Sunday, February 1, 2009

"What Do You Guys Do???"

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.


Greg Stewart said...

I hate that feeling. Caught with the metaphorical pants down...

I've found myself with the elevator speech of it being a post collegiate fraternity of like minded men engaged in the study and practice of an ancient moral philosophy of self betterment and social awareness. But that usually results in a blank stare.

The other quick descriptor is that it is a society of like minded men who meet to discuss a moral philosophy.

But always the answer seems to fall flat.

The Palmetto Mason said...

I like the "If I told you I'd have to kill you" response.

Greg Stewart said...

that always works too.

Millennial Freemason said...

Too bad I am too skinny to use that line. Something about having tube arms makes people unafraid of me.


The Palmetto Mason said...

Well, then try this one while looking nervously around...

"Shh. They are listening."

Unknown said...

When asked that, or a similar, question about what we do, or who we are, first of all I always try to acknowledge the questioner's sincerity, and tell tham that their question is very multi-faceted, and can be answered in many ways.

Then a follow-on question to them, such as what exposure have they had to our Fraternal Order - relatives, co-workers, friends, or neighbors...

That usually can begin a conversation in which much more can be communicated than a simple answer to a blind question.

People are generally curious, and drawing out their inherent curiosity can lead to establishing a rapport, and thereby generating more good will than a 'canned response'.

I work with many of the younger Masons who are streaming into our Lodge. I am a 'Boomer', but have spent the past few years creating REAL leadership opportunities for the new Masons - young and older alike.

Congratulations on being honored with the station of Junior Warden in your Lodge. Keep up the good work, remain always faithful to your every vow and obligation, and feed and nurture your natural curiosity.

Kindest Fraternal Regards,

Harold Collum, P.M., Secretary
Northern Star Lodge No. 377
Dallas, Texas

Still Justa Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Still Justa Mason said...

Nick, I don't understand how you can explain it to one group of people and not explain it to the other. An explanation is an explanation isn't it? (Hmm. Wrong question to ask an aspiring lawyer, maybe).

Your "Are we this or are we that or are we something else" ignores the fact that the fraternity is more than one thing.

The difficulty is Freemasonry is not superficial. People don't talk about morals, ethics, philosophy and symbolism, ergo such conversations tend to be awkward. People can much easier discuss over-hyped commercials on an even more overhyped football game.

Simply make yourself a mental check list of what the fraternity is supposed to accomplish. Save it in your head for when you need it.

Millennial Freemason said...

For me, it is that I can explain to a potential brother because I can guess what he would like to know while I perceive someone who can't be a Mason has a different interests. Maybe I am over thinking the audience.

Another thing while we were at this Expo was the strange looks that we received as people passed by, looks of either obliviousness, mild curiosity or repressed anger/fear. It was odd as I thought most people at least had a passing knowledge of Freemasonry in the post-"Da Vinci Code" world but apparently not. It left me a little more confused and somewhat disconcerted about the public's perception of us.


Greg Stewart said...


your experience mirrored mine when my lodge staffed a similar info type booth as a large public venue here in so cal.

We've done it 2 years running now, and for 13 Sundays over the summer essentially held a micro open house on the fraternity, our lodge, philosophy, etc... And In that mix where we had potentially 25,000 pairs of eyes upon us, we interacted with only about 700, and of those only about 150 who had more than a passing curiosity or interest. Most of the passers by were had no interest or curiosity what so ever, with a smattering of the dirty looks or looks of open disdain. throw in a few ultra radical religious nay-sayers and you put the cherry on the top.

The point of the activity was to get the brand FREEMASONRY back into the community mind. Not to recruit, not to give petitions (of which we didn't even bring) or even to child ID. it has been strictly a get back into the community effort, and its had some success. But doing now 2 years running, that quick speech of what is Freemasonry talk has several models depending on who was asking (man, woman, youth, retiree) and HOW they asked (with interest, with caution, with curiosity, or with some agenda). Its still an evolving education on how to answer it. The first steps though are to just making out presence known and engaging in the dialog. the rest will flow from there.


Tom Accuosti said...

I used to find it difficult to explain without sounding "new age-y" , but then I stopped worrying about that, and it became easier.

Really, what's the problem with saying that we are a fraternity of men, based on principles of self-improvement through the study of symbols and allegory?

Millennial Freemason said...

I have noticed a strange relationship that Lodges have with their communities. My lodge has been around since 1867, yet, now the city of Farmington seems to have forgotten who we are. My Lodge uses a few events to help people know who we are like Kids ID and our hot dog stand. Oddly enough, I think food is much more conducive to communication.