Education Application – Episode 1: The True Existential Crisis Facing Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Mark St. Cyr

Originally published on the Whence Came You Podcast (link here) on August 7, 2023. Adapted here for the Midnight Freemasons.

Before we delve into this topic, it is important to clarify a few points. First and foremost, this series does not reflect any endorsement or should be inferred as such from any Grand Lodge or Concordant body. Please refer to your jurisdiction’s rules for governance before considering any application of the ideas presented here.

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. This is not a cookie-cutter recital of methodologies borrowed from management guru books. Instead, we will address the hard issues that need to be addressed within the Craft. For decades, the Craft has grappled with these issues, and the results speak for themselves – actually, they’re screaming.

What you can expect from this series are real-world solutions presented in quick and easy-to-understand scenarios. These solutions will be delivered by me, off the cuff, and in an extemporaneous manner. I must clarify that I’m not here to make friends; I’m here to provoke thought. The former takes place in the Lodge room, while the latter will take place here.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why should I listen, and who is this guy anyway?” Allow me to answer that question.

I have spent the last two decades at the forefront of thought leadership in the world of business and financial insight. While I understand that some of you may try to find fault with my arguments or give knee-jerk reactions of “But that won’t work here!” and more, I ask you to keep an open mind and consider whether I may make some points worth considering and applying.

To give you a metric to judge my credibility, let me share a story. A few years ago, one of the top business and financial news outlets sought perspectives on the prospects of the US economy and Apple, the largest company at the time. They asked Warren Buffet for his thoughts and quoted him in their article. When they wanted a viewpoint on Buffet’s thoughts, they quoted me. This is not to brag but to emphasize that I may possess some knowledge in this domain.

Ultimately, what you take away from this series is up to you. But at the very least, you now have a metric to judge my credibility.

Now, let’s address the true existential crisis facing Freemasonry today: Nobody wants it to be just a hobby. This argument (e.g., just some hobby) undermines the Craft itself, as well as attempts to shore up membership and keep those remaining engaged. Unfortunately, many cannot see this issue or, even if they do, refuse to come to grips with it. The numbers prove that this problem will continue to worsen, no matter the remedies the Craft employs.

To understand why this issue is so significant, we must recognize that any organization or structure faces a dozen core issues that can cripple it. While each issue alone could be self-sufficient in causing substantial damage, they usually work in combination. In severe cases, all of these issues are present simultaneously.

Identifying and remedying these core issues is challenging, which is why many once heralded institutions crumble into oblivion once the so-called “management guru consultant class” leaves, declaring “Problems solved.” These methodology presentations often fail because they apply the latest buzz phrase from some generic best-selling book. The decision to bring in these consultants is often based on a desire to fulfill a requirement rather than prioritizing efficacy.

Don’t just take my word for it – look at all the companies and institutions that were once market leaders but have now vanished after consultants left the building. Sears serves as one such example.

Returning to the dozen core issues I mentioned earlier, the first step in remedying them is to identify the most dramatic issue affecting all aspects of the organization, from the public to the customer base and even the people within it. Without addressing this singular issue as a priority, all other attempts to fix the organization will be futile. They will only mask the problems temporarily before they resurface in a magnified form.

We have all witnessed organizations that appeared to be getting their act together, only to crumble shortly thereafter. These brands, once respected and possessing unshakable customer loyalty, are now disappearing. Craftsman, once a renowned brand, serves as a prime example.

So, what does this argument about the Craft being treated as a hobby actually mean? It means everything.

The culture within the Craft must realign with its original purpose and raison d’être. No amount of strategy sessions or tactical measures will lead to lasting change unless the underlying culture shifts. This is why committee meetings and well-intentioned programs only work temporarily and at the surface level. They eventually succumb to the stagnation and entropy of the past.

Why does culture play such a vital role? Because culture eats strategy and tactics for breakfast. Implementing new ideas or management principles will not fundamentally change an organization. It may create an illusion of progress, but it will not have a lasting impact in the larger context.

The existing culture within the organization will do everything in its power to resist change. Deep down, it prefers to complain rather than embrace change. It clings to what is familiar and resists anything new, regardless of how much it argues otherwise. Even in the face of oblivion, the culture will argue that “things have to change” but will not actively participate in that change unless their own employment is at stake. And if that happens, they will complain, claiming that their insights went unheard.

This phenomenon is far too common.

Within the Craft, the culture today often treats obligations to the craft as a hobby rather than a transformative way of life. It fails to recognize that the Craft is sacred in its institution, instructions, and commitment. Instead, more people treat the Craft as “their thing,” similar to how they approach their hobbies of choice.

Before I delve into specific examples, I’d like to leave you with a thought experiment. Imagine your boss asks you, a week in advance, to pick them up from the airport at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. They explicitly state that you are the only person they trust with this responsibility. You agree to fulfill the task. However, on that Thursday, you suddenly realize you have a prior engagement or appointment. What do you do?

Do you cancel your commitment and make arrangements for your forgotten task, regardless of the consequences, in order to fulfill your obligation to your boss? Or do you fulfill your forgotten task and beg your boss for forgiveness as they are left stranded at the airport, having to find their own way home?

Most of you likely agree that canceling your prior engagement to fulfill your boss’s request is the obvious correct path.

The problem lies in how we apply our resolve to the Craft. In practice, we often choose the latter path, neglecting our obligations and seeking forgiveness later.

In subsequent articles, I will provide specific examples to illustrate this further. Until then.

Mark St.Cyr

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