For me, the best part about Grand Lodge Annual Communication is the new people you meet and the conversations you have. However, I’ve noticed a probable cause for the cultural divide between older and younger masons that might explain weaker than desired retention rates of young Freemasons.
When I signed on to serve on the Technology Committee this year, I asked MW Jim Mendoza to come to my office and talk through the goals of the Grand Lodge’s entire digital exposure. To accomplish these goals, we built a strategy that produces and distributes content and media that speaks to answering the questions or opening a door to what young men are looking for in Freemasonry. One of the key components we found was that young men often come to Freemasonry seeking mentorship from older members.
I’ve been a Freemason for nearly seven years, been to hundreds of lodge meetings around the state, two leadership conferences and four Grand Lodge Annual Communications. From these experiences, I’ve noticed a theme: The older masons are not truly engaging the new recruits. This has been my personal experience and also noticed in my observations.
Now, this is most likely a problem with the entire generation to which Masons who are older belong, but this post is to remind you that you’re needed, but perhaps not in the way you think.
Every few years, my father-in-law can’t help but give me “Personal Feedback.” Most of the time I hate it, but one thing he told me several years back has always stood out, and has really shaped my interactions with other people, especially in social situations: Stop talking so much about yourself and start asking people questions.
To my senior brothers, I apologize for my bluntness, but I feel like this has to be said. Stop making every conversation about the stories of days gone by. Stop seeking out conversations with other senior members that end up becoming a contest of who has the better story of yesteryear. A young mason will listen quietly and politely, for a time, but eventually they will feel that they’re either stepping into a retirement home, or that their youth and inexperience leaves them with nothing to contribute to the conversations at hand. When this plays out, they will stop showing up.
From my personal experience, I love the senior members in my lodge, but other than listening quietly to them telling me or each other oft-told stories of things that happened before I was born, and the pleasantries of “hello, how are you?”, I sadly don’t have much of a relationship with any of them, despite the fact that I want to.
Here’s the thing about advice, wisdom, and stories that matter — the cliche is true. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. The only way to communicate this care is to ask questions.
When I first realized the importance of my father-in-law’s advice to adjust the focus of my social discourse, I took a moment to think back on the person I knew who did it best. In my case, it was a friend I had in high school named Trevor. Trevor could meet and introduce himself to anyone, ask how their day was, and truly listen for a personal fact he could ask more about. He would then continue to just ask intelligent follow-up questions. This method both catches people off-guard and opens them up at the same time.
When I tried to replicate this practice, I was surprised with how easy it is to do and the kind of relationships it creates, so I thought I’d take a moment to give tips to my brothers on how to engage the younger members and in so doing build a stronger, longer lasting fraternity.
- Go deeper than small talk. Yes, it takes years to truly build a relationship with someone, but the foundations can be laid in just a few minutes if you’re really looking. I’ve nicknamed an easy discipline that I often do the ‘five question drill down’. The basic concept of this discipline is to casually listen to a person sharing a story or engaging in small talk. Remember one unique thing they mentioned, wait until they’re done speaking, and then ask them a series of questions (5 or so) learn more about that thing. It normally plays out similar to the following:
Rob: “So yeah, I’m going to hoopfest in Spokane this weekend, it should be a lot of fun.”
Me: “Are you playing on a team, or just watching?”
Rob: “My family has played in it every year for about 10 years. Myself, my brothers, and my dad.”
Me: “That sounds like so much fun, and it’s really good that your dad is still playing basketball. Is he in good shape?”
Rob: “Surprisingly so! He’s had a few knee surgeries in the past few years, but he’s been good at keeping up with his physical therapy, and keeps on getting back out there… He actually used to play in college so I think it keeps him young.”
Me: “That’s great! What college did he go to?”
Rob: “He went to Oregon State, and he played a little bit of pro basketball in France afterward.”
Me: “Wow, that’s great! Did he meet your mom at Oregon State or did that happen later?”
Rob: “Actually he met her in France; she was studying abroad. But they were only together for about 5 years, so I guess romances abroad burn bright and fast.”
Me: “Well the Master calls, I suppose we better open this Lodge. I’d love to get your number so we can meet up for lunch sometime.”
… And that, my brothers, is a sample of what the 5 question drill down looks like, and it works. Now I have tons of things to ask Rob about at lunch, such as his relationship with his brothers, who they are and what they do, where his parents are living now, and even heavy questions like if it was hard living in a split family. And of course, last but not least, how well he and his family did at Hoopfest. All of these follow-up questions show that you were listening, you care, and you want to invest in them. And if they feel invested in, they will give back and keep on coming back.
- Don’t let time get in your way. At the end of the day, getting to know someone is an investment of more than just time… So it’s important not to limit it BY time. Often times, younger men need to be reassured that they have the floor and that people are actually interested in what they have to say. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what exactly it is they do for a living. If they’re talking about it, it means they’re passionate about it. So if at all possible, have the patience to truly listen, and ask relevant questions for clarification. We’re humans, not dogs, and we can learn new tricks in our old age. The first step to doing so is believing you can and making that effort.
- Follow up. When I was Senior Warden, I took it upon myself to meet all visitors to my lodge for lunch over the course of the following month. I have to say that not only are those guys I met with back then almost all in the line to become officers now, but many of them are some of my closest friends now. It’s amazing that the investment of an hour-long lunch yields returns that last years.
Brothers, the bottom line is that we 20- and 30-somethings are joining Freemasonry for many reasons. One of the most important is to build relationships with older, wiser men like yourselves. However, we can’t do that if you don’t take the time to get to know us.
These relationships are two-way streets, and we need you guys to engage us young guys. Don’t rest on the laurels of your stories. Rather, use your stories for a good purposes. Use them to give needed advice, support or affirmation to a brother whom you have gotten to know. And the only way to do that is to learn to start asking questions that are born out of a listening ear and an open heart. This is the best contribution and legacy you can make for the future of Freemasonry, because it will impact generations to come.