As many of you who watch my Twitter stream may have seen, I planned and worked the Kids ID booth at the Farmington Expo on Saturday, January 31st. Kids ID is a program where we take height and weight measurements, fingerprints and photos and give the photo disk and info sheet to the parents to take home. During our time there, we, at the table, received a common question, "Who are you guys?" and "What do you guys do?" Normally, I am never for a lack of words but in this case, I was.
The person who asked was a woman in her thirties who worked across the street from the Lodge. She had described that she had seen our red door and was wondering what the heck we do. So I stated that we give money to various charities, including the Cancer Center at the U and the local committee on community charity but she wanted to know what we "do".
As Masons, we are given a canned response to the question of what Masonry is: "a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." But this is frankly not really expositive of anything and makes the questioner feel like we are either being evasive or condescending. So we can then turn to Mackey who stated that "Freemasonry is not a system of morality, either its Speculative form or its Operative form, and was never intended to be, but is a fraternity or brotherhood of men of which the grand idea is work." (Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Part 3, "Ethics and Morals") So what we gave as an answer jives with this definition but the definition still lacks clarity.
So, here I stand as a Mason with an identity problem. I can talk to brothers about Freemasonry, guys who want to be Masons, even my wife and my mother who can't be Masons, yet I find it very difficult to explain who we are and what we do to people who cannot be Mason in the public. Are we a system of morality, are we a charitable organization, are we "workers", and if so, of what, are we a fraternity, or are we just a group of guys who get together to engage in old stuff.
The dust has settled rather thickly on Freemasonry and as the public seems less knowledgeable of who we are and what we do, we are going to need to find ways to shake that from the Square and Compass or risk becoming a further obscurity to the public.
I felt a little embarrassed that I could give her a better response. For someone like myself, I usually have an answer, even if it isn't right. There must be a better phrase, a better explanation that we can use to describe ourselves and our Craft but I just don't know it yet. I just haven't found the right answer yet.