Friday, March 6, 2009


Last night was my Official Visit to Pollock Lodge No. 502. Though the District did not meet my challenge by bringing out 110 members and visitors, the 80 or so who did attend were privileged to see three of their own presented with the Grand Lodge 50 year service emblem and one who accepted his brother's 60 year wreath in his stead. What a glorious evening.

When called upon for my remarks, I gave the following address:

There is a story about an experiment with monkeys which goes as follows: Start with five monkeys in a cage and hang a banana above a ladder in the center. When a monkey starts toward the banana, a burst of cold water hits the cage and drenches all of the monkeys. Continue this for a week. Eventually, the monkeys learn that they should stay away from the ladder - associating any attempt at the ladder with the unpleasantness of a cold drenching. Now, replace one of the monkeys with a new one. Of course, it will see the banana and start up the ladder. The other four monkeys - knowing what comes next and not wanting to be soaked – will beat him up and try to stop him. Wait a week and replace a second monkey, same result. As this continues, even the monkeys who never experienced the soaking will protect the ladder. They have no idea why they are beating up another monkey - they just join in. Now, continue to swap out old monkeys with new ones until you have five monkeys that have never actually been sprayed with water, but avoid the ladder at all costs. Why?

Well that's the way we've always done it!

Now my Brothers, if you listened to that story and are left thinking I just called the Masons a bunch of monkeys, you have missed the point. It is a story about change and the lessons that can be learned from not assuming that what has always been done or the way things have always been is the way they should continue to be. Einstein said the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet often that is precisely what we do with our Lodges. We have the same dinners, or the same events or the same programs during the same months even though we might see a pushback from the membership either by their absence from the sidelines or their no longer volunteering to help. As times change, there are things we must change if we are to continue to be vital. We must find a way to offer something to men that they do not get elsewhere.

The first thing we need to change is the way we communicate with our members. I stood right in this very spot last year and asked each member here to ask his Secretary to give him the names and phone numbers of a few Brothers who haven't attended Lodge recently and then to simply follow up with a phone call to say hello. Now, not a single Secretary called to yell at me for all the extra work they had to do, so I am assuming that not everyone followed up on my suggestion. I do not want a show of hands, but if you feel a little convicted as you sit here now, ask your Secretary (or me, but preferably your Secretary) for some names. I know that some did make calls and they told me how rewarding it felt for them. If you have done it, you know there is often an unspoken affection in the voice on the other phone - an unsaid "Thank you for caring."

Another thing we can do is to be creative. “What? Creativity in Freemasonry? Why, that's unheard of!” I am not saying that we innovate in the ritual or make the meetings light and frivolous. On the contrary, I am a firm believer that what goes on inside the tiled Lodge should be reverent, enlightening and solemn. Most importantly, it should be Masonic. The Landmarks, the Ancient ritual and the timelessness of her teachings is what drew many of us to her outer door to begin with. We can, however, hold family nights, fellowship dinners out, officer retreats, new member competitions and a host of other things to involve as many as possible in the planning and execution of programs, to cement the bond of fellowship among the Brethren and to vest as many as possible in the success of the Lodge.

In recent months, we’ve heard "change" thrown about so much that it has lost any real meaning. It’s now akin to verbs like move or make. Both words are legitimate words in the American lexicon, but do little to describe in any vividness the actions they are to represent. Would not lumber, zip, rush, saunter or run more accurately describe movement? Sure. The same goes for words like create, sculpt, fashion or compel as replacements for make.

The dictionary defines change as “to make or become different.” Why are we as Masons change averse? Maybe the problem is in calling it change. Maybe we should label it as improvement, progress or enhancement.

How many know the answer to the question “How many Masons does it take to change a light bulb?” Twenty-one, one to change it, ten to tell him they’ve always used the other ladder to change burned out bulbs and 10 who grumble and swear it was just fine if not better burned out.

How do we make the answer to that: 21 One who notices it is out and 20 who rush – hand in hand with unanimity – to replace it?

First, we need to learn why people resist change and what can be done to help them. There are numerous types who resist change, but the four most prevalent are those who fear failure, those who fear the unknown, those who fear loss of control and lastly, the closed-minded. Do you notice something? The descriptions of the first three types begin with the word fear.

The first type, those who fear failure need to be reminded in the words of Charles Swindoll that “[g]reat accomplishments are often attempted but only occasionally reached. Those who reach them are usually those who missed many times before. Failures are only temporary tests to prepare us for permanent triumphs.”

The second type is those who fear the unknown. They are easily brought on board with logical and rational explanations of the new plan and why it is better than the old. For example, a simple chart showing that expenses exceed income would be enough to convince them that dues need to be increased.

We can accommodate the third type, those who worry about loss of control in another way. If you replace an unsuccessful event with a new one, naturally the chair of the former will feel a little jealousy or resentment. Inviting him to be a part of the new committee would generally solve that problem.

The last one – closed mindedness, can be the most difficult. There is a story that Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of Patents in 1899, wrote a letter to President and Brother McKinley urging him to close the Patent Office because “everything that could be invented already has been invented.” There is no evidence that this actually happened (in fact it seems quite likely that it did not), but it is illustrative of an important point. Mankind has an almost infinite ability to imagine and trying to limit that is as great an injustice as can be committed. Think about it. Once someone said man could not fly, and then maybe he said man could not break the sound barrier, or get into space or to the moon. Maybe someone today is tempted to say it about travelling to Mars, but perhaps the lesson has been learned. The only thing you can do with the closed-minded is to succeed in spite of them. If you fail and hear an “I told you so,” remind them of the words of our dear Brother Theodore Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither
enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows
not victory nor defeat.

So once we know how to deal with the objections, our path is clear to move ahead, to change/improve/augment/supplement our old programs and ideas while still staying true to our time-honored tenets and teachings.

Either we can shriek and beat our chests as the new monkeys walk toward the ladder, or we can move forward united as a band of Brothers whose vision and single-mindedness of purpose will assure our success in all that we do. The latter sounds so much more appealing.

1 comment:

  1. I will lift you up on my shoulders to get the banana. This way we can bypass the ladder and not get soaked! My point is that we as Masons can come up with new ideas to accomplish the same goals.