Freemasonry – is this our Kodak Moment?
In 1997 Eastman Kodak shares were at an all time high of $94-38 in January 19 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection.
How did a once giant company spanning the globe go from the leader in their field to the dustbin of history, in a short 15 years?
The simple version is, that Kodak failed to pay attention to the signs, and even when it had the knowledge and the insight it failed to act, and the rest as they say is history.
Brethren, Companions, Fraters,
There is an issue that I have been wanting to address for a while now. I have spoken to a number of people from different orders and with some of the old hands in my own Lodge and other lodges, but no-one was really able to suggest the best way to go about this process, so I figure I will send this out to all the people that I can and see if I am able to create a robust conversation and inspire the slumbering giant that is our Fraternity into some kind of positive action…. Or perhaps it’s more like, start a cat stampede, which is often what it has felt like trying to organise “new things” in Freemasonry.
To give this some background I am currently the Worshipful Master of Lodge Rosslyn #102 and a member of four of the appendant bodies and an officer in the Great Priory and I love my Freemasonry and the reason that I am writing this, is that I am not willing to let it die on my watch.
I was fortunate to have Brethren in my Lodge who from a very early stage reminded me that it is not only what I get out of Freemasonry but what I bring to it as well that matters.
In the last seven years I have built a website for the Sunshine Coast Lodges, a couple of local Lodges and I have rebuilt the Great Priory of Queensland website and more recently the Royal Arch Queensland Website.
I confess that building the first website was quite an undertaking as in some instances it was difficult to get across to some “longer serving” members the importance of a local online presence & the importance of embracing technology. Sharing with them an understanding that it is how younger members will find us. I do not say this to be disrespectful in fact quite the opposite, it gave me quite an insight into the égrégore of some areas of Freemasonry and has tempered my approach to anything new I have tried to introduce in my own lodge.
Let me say I was a little surprised by the challenge it presented at the time, but that was a few years ago and the world has moved on and more of the local lodges have come on board as fresh eyes & minds moved in.
I have tried to write this many times over the last few months and have not wanted to turn this into a book that will get lost amid the myriad of things we all have going on. I also did not want to piss too many people off, but the fact is WE NEED TO have the collective conversation if we are first to survive and secondly to again thrive as an organisation and inspire a younger membership to join us.
So rather than give long winded justifications to soften some of what I am moved to say, I am simply going to point out the challenges that we face (as I see them), the problems we need to overcome, both within and without, offer solutions and invite feedback. I am more than happy to discuss this with anyone willing to listen and even more so with those willing to participate in being a part of the solution.
Before I start I would offer two very simple axioms that underpin what I we need to understand as a collective.
Heraclitus said, “You cannot step in the same river twice”.
What does that mean for us?
Simply put, times have changed and we need to change with them lest we find ourselves standing in a dry river bed.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
This project cannot be left to a committee of “older thinking” members, it will die and an opportunity to turn the ship around with it. I do not say that to be provocative I say it respectfully and from experience.
To bring fresh membership and younger men and retain them, we need to understand them and meet them where they are at, which leads me to my first suggestion.
We need to know where we stand.
To solve any problem we need to know the depth of it, to do that I suggest some Surveys. The can be very easily done these day via the internet & do not need to cost fortunes there are plenty of tools to use.
I suggest we start with TWO major surveys which could be refined moving forward.
We need to survey the current membership and get there feedback on their experience of Freemasonry. What is working, what isn’t what more they want to see? We need to ask younger members what they need, what they are interested in, what would inspire them and what would help them to recommend Freemasonry to their friends.
This cannot be a feel good ego stroke, to solve the problems we have we need to ask some uncomfortable questions and as an organisation be open hear what the members have to say and be willing to act on the feedback
We need to really find out how the public perceive us. This will most likely be a very uncomfortable survey for some. The internet is awash with silliness and as an organisation we are currently one of the focal points for a fair share of the nuttiness out there, not just in Australia but globally.
Not only do I find this online but this is very much out in the world. Apart from building websites I also work organising the Heal Yourself Expo, Beltane Festival and the Going Off Grid Festival. I talk to a lot of people, I do not hide my Masonic association in fact I am quite proud of it, but I cannot tell you the countless hours I have spent educating people about what we really do and dispelling some of the silly notions put to me.
In some quarters especially among younger groups (our prospective market) we have a serious problem with the public perception of us. I know, sadly, that it has been a factor in some new memberships not proceeding because the Men’s partners did not have a favourable view of us, in fact the opposite.
I have also had the joy of having to chase a drunk/drugged woman from the car park one night at Lodge because was throwing rocks at the cars and hurling abuse and calling us all Baby Killers.
We need to know what the public think, then we can address it … and again we need to be willing to ask uncomfortable questions.
We need to rediscover “Who we are”.
In recently rebuilding the Royal Arch website I had an uncomfortable epiphany about us as an organisation. “We are totally backwards focussed” .
