Queen for a day

November 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Or rather, Grand Master for a year or five.

Fred  Billiken Milliken over on The Beehive has been feeling a bit lazy uninspired, and so he asked a few of his fellow bloggers to write a small essay, with this topic in mind:

You are Grand Master of an American jurisdiction which has just changed its by-laws to give the Grand Master a five year term.  As the first GM to serve five years what proposals, policies and changes would you make to insure the survival of your jurisdiction and promote healthy growth?

Personally, my first thought as to what I would do if I were the GM in Connecticut would be to curl up into a fetal position and hope that it’s all a bad dream.

Of course, I’m sure that some other members of the Craft would have the same reaction to my being a GM, too.

You can read the rest of my essay over on his blog.

That said, the topic itself begs the question that things need to be changed. My own question is “Why?”

I have a small manufacturing business. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to own your own business, it’s a very expensive and demanding hobby. Small manufacturing is a fast-paced and tension-inducing business environment. For perspective, pull a hair out of your head, and look at it (you older guys pull a hair out of your neighbor’s head, since you probably can’t spare many of your own). That hair is about 5/1,000’s of an inch in diameter. We typically hold tolerances that are one tenth of that. Imagine knowing that all day, when someone says that they are “off by a hair,” it literally means the difference between a paycheck, or a pretty but expensive paperweight.

Priorities change daily, and often hourly. And just when you think it’s almost figured out, a machine will break down, and you’ll discover that a spare part is a week away because it’s coming from Japan or Germany. Or a key employee comes down with a bad flu and is out for a few days. Or a long-time customer makes a frantic call because their inventory system screwed up and they need you to ship in that order early – the order that you haven’t started yet because the material is late. Or expensive parts for a new customer come back from an outside supplier, who processed them the wrong way because they used an obsolete work order. Or you send a package via overnight priority shipping, and the plane has mechanical difficulties, and in transferring the cargo, they lose it. Or. . .  well, you get the idea.

You see, my life is already frenetic and fast paced, so sometimes I take comfort in knowing that the Craft will change slowly. Yes, I am often frustrated when what I see are good ideas take forever to be talked over, rehashed, and committeefied to death – who isn’t? But I can’t help but think that if changes in the Craft happened as quickly as they do in my business, I’d quickly become burnt out – as would most of my brothers. One of the hardest thing for the more progressive minded brothers is to find that balance between the traditions and customs, and the ability to make things work at a pace more appropriate to what we are accustomed to in daily life.

We frequently joke that changes in Masonry happen with glacial speed, and truly, it often seems as if some lodges are still in the 19th, let alone the 20th century. But when we think about what we would like to change, are we really thinking about things, or are we thinking about the people involved? As Grand Master, I’d have the power to change things – regulations (some of them, since certain actions still require a Grand Lodge vote), projects, programs are all things. But what about the people, the members of the Craft themselves?

No powers of legislation in the world will change people who don’t want to, or see the need to change, themselves.

There is one thing, though, that I would try to change, and that is the idea that the Grand Lodge is somehow a separate entity from the rest of the Craft. As I wrote after our last Grand Lodge Semi-Annual session, it often seems to me that most lodge members are wrapped up in their own lodges and forget – or ignore – that they (i.e., we) are all part of a larger organization. The feedback that I’ve been hearing for the last several years is something like “We don’t want Grand Lodge making up all sorts of new rules and interfering with our business – we’ve been doing just fine, thank you.” Yet, at the same time, I also hear the Craft saying “Why aren’t things as good as they were back when I joined? Ritual isn’t as good, the programs aren’t as good, and even the food is salty.”

For example, when we first introduced a ritual certification for incoming Masters, you would have thought that the Grand Lodge was asking members to cut off a pound of flesh (not that most of us couldn’t afford it). “I’m a Past Master, I already know how to open a lodge, dammit!” But upon being told that they weren’t following the book, one would then hear how this or that lodge has their own “customs and traditions” with regard to their ritual practice. “We’ve always done it this way,” is what they say when you point out that they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Lodges that are shy on membership try to soldier along, and yet they have no idea what’s happening in a lodge a town or two away because they don’t bother attending the district meetings. They could easily forge alliances for help with degree work, dinners, or other programs – yet they ignore the resources available to them, and as a result, fail to keep, let alone attract new members, and their lodge as a whole suffers for it.

I don’t know what I would change about that because I’m not sure how such problems originate. But with several years in which to work, I would make that my most important priority. An organization is only as strong as the commitment of its members; if the membership fails to recognize – or worse, intentionally denies –  that they are part of a much larger group, then the organization as a whole will fail to thrive.

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