Posts Tagged ‘Abilene Paradox’

The Craftsmen’s Paradox – Redux

March 12, 2015 1 comment

My post on the Masonic version of the Abilene Paradox — which I named the Craftsmen’s Paradox, since I’m the guy writing about it — generated a not-unsurprising amount of feedback on Facebook, Reddit, and in various PMs and emails. I was surprised at first, but I’ve come to realize that (in conformance with the sociological aspects of this flavor of groupthink) the One Day Classes have been around for going on twenty years now, so the big conversations are long since over; we don’t realize that there is a new generation of Masons coming in this way, and the lodges have a new generation of officers who apparently aren’t questioning their own Grand Lodges. 

While not every state still uses the ODCs, it’s interesting to see the justifications are almost always the same: it makes it easier for busy men, younger men with families, or men about to be deployed in the military service. Likewise, the handful of statistical surveys always present the same conclusion, i.e., that the men raised in the ODCs are retained or active in the Society at about the same rate as those who come in the conventional way.

So, there are a small class of candidates who would find this helpful, and they tend to be just as active (or alternately, tend to drop out with the same frequency) as the members coming in with the regular degree system. Yet, there are obviously quite a few men who are being dragged into the ODCs — quite possibly more than those for whom it would be desirable. This again raises the question: Are ODCs a solution in search of a problem?

Some of the responses were from Masons who have seen or acted in the ODCs, and their comments tended to be along the lines of “follow the money.” That is, while they or their lodge had an opportunity to showcase some fine work, they came away with the attitude that it was a way for Grand Lodges to fast-track the dues into the lodge and Grand Lodge accounts.

Interestingly, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts just had one last week. From their website:

[…] Lodges will be invoiced $100.00 per candidate registered. That will include the cost of meals for the candidate and mentor along with the candidate kit for the candidate. Anything lodges collect over and above that from their application fee they keep.

In the US, Masons do not become full members until they are raised as Master Masons; Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts typically do not pay dues (although they also are not allowed a vote in lodge business). In many states, there are always a percentage of candidates who, for reasons unknown, never progress past the first or second degree. Many of the responses gave the impression that Grand Lodges use the ODC to get those candidates “all the way in a day”, so they are compelled to pay dues for at least the first year.

And I’m not picking on the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, it’s just that they happened to have one this past weekend. Again, from their website:

Your support of this class will help “make a difference” to rebuild the membership of our fraternity.

Another theme I’ve seen is that we have so many lodges that simply can’t do the work because the current members are poorly practiced, don’t care enough to improve, or don’t have enough members to properly put on a series of degrees. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and it ties into my thinking that maybe we need to let some of those lodges die, instead of committing time and resources to keeping them alive. My own opinion is that by supporting the ODCs, we aren’t rebuilding, we’re merely repairing by stuffing dues paying bodies in the lodges the way we might stuff caulk into the cracks of a drafty building. We build a stronger fraternity by giving our members something to be proud of, not by rushing them through the degrees.

But the worst indictments against keeping the ODCs came from the members, themselves, who had been brought in that way. Here’s a sampling of the comments and emails from those who went “from Mister to Master” over the last few years:

“I absolutely feel cheated and I’ve mentioned it on several occasions to the point where I was chewed out by a DD because how dare I question the GM.”

“[My lodge] didn’t want to have to do individual degrees. Either they didn’t have the numbers or they weren’t prepared. My lodge hadn’t done a MM in over a year and lots of guys forgot how to do it (as was evident during the degree).”

“I was a one day classer because I wasn’t given an option. I actually had time to do it the normal way and my lodge would do several degrees a month.”

“It is my experience as well, that not one Mason who took the 1 day option feels that his experience was equal or better than the traditional route.”

“I didn’t think about it until I saw a degree done the regular way at another lodge. It was really impressive to see how much work the lodge put into it.”

It’s pretty clear that once the ODC candidates discovers that there was another option, they felt cheated out of the experience. You are only initiated once, and lodges should take the opportunity to do it properly, or not at all.



The Craftsmen Paradox

February 11, 2015 6 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?


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