We Work
We Work

We Work

By Paul R. Swanson, 32°

Our history predicts our future if we are willing to put in the “We work”.  

In the Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, USA, November/December 2022 edition there is an article on page 6 which is remarkable for the history of Freemasonry in the United States. It’s titled, The Best Masonic Book has ever given away: The Lion’s Paw Masonic Promotion of 1944, by Matthew T. Szramoski, 33°, director of development.

The Lion’s Paw: A story of Freemasonry, by Carl H. Claudy, was distributed by the MSA (Masonic Service Association) and the 218-page novel told a story of an orphan who grows up during WWI. The orphan goes to a Masonic home, eventually with lots of drama points uses the lessons of the Craft to steer his future by the words he finds worthy from the fraternity his father had belonged to.

Sales (gifts actually) of this book soared to 700,000 copies printed and distributed by the MSA of the Army and Navy for free to servicemen wherever America was engaged in the war in 1944.

This book, just a bit longer than the average Louis Lamour western book so popular with the fleet and soldiers in the 80s and 90s was a fast read and the ideas and principles of Masonry resonated with many readers. Freemasonry was ready to engage the masses and move away from the public perception of the elite-only fraternity. With the success of the GI Bill after WWII the middle class was born in America, and freemasonry surged in both popularity and population only to see both shrink in the last three decades.

To see a book printed into the stratosphere of best seller quantities and then distributed for free to a very targeted audience is unheard of today, but in 1944 the MSA did just that and I suspect they expected a return on their investment, which might just have been the reason for the incredible surge of Masonic petitions which followed WWII. It is hard to imagine a better vehicle for such marketing!

Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of that era emerged in the form of many of the initiates voting with their feet and not attending the lodge functions over time but keeping up the “It’s a Secret” mentality surrounding Masonry whenever family members or others asked questions. The “secrets” were the only thing that many non-Masons remember about that era ending in the 70s. Those sad memories family members gained poisoned so many into rejecting Freemasonry as useful in their lives and they voted with their feet, that is they declined to join in large enough numbers that we ceased growing and saw a steep decline in membership.

We do ourselves no service in alienating our sons and daughters and other family members with winks and slyly alluding to “secrets” while burying ourselves in areas which are clearly not secret nor worthy of such a cloak to hide behind when our family and friends make inquires.

From a masonic perspective, we need to use activities at our lodge and the associated masonic bodies to show conclusively to our families and supporting friends that our fraternity is worthy of esteem and not bordering on the frivolous or worse, a time-wasting exercise without any benefit to the individual who participates, resulting in a great “sucking sound” of talent and energy.

We as a fraternity need to remember that we are only one of many volunteer organizations and options today’s men have when they assign how they will devote their efforts and time. Just hoping that claims of “it’s a secret” will mysteriously coerce today’s men into joining in any significant numbers is silly and pretentious.

Robert D. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone and a Harvard Professor showed in his follow-up book of solutions, The Upswing: How America came together a century ago and how we can do it again demonstrated conclusively how we have gone from an individualistic “I” society to a communitarian “We” society and then back to an “I” society we find surging today. Freemasonry and other civil and fraternal as well as veteran volunteer groups all benefitted during the “We” society and have struggled during the slippery slope of “I” in the last 40-odd years. Fraternities are groups where if “I’s” prosper disproportionately, “We’s” don’t in the “I – We – I” cycle Putnam cited in his research, showing why we struggle in keeping our members. This leaves lots of men to vote with their feet.

Freemasonry must if we are going to survive in the future reposition ourselves to either drive or ride the next “We” cycle of our society. We do this by giving the potential petitioners paths of how we “make good men better”. We show by example each individual counts and can use the working tools effectively for a “We” growth pattern. We grow one Mason at a time, allowing for all to grow, not just the ones who are better at memorizing rituals and lectures or acting in degrees. We give the new generation what they want, socializing and comradery while making the systematic study of the working tools on our minds and character the front and center basis for our meetings and events. Thus, both groups grow and not at the expense of the other, a very “We” worthy future.

Paul R. Swanson, 32°, January 2023