Many of the lectures I have seen and too many that I have heard have been focussed on history and there seemed to be very few modern lectures. There are some but they do seem to be well in the majority. There seem to be very few thought provoking lectures and even less that offer anything controversial, thought provoking or new. I am aware of Lodges that are starting to do more interesting things and that needs to spread beyond the few Lodges and beyond just the South East corner.
Also following the UGLQ website, whilst they post regularly they are often historical posts about a Lodge that was consecrated last millennia, there is the occasional current post about what we’re doing but there are very few posts aimed at getting engagement, at provoking discussion or even being a little clever or controversial.
To use Facebook as a proper marketing tool we need to do so in a way that promotes engagement and wider conversation not just happy snaps of 100 year old lodges.
This comes back to my earlier quote from Heraclitus, the world has moved on, we need to move on with it, to do that I believe that we need to become “Inward Focused”, one of the causal phrases that I hear used often is that “We Make Good Men Better” … How?
How do we do that and more importantly how can do that better? How do we make that a genuine cornerstone that attracts Men to our Fraternity.
The personal development industry is a massive industry and it has been a growing one for several decades now and yet we as an organisation have failed to pick up any share of that. What is the opportunity that we have missed and how to we rectify that?
Also in these uncertain times many of the charismatic churches have found increasing numbers of new followers, how is it that we have missed out on that as well?
To me Freemasonry is more important now than ever before but we have failed to capture the public imagination and therefore new membership at a time when it should really be a no-brainer.
To me as Freemasons, we are the custodians of a vast repository of Antient Wisdom but we have forgotten how to understand it and how to contemplate it. To me it is in reconnecting with our roots and with the original inspiration for the creation of Freemasonry that we can attract new members.
Because everyone wants to know the Secret to a better Life, and those secrets do not lie in handshakes or secret word they lie in the heart of each of us we and Freemasonry actually offers tools to show Men how to unlock those secrets within themselves.
No I know that that last paragraph will put some members off, I know because I have experienced it with Lodges and I respect that we are not all in this Fraternity for the same reason nor do we need to be, but if we are to grow our membership then the personal development aspect is a market that is hungry for what we offer and largely untapped by us as a group.
Which brings me to my next point.
We need to end the enmity that exists between Blue & Red Lodges
As a member of other orders I know that this exists, mostly covert and subtle but sometimes overtly and it both saddens and disappoints me, because we are all Brothers of the One Fraternity with some added branches, which could simply be considered “common interest” lodges, like a motorcycle riding lodge or a policemen’s lodge.
I know that we all come to the Door of the Lodge for our own reasons and each person’s reasons deserve respect and appreciation. Some come for the friendships, some come for the rituals and the knowledge, we each come for our own reason.
I found myself at the Door of the Lodge because I have been looking for something. For more than a decade I had been exploring many of the world’s religions and philosophies seeking to resolve a personal “splinter in my mind”. In fact t was a story told by my Sufi teacher that finally brought me to the door of the Lodge. Needless to say I was looking for the deeper aspects and I love what I found though I had to go digging and it was in the other orders that I was able to find the connections that I was looking for.
It was among these groups and with often younger Brethren that after meetings would end and all the dishes washed we would find ourselves out of the street for an hour or so afterwards discussing topics of interest and the deeper meaning of what the Lodge and Freemasonry are about, to me that is where our future growth lies, and I know that it is not for everyone but we can easily accommodate it and in fact encourage it we can find ways to make it work that does not need to cause tension within lodges or among brethren who may not be interested and are satisfied with their own level of involvement.
The other primary reason I bring it up is that the appendant Orders offer lots of colour and different marketing options.
The fact is that right now the appendant orders are dependent on Masons and their partner for Membership so we all have a common goal … and the Order of the Eastern Star allows an opening to include Women in our marketing/promotion, they offer opportunities to have a wider conversation and a deeper conversation which is wonderful from a marketing perspective.
Where To from Here:
We need to act. My purpose in writing this was to spark a conversation to inspire others like myself to come together as a collective, to offer up knowledge and experience with respect to online and social media marketing to assist the craft to adapt to the changing times and to reinvigorate our Fraternity after what are challenging times.
The world has changed and as an organisation we need to change, in my mind we do not need to do that by lessening ourselves or limiting ourselves nor by somehow making ourselves exclusive, there are already enough places for that. With the “collective will” We can restore our Fraternity to its rightful place and be a sorely needed beacon at a time when the world needs it.
Let’s not have a Kodak moment, let us instead have a “robust discussion” and find ways to grow, together.
Before I sign off I would add, this cannot be a centrally/focussed driven project, Queensland is a vast state with different needs & different ways of life in different areas. A project like this can be coordinated and areas that maybe don’t have the skill set can be assisted but stories and content need to be local to attract the locals … but that is a conversation for when we get the project underway, first we need to herd a few cats.
With Fraternal Respect
W/Bro Samyo Dalgarno
0403 750 063