, but to current masons who may still be seeking.  We often do not benefit from some of these points of natural attractiveness, not because they do not exist, but because we "hide them under a bushel".  Sometimes the lodge attempts to display itself as anything but a collection of opportunities to work, serve, and mentor.  Sometimes, the lodge shoots itself in the foot by trying to be something it is not as naturally superior at.

There are things that the lodge is good at, but that other options for men, are better at.  there are likewise things that other options are not so good at, but the lodge does little or nothing to capitalize on these weaknesses in the community.  In the game of attractiveness - the competitive game of attractiveness - it is in the interest of masonry to capitalize on its inherent, superior gifts and opportunities, to minimize if not eliminate its weak areas, and to capitalize on high value opportunities that competitors cannot capitalize on.

Prince Hall Freemasonry sits at the nexus of the lifestyles of many men.  Where it does not, many masons would like it to be the center of the various things they must juggle.  One hypothetical lifestyle has a Prince Hall Mason with hooks into many many optional competitors for his time and focus.  He has a family, maybe sitting in the middle of generations, with children as well as living parents.  Maybe he is older, maybe younger, but he has a family component.  He has a church or a mosque, or other spiritual commitment, and is active in their men's group or usher board, or other auxiliary.  He has a job and a career or owns a business, and is active with a professional group.  He belongs to a college fraternity or greek letter organization.  He is politically active, at least subscribing to a community organization.  He has a group of close friends, and of course, he is a mason.

Each of these life areas are competing to be the center of gravity in his life.  With the exception of his spiritual life, only freemasonry has the ability to bring context and structure to every other area of his life.  With masonry at the center, he can in theory keep all other aspects in balance, and many men would like to do this because freemasonry presents itself as a system for the order of a man's life.  It is possible, that this characteristic of freemasonry can make it more attractive than other competitive options for a man. 

If this can happen, than the place for a man who is facing life's confusion and hectic pace, is the masonic lodge.  If this is true, then the lodge is the haven within which a young man can organize his service to his family; a new father can settle into a lifestyle of diligent parenthood, and a grandfather can crown his life's achievements.  A man who loves and appreciates his college fraternity can achieve greater context of his manhood by extending his concern beyond his educational and professional pursuits, into spiritual and universal truths.  A man who exercises his spiritual self can explore new internal vistas as he seeks a master's level of spiritual consciousness.  A man attacking his economic opportunities can learn new professional skills; communication, negotiation, networking.

This is, in part, what some masons may mean when they say freemasonry "makes good men better".  Nonetheless, it is not what we advertise.  This is attractive stuff.  It is not presented.

The task of freemasonry today, at the lodge level, is not to change it's core, but to expose it.  The craft brags about its own existence, but it does not fully appreciate the fact that it can put 30 Black men in a room for two hours on a regular basis.  It can focus us, direct us, guide us, and comfort us.  It is not a replacement for a man's family, church or religious institution, or other organizations.  It is cement in a man's life.  Many, Many men are seeking this cement, but fear that to join a lodge they will have to add a new competitor for their limited time and resources.  They are not aware that the lodge "adds" time and resources through its lessons.  And we do not tell them.  It would be good for the lodge to both understand these things, and to find ways to make these things known.

Failing to be consciously attractive is to be deliberately unattractive inthe competition for the time and interest of grown men.


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