by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR
In 2000, Harvard professor and political scientist Robert D. Putnam published a book entitled "Bowling Alone." For a time, the book was all the rage in membership-based organizations as it attempted to explain, via an abundance of numbers, charts and graphs, the reasons for and effects of the decline of social interaction in our society. The book became less the rage when readers found it offered more on the whys and wherefores and less on how to reverse the trend. This trend, I might add, has continued its downward spiral since the book came out.
Putnam used the following bowling analogy to illustrate his premise: while the number of people who are participating in the sport of bowling has increased (Really? Meh, if he says so), participation in organized bowling leagues has declined. We are, therefore, "bowling alone."
So, let's channel this over to Freemasonry: while interest in Freemasonry has increased (Really? Meh, if I say so*), participation in organized Freemasonry has declined.
*Come on. You have to give me this one. It is, after all the age of the "Belluminati." http://bit.ly/2B40Thu
I got to thinking about this while reading Robert Johnson's article, "What If We Actually Did Masonry?" (http://bit.ly/2rcttOi). In it, RWB Robert wondered what would happen if, instead of running business-saturated Lodge meetings like we do now, we used the bulk of each meeting for Masonic education. The more I read, the more I kept thinking, "attendance would go down even more."
Fortunately, Robert backed me up on that: "What would happen if we ALL changed the order of business, so that Masonic Education came right after the opening? What would happen if we spent twenty, thirty, dare I say an hour on a topical presentation complete with questions and answers with discussion from the brothers? ...The chances are we would lose a lot of members by doing this."
Part of the issue is our society has become so "over-the-top." Back in the day I could go to a rock concert and watch the band simply set up and rock on. Today, for the attention-span-challenged, that same band on tour has to have flash, pyrotechnics and videos behind it while it plays. We expect so much more. If we held Woodstock today, we'd have to set the stage on fire and launch the space shuttle behind Country Joe and the Fish. Try adding that kind of glitz to an hour-long discussion of "the symbolism of the point within a circle."
The other issue is that our boring meetings compete with the likes of 70-inch big-screen TVs with practically any movie ever made available any time we want it. Add to that the constant buzz of activity on our smart phones, which sometimes includes 24/7 availability for our jobs and, oh yeah, the small matter of our family activities. You want to match all that against a lengthy discussion of a point within a circle? Without pyrotechnics?
With all the activity and excitement happening around us we stay home glued to our cell phones and have less real social interaction. We bowl alone.
So what could we do to stem this tide? Easy… We could get rid of all TV's, smart phones, the Internet and especially those fidget-spinners and go back to the time when our grandfathers had nothing to do for social interaction and entertainment but go to a Lodge meeting; and, by the way, do you think granddad's Lodge spent an hour on Masonic education?
Well, we can't go back, can we? But we can take advantage of what we have. If you want Masonic education, go get it. We don't have to depend on our Lodges for it. And more than granddad, who had to borrow a book or go to the library, we have the world at our fingertips. Listen to podcasts like "Whence Came You" or "The Masonic Roundtable." Read Masonic blogs like… hey, you're doing it right now. Do some research and write an article or two. Who knows where this can lead? Maybe — and I know this is radical — one evening you can take your Brothers by surprise, stand up and present what you've learned in Lodge. Be careful. You should probably start out as if you're announcing a chili supper, then ease into your real purpose for speaking.
The fact is if we don't get a lot of what we want in Lodge, the fix starts with each of us individually. It's just the way things are today. Look at that. We're just like the rest of society. If we want something other than business meetings and bean dinners, the hubbub, toys and distractions of modern-day society are backing us into a corner and forcing us to go "Freemason-ing alone."
Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.