"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Friday, July 26, 2019

The Atlantic Asks Massachusetts Brethren What It's Like To Join The Freemasons

Brothers Jim Gonyea, Rob Lajoie and Chris Lapierre
of Joel H. Prouty Lodge in Auburn, Massachusetts
I'm not a regular reader of The Atlantic magazine, but they've had a handful of articles in the last year or two that touch on subjects I've been researching lately - namely fraternalism, our civic society, and how Freemasonry can benefit our communities on a wider scale again. 

If you didn't catch it, last November's Atlantic article, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Anymore by Yoni Applebaum is well worth reading. The author made the strong connection between the 'Golden Age of Fraternalism' and the greatest level of civic engagement in American history. Whether we all knew it or not, the Freemasons, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, Kiwanis, the Elks, Eagles and many more were all teaching Americans how to govern our Republic. We're currently living out the downside what happens when democratic people all decide "I'm not much of a joiner." The loss of interpersonal relationships that used to solve community concerns and forged strong neighborhood bonds has been devastating across America, and the middle and lower classes of Americans are measurably more isolated, alienated, and feel more hopeless than at any time in recorded modern history. 

Well, Atlantic author Julie Beck has been contributing a weekly series called The Friendship Files that's sort of an extension of Applebaum's article - or rather, regular looks at the practical extension of some of the topics in that original article. Beck has been interviewing groups of friends about their personal relationships and what makes them work. It turns out that joining organizations like church and civic groups, gaming clubs, and Masonic lodges is just what our communities need again — and for all the very same reasons it was a good idea in the very beginning.

This week's Atlantic entry is What's it Like To Join The Freemasons, and Beck spoke with Brothers Jim Gonyea, 47; Rob Lajoie, 50; and Chris Lapierre, 46 of Joel H. Prouty Lodge in Auburn, Massachusetts. These three Brethren had known each other before joining their lodge, and decided to petition the fraternity at about the same time, back in 2007. 

You'll find the piece refreshingly free of hyperbole, condescension or baseless accusations of nonsense. Here are a few excerpts:
Beck: If it did, how did joining the Masons change your friendship?
Rob: I don’t know if [Masonry] changed it so much as it provides a weekly night out where we get to see each other. This is also true with Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a reason to go out and physically be with friends. I say physically because nowadays [friendship] seems to be getting less [physical] with everything being online.

Jim: When I first had kids, I was very focused on the family end of things, and I didn’t go out and interact with Rob as much as I had previously. I really started to withdraw and drop the friendship. It picked back up for a while when I was introduced to Chris. Then I got into computer programming, which took up a lot of time, and I have a three-hour commute, on average, every day. Between commuting and long hours at work, you don’t engage with people. You get home, you’re tired, and you don’t necessarily want to go out. Having the lodge—that shared space—and that need to physically go out, it’s strengthened things. We spend more time together than I think we otherwise would have.
Beck: How many people are in your lodge?
Jim: We have maybe 15 or 20 guys who show up on a regular basis. Our total membership roster is about 150.

Beck: How do you feel about having the lodge be a male-only space? Has that been an advantage, having that in your life?

Jim: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Two things that get guys into trouble are politics and chasing women. In Masonry, we’re not allowed to talk politics, we don’t talk religion, and we’re not competing over the affections of the opposite sex. Masonry gives guys an opportunity to be around other guys without having to deal with politics or competition. One of the things that we like to teach people is that the only competition in Masonry is to see who can be the better person. There’s no machismo going on; it’s not like a locker room. It’s more adult conversations in a very open and relaxing atmosphere.
Rob: My wife knows where I’m going; she knows I’m going to be around a group of really great guys. She’s met almost all of them. She knows that the focus is not only on improving ourselves, but also on helping out others in the community. For me, it’s having a night out where she doesn’t have to worry about anything.

Beck: Is there anything that you have learned through your experience with Freemasonry that changed how you think about friendship and community?

Chris: Right after I joined, I was helping out a co-worker who was really struggling at Christmastime. I convinced another co-worker to [help], and he was like, “You know what? Ever since you became a Mason, you’re a better person.” I always thought I was a pretty good person anyway, but to hear somebody recognize the change in me—I was pleasantly surprised. You’re told, “You’re a master Mason; you need to act as such.” It changes you in that sense.
Jim: Much like Chris, I guess I do hold myself to a higher standard now. The other thing that I have found is that because we can travel to other lodges and meet new people, it’s easier to make new friends. If I meet somebody who’s a Mason, I automatically have something in common with them.
Rob: If you’re surrounding yourself with good people who have the greater community in mind, it builds on itself. If you’re surrounded by people who are always talking about how to improve things, it rubs off on you. It’s not zero-sum—rather, everyone improves.
Read the whole interview HERE.

Stories like these brethren tell are far more effective than any canned speech memorized from some grand lodge brochure. When somebody asks you "What are the Masons about, anyway?" DON'T say "It's a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." 

They'll look at you like you've got lobsters growing out of your ears. 

Tell someone why YOU joined a lodge, why YOU come back every week, why Freemasonry is important to YOU. Because that's what they want to know - why a man he works with, or likes, or admires bothered to join this fraternity that he knows nothing about.

2 comments:

  1. From my experiences with Freemasonry and Kiwanis, I would have to say that a smaller but coherent lodge or club is much more preferable to a large conglomerate of people who joined for the sake of joining something. At the very least, it means that a small group of dedicated members make service projects move more smoothly, and guarantee that changes in club officer positions will not interfere with club activities. My Kiwanis club consisted of people who were all dedicated to helping children. My lodge consisted of people who wanted to improve themselves and improve society. Quite frankly, as a Millennial, I cannot understand the idea of joining a group for the sake of being a member of something (and I say that as someone who abandoned groups like the Sons of the American Revolution and the Society of Mayflower Descendants, because that means nothing to me although my parents involuntarily created memberships for me). I am a Mason and a Kiwanian because those organizations fit my worldviews. I know Kiwanians of my generation who are Elks and Eagles, because those groups fit their worldviews. I know Kiwanians, male and female, who are not Freemasons because Freemasonry does not fit their worldviews. And that is fine. As a former Kiwanis officer, the "joiners" bug me immensely because they create the false sense of strength and size. Nothing worse than organizing a service project when 90% of the club is not interested in participating. I would rather see lodges of people dedicated to the craft, instead of lodges of people who joined for the sake of finding something to do after the whistle blew at 5:00.

    What I suspect is that the immediate post-war society does not fit with modern technology. I follow a particular wool-based hobby on Facebook and on various websites, and the people who follow that particular hobby are spread throughout the United States and the world. If I wanted to bring my model airplanes and miniature soldiers out of storage, I could communicate with people throughout the world about that hobby. Internet access means I can talk to complete strangers thousands of miles from my home, about subjects and hobbies that literally do not exist in my present town or city. I have this suspicion that people who complain about changes within society simply do not want to adapt to those changes. Maybe it is the Millennial in me, but I like change. Routine and repetition are boring.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The last time I was asked that at lodge (for the benefit of a curious visitor) the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment was 'I thought it would be good for me, and it was.'

    ReplyDelete

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