Home > Abilene Paradox, Freemasonry, paradox > The Craftsmen Paradox

The Craftsmen Paradox

February 11, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Back in graduate school, my field of study was Organizational Behavior & Development. I was not a Mason back then, but I often wish I were because our fraternity is a very interesting organization, and I think I could have had plenty of research material for class papers.

One of the topics that management students inevitably run across is  known as The Abilene Paradox. There have been papers and even books written about it, but the essentials are these: A young man an his wife were visiting her parents in Texas one summer. After several days in the Texas heat, the father-in-law made an offhand comment about how they should hop into the car and drive out to Abilene to get some pie. The man was unsure of how to take this, as Abilene was a 50 mile drive. He looked at his wife, who said that it sounded like a good idea. His mother-in-law agreed, and the next thing he knew, the four of them were seated in a car with no air conditioning on an hour long road trip. They found a diner, had something to eat, and then drove back.

After they got back to the house, someone mentioned that it really wasn’t a great idea after all, and everyone began blaming each other. “I only agreed because it was obvious that you wanted to go.” “Me? I only agreed because everyone else was on board.” The father-in-law, who had suggested it in the first place, admitted that he, himself didn’t actually want to go; he only mentioned it because he didn’t want the couple to be bored on their visit.

The Abilene Paradox is a sociological study on how things go wrong, not because people are arguing, but rather because people are agreeing on something that nobody really wants.

We even have a Masonic parallel to this. In some versions of the Hiramic Drama, a group of craftsmen get caught up in the antagonism of the Ruffians against Grand Master Hiram, and for a while seem to be in agreement with their plan to obtain the Master’s Word. Fortunately, they come to their senses and realize that it’s not a good idea after all, but fail to convince the Ruffians.

This popped into my head the other day when I was having a conversation with some people about the One Day Masonic Classes. Introduced in some US states in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the One Day Class brings a number of men to an arena or theater in which they are all Initiated, Passed, and Raised in a day-long ceremony. Generally, one person is chosen to represent the group, and the others watch the activities. At the end, they are given a dues card and become members of their respective lodges.

Now, this is not any disparagement about the brothers who have gone this route; generally several lodges that do not have the resources to put on a degree bring candidates to these One Day Classes — the candidates, themselves, don’t really have much of an option. No, the issue — and how this relates to the Abilene Paradox — is one that falls to the lodges and Grand Lodges that continue this practice.

Ostensibly for the purpose of allowing traveling businessmen or over-scheduled fathers to have the opportunity to become Freemasons, the One Day affairs seemed to grow in popularity all over the US. I was a new Mason in the early 2000s, and I remember hearing the stories about the hundreds, if not thousands of men raised in this fashion, as various GLs sponsored festival days. Larger states, like Ohio, had One Day events in a number of different lodges at once, while smaller states like Connecticut held one in a larger auditorium venues. And it seemed that every year the states tried to outdo each other. Connecticut had three sets of these, if memory serves correctly. My own lodge, Friendship No. 33 was asked to have its officers do the Fellowcraft degree at one of them, and several of the officers participated in other events.

But here’s the point that shows that the idea might have been a Masonic version of Abilene, which I’m going to call The Craftsmen Paradox:

I’ve had a number of brothers in different states claim that Grand Lodge officers or District officers have pushed them to find candidates to bring to these classes. That is, if a lodge had planned to put on a conventional degree, they were asked to bring the candidate to the One Day event instead. I’ve even heard from brothers who have brought conventionally made EAs or FCs to a One Day event to have the brother finish out his degrees at those venues, because they were asked to do so.

Even further, on the various web forums and discussion groups that I’ve seen in the last 15 years, and in the handful of in-person discussions I’ve had on this topic, the general — and by that I mean “overwhelming” —  consensus is that this is a Very Bad Idea. Except for a few members who took the One Day option because of impending military deployment or medical reasons, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who would not have preferred to take the degrees the conventional way.

Even the brothers who act out the parts in the degrees, while they enjoy performing the ritual, have told me that they were glad that they were able to take their degrees the conventional way: in the lodge with their brothers, where it become more of a personal affair, instead of a larger “event.”

So here’s the Craftsmen Paradox: The majority of candidates would have preferred to take the degrees the conventional way, and the brothers and officers all agree that the conventional degrees are better. Yet some Grand Lodges still insist on doing the One Day Classes, and the lodges are cooperating. Why is it that most of us can take a step back and see what is wrong with this picture, but we continue to drive to Abilene hold these events?

Does anyone have a good explanation for this?


 Follow up:


  1. February 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Yes. Often lodges will have a backlog of “work” on their docket–An EA who got busy or married, and never completed his degrees, a guy who moved away, or lost interest, or guys that just could make the schedules align the right way. When this happens Grand Lodges get nervous. These are guys who are Masons, affiliated, on the books but not paying dues yet nor are the lodges paying per capita. Grand Lodges see these ODC as a way to “clear out the books.” My lodge, which prides itself on doing our own work in the traditional way, came under the same kind of pressure the year that I was Master. I was able to resist the pressure by doubling down on the number of degrees we did and we did a Saturday where we did three complete third degrees back to back, raising 8 Master Masons in a day, and all of them got the full experience, according to code. Since then, we very carefully manage our intake process (we have an embarrassment of riches and a long waiting list of petitioners) to make sure that our candidates get the degree experience they want.

    Our tradition is that we don’t do ODCs, but we will never prevent any candidate from taking his degrees that way, if that is what he wants to do. We’ve had several men who travel frequently, or military, etc. take their degrees this way and it is fine. We’ve also had several that have taken the ODC and later regretted it.

    Grand Lodges are in a tough spot. In Illinois we have many lodges in the southern part of the state on life support. No GM want to go down in history as the guy who had to arrest the charter of 100 lodges that have been operating for a century or more. I can’t blame him. But without beating this dead horse, the ODC seems to cause more problems than it solves. It is at best a temporary band-aid that undermines the creation of a sense of stakeholdership for members in the lodge.


  2. H Abiff
    February 26, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Why are lodges still doing the ODC? The answer is so simple. We need dues paying members NOW!!!


  1. February 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm
  2. March 12, 2015 at 9:57 am
  3. March 12, 2015 at 7:14 pm

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