Monday, February 28, 2011

Whither are we traveling?

Many years ago MWBro. Dwight Smith published a paper entitled "Whither Are We Traveling." The paper, written over 35 or so years ago addresses the issues with the Craft at that time and spells out in plain English what the remedies were and dispelled many of the fallacies as to the decline in the fraternity. These issues are as true now as they were then. One of the addressed issues concerned membership. I bring this up because my Lodge Brothers and I read that paper about three years ago and took his message to heart. Now, we are seeing some change - some good and some painful - but the Lodge is hopefully in a positive transition. I am now looking at the possibility of becoming Royal Patron of my local Amaranth Court and I find myself looking into the same precipice as I did three years ago as I contemplated another run at the East. My worry is that I am not certain that my Brothers and Sisters of my Court have the motivation to deal with some hard issues.

After our Court meeting last month, a few of us gathered together and discussed what course of action we should be taking in the months ahead. We find ourselves divided into two camps: the first placing membership attainment as the primary issue, the other placing Court reorganization and improvement as the first goal. So, my question to all of you is which is more important? Both are essential, but if you needed to fix one as the primary and place the other in support of the first, which takes the lead?

The membership camp places all the blame on a decline in membership. They cite the various causes - television, two-income households, the internet, and many others. They bewailed the same old comment lament, "Things just aren't how they used to be. I can remember when the sidelines were full. Now look. We need to get more members." They then go on to blame the Lodge. "You guys are raising a bunch of younger men. We need to get their wives involved. Why don't you guys support us and have them come up?" To this camp, it is all about numbers. It's the "quantity = quality" mentality of "fish-fry Masonry" all over again.

Personally I am strong supporter of the other side. This is not just because I agree with MWBro. Smith, but because I am seeing it work. MWBro. Neal Bidnick, PGM of New York once told me that numbers aren't the issue. "I can make it possible so that you could raise 100 Brothers this year. But, if you don't offer them anything - none of them will likely stay." I have to agree. If the group is malfunctioning, if there is poor or undirected leadership, a myopic vision of direction, an unwillingness to consider alternatives and a complete lack of activity - why would anyone want to stay?

I submit that reform needs to begin from within. For our Court to survive we must determine a direction and commit to that plan. We must all dig in do what we can. We must look at our current way of doing business and determine what we can and cannot change and decide if we are willing to change it. We must decide if we are willing to make the Court a priority in our lives for the short term in order to change the course. Lastly we must have the fortitude to stay that course, even in rough times, in order to really see if the reforms we instituted really worked. The Court must be a functioning, lively and positive environment, otherwise we are dooming ourselves to extinction.

The question becomes whether or not the Court really has the drive and motivation to continue. If they do, it is worth a shot and who knows, we might actually start having some fun. If not, might be better to euthanize this Old Yeller of a Court and spare it the slow painful death we are experiencing.

So I put it to all of you. Which is a better course - membership with reform support or Court reform with a membership component? Or is there a third course of action?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Maslow and Freemasonry's Hierarchy of Needs

It is always interesting to me how sometimes some simple discussion sends my mind off to the strangest of places. As I may (or may not) have mentioned, I am currently working on my Masters Degree in Social Work. The discussion which led to this this posting happened awhile ago, but it has been banging around in my head for awhile, so here goes.

There are many psychological theories out there and one of them was offered by Abraham Maslow. Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" was proposed in 1943. The basic theory holds that individuals have needs and that they have a motivation to satisfy these basic needs before moving on to others. The hierarchy is organized in a pryramidal shape, from the most basic to the more intellectual/spiritual needs. Maslow theorized that individuals need to satisfy base needs before moving to "higher" needs on the scale. The hierarchy is normally presented as such:

What began to interest me during the course of the discussion was how it might apply in a Masonic Lodge. People generally tend to join a Lodge to fulfill some need, and if the Lodge provides it - they stay. If not, they go. So looking at this hierarchy I began to try to link these needs in a real way to how Lodges operate and to see if there is a connection.

The first level is PHYSICAL. Maslow defined these as biological - the need for oxygen, food, water and the like. He felt that these were the strongest, because they are the most basic and without them we could not survive. To me, that translates into a Masonic context in the physical atmosphere of the Lodge itself. Is it comfortable and inviting? Does it allow for adequate space for the needs of the Lodge? Is it well-kept and maintained? Does it provide refreshments for its members? To me, this is a very fundamental need. If a new member walks into a Lodge that is run down, does not provide for interaction, is not comfortable and provides no form of refreshment (or an opportunity for some), then a base need is not met.

The second level is SECURITY. Maslow defined these as the needs for stability. Masonically, we could equate that to personal and fiscal security. Is the Lodge a place to have shelter from the troubles of life? Does it offer a safe haven to its members where they feel that they can find support and can depend on their Brothers? Is the Lodge fiscally sound so that there is security in being able to maintain this environment? It also may extend into a feeling that one can express grievances in an appropriate way and have their voice be heard and their concerns addressed.

The third is SOCIAL. Maslow felt that people have a fundamental need for love, affection and belonging. He felt that people seek to overcome feelings of alienation. To me, this is a no-brainer. One of the fundamental aspects of Freemasonry is Brotherly Love and affection. We join together as one band of fellows and Brothers. Every well governed Lodge should have this spirit at the heart of their very being. Is your Lodge a place where Brothers feel that they truly belong? Are the bonds of Brotherhood strong? Does everyone feel included or that they have opportunities to do so?

Fourth is EGO (aka ESTEEM). If the first three levels are satisfied, then the need for esteem can come to the forefront. This includes self-esteem and esteem that can be given by others. We all have a basic need for a level of self-respect and a feeling that we are respected by others. When this need is satisfied, people generally feel needed and valuable as a person. When it isn't, it is usually followed by feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. Does your Lodge work to make everyone feel needed? Does everyone have an opportunity for participation and are they recognized appropriately? What I am talking about is offering thanks, gratitude and recognition for efforts - not necessarily the offering of titles, medals or jewels. Does everyone feel like they are respected and needed as a member of your Lodge?

The last level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Maslow has described this as a need to be and do that which a person was "born to do." He further stated that "A musician must make music, an artist must paint and a poet must write." While this last need can be difficult to identify, it can be noted when a person feels restless and expresses lacking "something." Masonically, I think I addressed this in an earlier post "Each to his own ability." It is important that we take into account that a Lodge consists of individuals and those individuals have talents and abilities. Does your Lodge offer outlets to allow Brothers to exercise them? In our efforts to fill our officer lines have we pressed Brothers into chairs that do not accentuate their strengths, but may set them up to fail? Have we presented educational opportunities that allow Brothers to research our Craft and find their niche within it? Do we allow our Brothers to develop into the Masons they want to be, or which we feel they should be?

In closing, I offer this thought. Given these considerations, does your Lodge meet your member's basic needs? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How do you address your members' basic needs in Freemasonry?