I went to a friend’s wedding this past weekend, and witnessed something amazing. It wasn’t the way the bride walked down the aisle, or the first song the couple danced to. My focus was much more on the supporting roles, specifically the best man and groomsmen. See, the groom in question is a former DeMolay, and a Master Mason, and so are all of his attendants. The four guys all met when they were boys in DeMolay, and although they often only saw each other at state events, as the diving time between them all is 3+ hours across the state of Nebraska. Even still, those bonds created when they were teenagers, was strong enough to last a decade or more, and they are still as involved in each others lives as ever.
Masonry is kind of funny that way. As I’ve said before, its definitely one of those things that gives what you put into it, whether its 1 night a month, or 3 a week. Whats more is that the people that you interact with within Masonic groups, any of them really, can have such a great impact on your life, even if you might not notice it for years to come. This is the power of fellowship, or brotherhood or sisterhood that Masonry offers us. Sometimes I feel that fellowship is something that is often discussed, but rarely actively sought. I would imagine that the goal of most Lodges/Chapters/etc. is for the bond of brotherhood to follow from the Lodge activities.
Unfortunately, many Lodges and Chapters tend to be behind the times as far as activities that can help strengthen the bond of the group. In my own Chapter, for instance, there tends to be a large age gap between the members. The majority of the members are over the age of 60, with a handful of us under 35. This can be a bit jarring, as the older crowd feels that a bridge party is a great idea, while the younger group would rather take their families to meet up at the zoo. So, what can be done? Often when we are looking for change, we are hit with the wall of, “That’s how it’s always been done,” which is great for say, ritual, but not so much when it comes to fellowship and fundraising activities. I read an interesting antic dote about this issue.
Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, researchers spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result… all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, all the other monkeys assault him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm, because he is now part of the “team” and has learned the rules. Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairs for the banana. If they could talk, they would simply say, “We’ve always done it that way.”
So, how can we avoid becoming these monkeys, or breaking the cycle if we already find ourselves in it? The simplest thing you can do, is provide a variety of fellowship activities. This means having both the bridge party and the zoo outing. This may mean that you have less people showing up to each event, but it may mean that much more to those who do come. The age gap is a much harder issue, and one that affects the majority of Masonic groups. While I am not one to say that you cannot have fellowship and become friends with the generation or two before you, it is much easier when you have things in common, which is usually defined by age. Most ladies in my Chapter still carry flip phones and paper calendars, while all of mine is on my iPhone. It may seem like a silly trivial difference, but you would be amazed at how alienating it can feel. The best solution to this is to find more folks in your age group that are interested in joining and being active. This, however, is often easier said than done. Another simple way increase fellowship and strengthen that bond with your fellow members is simply to be active, and give it time. As simple as that sounds, I have had many months where I am simply too busy to attend Star, and I know that it hurts my relationship with my fellow members. Go as often as you reasonably can.
How can we have a bond as strong as those four former DeMolays? For some of us, it may never happen. Sometimes it is just being in the right place at the right time. More often though, it is hard work that creates that bond. Making yourself both active and available; faking it until you make it can go a long way. There’s many strategies out there for attempting to increase the bond of fellowship. However, there’s nothing quite as good as being dedicated to your organization and fellow members. Everything else will follow in suite.