Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have recently read a book entitled Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America by Mark C. Carnes. This book is an academic treatment of the role our Order along with several others played in the United States during the 19th century. Although I do not agree with every conclusion that the author comes to, this book is very well researched. It presents some potentially eye-opening insights into how our Order developed in this country, and why it was so popular for a time. I would certainly recommend it to any member of our Order who is interested in exploring our history.
One of the key points made in the book is that, in the 19th century, one of the major roles of the Odd Fellows and other such societies was to assist young men in making the transition to adulthood through the presentation of positive male role models. This was a very important purpose during a time when child rearing fell almost exclusively to mothers, leaving fathers with very little time to interact with their children. Young women would have plenty of female role models, but young men typically did not have close relationships with their fathers.
We are fortunate that for the last 100 years, men have been taking an increasing role in parenting and this is no longer the issue that it once was. The flipside, however, is that this role of assisting young men become adults is no longer necessary and may be part of the reason why interest in our Order is not what it once was. Furthermore, being an Odd Fellow is now about more than just about being a man; it’s about being a human being.
The situation becomes more interesting when we ponder that, as in the Victorian Era, we are in a time when there is transition in the social structures that form the fabric of our society. I am sure you have all heard about the Millennial Generation (people born in 1980 or later) and the difficulties they have often had in integrating with the work force and the institutions of our country. The fact of the matter is that these people are a very socially-minded generation, but one which does not have a clear path to adulthood due to the economic travails of recent years and the increasing number who remain living with their parents into their 30’s.
I believe that we must ponder the social ills unique to the time in which we live, and how we may help to present solutions. There are now government programs that provide support to widows and orphans in ways our Order has done in the past. The needs that aren’t being met, though, include teaching new generations the skills they need to succeed in the modern work force and to become independent adults. Imagine the usefulness to a young person freshly entering the world of business of knowing how to speak and relate to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and walks of life. Perhaps even harder to pick up in the outside world are a comfort and facility with public speaking and with knowing how to bring together a diverse group of people and set them to a common task. Quite simply, the practical leadership training we offer merely in the course of what we do is of inestimable value to a young person today. If only they were aware of this!
The fact of the matter is that we’re not even fully aware ourselves of our value and potential place in contemporary American society. Right now we are in a position where we are still feeling aftershocks of the major change we made over a decade ago in admitting women to Odd Fellows Lodges. The changes that are yet to come as a direct result of this and as the inevitable result of our changing demographics over the years cannot be overstated. Change will come, whether we like it or not. What we can influence, however, is what we will grow into. I would personally like to see us play a major role in making society a better place and in carrying forward the mission we have always had of improving and elevating the character of humankind.