Back in 2000, researcher Robert Putnam published his landmark book, Bowling Alone, in which he discussed problems in society that have only worsened in subsequent years: solitary lifestyles, civic disengagement, and the loss of what he defined as "social capital." All of that and more adds up to the overall collapse of communities and a functioning democratic society.
In his book, Putnam asserted that when people have fewer friends, less personal contact with others, and remained isolated, their lifespans shortened.
Well, a new Israeli study of people between 70 and 95 has just backed up Putnam's contention: the more you get out of the house, the longer you will live. And that could bode well for Freemasonry if we'd look beyond just Millennials for a while, and to the aging Baby Boomers who never joined anything in their lives before.
From Reuters today:
For older people, getting out of the house regularly may contribute to a longer life - and the effect is independent of medical problems or mobility issues, according to new research from Israel.
For study participants in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the frequency with which they left the house predicted how likely they were to make it to the next age milestone, researchers report in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
“The simple act of getting out of the house every day propels people into engagement with the world,” said lead author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem in a phone interview.
“We saw similar benefits that you’d expect from treating blood pressure or cholesterol with medicine,” Jacobs said. “Social factors are important in the process of aging.”
At all ages, people who left home less frequently tended to be male, less educated and to have higher rates of loneliness, financial difficulties, poor health, fatigue, poor sleep, less physical activity, bladder and bowel problems, history of falling in the last year, fear of falling, visual and hearing impairments, chronic pain and frailty.
The link between leaving the house and longevity, however, remained after the researchers accounted for medical or mobility issues such as chronic pain, vision or hearing impairment, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease.
“We included people who had mobility difficulties, so this isn’t just about people moving their legs up and down,” Jacobs said. “That’s quite exciting. There’s something about interacting with the world outside that helps.”The whole study can be seen at the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society HERE.
Baby Boomers are retiring in massive waves now. They haven't been joiners in the past, but their Dad or Grandpa was a Mason, and Masonic images and stories in the media (or their friendship with you, perhaps) just might set off a spark. Anecdotally, I’m seeing more and more men in their 20s and 30s bringing their 60+ and 70+ year old Baby Boomer fathers into their lodges. That's never happened before in the history of this fraternity in enough numbers to take notice.
What makes Freemasonry such a unique creation is the essential construct of all Masons being on the level, regardless of age, wealth, or social status. While we concentrate on the religious and economic equality fostered by our rituals, the Ancient Charges, and customs of the lodge, that equality extends to age as well. In his book, Millennial Apprentices, 24-year-old Brother Samuel Friedman cites a study that showed 8 out of 10 millennials tend to believe that older generations have "higher morals," and 60% of them say they consult their parents for advice about adulthood. Being around men of all ages benefits everybody involved.
The walls of a successful lodge are elastic, and in the best ones anyway, Masons across all age groups work together, govern each other, mentor and assist each other, seek spiritual awakening, and socialize. The broader definition of the Masonic family has enough variation and sub-interests within it to appeal to just about anyone, as long as they satisfy the most general requirements of a good character, a belief in a Supreme Being of their personal conceptualization, and the agreement to tolerate their fellow Masons' beliefs. That is a message that perhaps the onrushing mob of 75 million baby boomers in the U.S. who have, or will soon, reach their retirement years may have missed in their younger days (statistically, they certainly did). Even though we live in tough economic times, most retirees won't be working into their 70s to make ends meet, unless they really want to. They will, as a group, have plenty of spare time, along with having enough spendable money to be comfortable. And as Robert Putnam's groundbreaking sociological study, Bowling Alone demonstrated, socializing actually makes your life last longer.
So, it could just be that joining a Masonic lodge might turn out to be the very best thing that could happen to the Baby Boom generation. Consider that the next time your grand lodge magazine arrives with some myopic concentration on appealing to Millennials and Gen-Xers.
And while you're at it, pick up the phone and check on your existing older members. Offer to drive them to lodge next month.
By the way, Putnam's most recent book, Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis, is an examination of the enormous class disparity in America today. In it, he makes a passionate plea for us all to put aside our constant political bickering and Internet flame war obsessions for the ultimate good of our communities.
If ever the neutral sanctuary of the Masonic lodge was needed in this country as a place to gather on the level and pull together for a change, it's right this very minute.