If you read the Path Forward survey done by the Scottish Rite NMJ three years ago, you'll discover that our current TARGET now should be the Baby Boomers, aged 55-75. They are settled, with time and money, stable, more likely to be married and with older kids and grandkids, frequently bored now that their careers are slowing (or ended), and most important, still have a grounding in the virtues and morals from the remnants of any shred of religious traditions or connections from their own upbringing. Sadly, more Millennials don’t have that and are rudderless, which means more heavy lifting on our part to teach what they don’t have just to reach and retain them. That’s all why the Boomers are currently our growth target right now.
We already have a major percentage of Brethren over the age of 65, and more are joining every day. Moreover, if you look at the precipitous decline in the birthrates in the U.S. and most European countries over the last 40 years, the simple law of supply, demand and aging are all combining to further skew our demographics to the older range. As fewer of our own members have children and even get married less, by their retirement years they will have even less of a close support network than seniors have today.
Which brings me back to the study in Old Blighty. A group called AgeUK partnered up with Cadbury Dairy Milk for a study on aging in the U.K. They surveyed 1,896 seniors over age 65, and they veered into a situation that is alarming, depressing, or just plain sad, depending on how you look at it.
And our lodges can actually do something about it, if only among our own members.
According to their survey, about 22% of seniors over 65 (around one in every five) will speak to no more than three fellow human beings in an average week. In the U.K. that translates into about 2.5 million seniors who don't have any human contact on a daily basis. Bore into it a little deeper and you'll see they found that 225,000 seniors there will go a whole week without talking to anyone face-to-face. And one out of eight seniors say they don't leave their homes at all because of loneliness.
So, sure. That 225,000 sounds like a lot until you step back and see that the UK has 67 million people. In that light, a quarter million is a rounding error statistic. But it isn't.
“Loneliness is a huge problem because retirement, bereavement and ill health mean many older people find they are spending a lot less time enjoying the company of others than they’d like,” says [Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK]. “Loneliness can affect your health, your wellbeing and the way you see yourself – it can make you feel invisible and forgotten.”
About 40% of seniors say they’d feel more confident to head out each day if they knew their neighbors. Just the thought of someone stopping to chat with them brightens their outlook: 54% of respondents agree that even a short conversation with a neighbor or acquaintance would greatly improve their day overall. And a quarter of older adults say it makes them feel good when someone smiles or acknowledges them while waiting in line at places like the bank or grocery store. One in five would be thrilled if someone stopped to ask them how their day had gone.
Meanwhile, another survey of 2,000 people ages 16-45 in the UK shows that 55% of younger folks admit to worrying about being lonely in their elder years. With that in mind, two-thirds of this segment say they’re willing to do something to help boost the confidence of a lonely senior, but 37% worry that such a gesture wouldn’t be well-received. Another 30% feel too shy to spark up a conversation with seniors, 27% admit they aren’t sure how to help, and a quarter say they’re simply too busy themselves.As you age, your connections with the past are more important than at any other period in your lifetime, and yet they get yanked away at an ever increasing rate. Talk to literally anyone over about 70 and you'll begin to hear the same thing over and over. "All my friends I've known are dead, dying, or moved far away to retire or be with their grandkids" (if they have any). It's highly probable that they've lost their spouse, all their contemporary friends, and even the house they lived in and treasured for 30 years gets replaced by a 8x10 room in a retirement community. That's where the loneliness sets in described in the study.
How many times have we all contacted a Brother whom no one in lodge ever heard of to pin a 50-year (or 75-year!) pin on their lapel, and heard him say,"Gee, I haven't been in a lodge in 45 years?" As a lodge Secretary, I heard variations time and again. "I still proudly keep my card in my wallet. But I couldn't work my way in, I've forgotten everything. And besides, I don't know anybody there. All the guys I joined with, and my mentor, the officers - all gone now. It's not even the same building I was raised in. Why don't you just mail me that pin?"
You hear it over and over.
Freemasonry's core principles are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. If your lodge has a group of aged members you've never seen or heard from, make it a point to call them all. Visit them. Sit in their living room, hear their old stories, learn their histories, and invite to drive them to lodge events. Become their new mentor to bring them back to their lodge again. Ask them to just come and describe the old lodge to your members as your education for a night. Tell then they are the connection with the lodge's past that the rest of you need. Make them a star for the evening.
Within reason, be a pest in the most fraternal way possible, because what you're really fighting against is his firmly held desire not to be a burden to anyone. Just like your old physics teacher said, objects at rest require far more energy to get moving. It goes for people, too.
Do the very same thing for your lodge widows, because those ladies may be every bit as lonely and bereft of human contact as your senior Masons.
And don't just do it once, keep it up. Because in addition to actually engaging in Brotherly Love and Relief, you're also setting an example to your fellow lodge brothers to follow when the day comes that it's YOU sitting alone in a retirement home.