Written by Dan Doron (found online in 2011)
From time to time it’s not a bad idea to stop and think a bit.
We are all familiar with the definition of Freemasonry as ‘a peculiar system of Morality, veiled in allegories and described by symbols’. This definition is so wide, that although it sounds meaningful it needs some clarifications. From my point of view we do, indeed, have a moral system, or a Weltanschau, which centers on moral principles, but what makes it unique are not these principles of morality but the method by which we transmit these principles through symbols; actually these are emblems, namely physical objects to which we accord moral meanings.
In my view, we have a rather unique system of education at least from two aspects:
First of all, we put the stress on the personal responsibility of each Brother, who is at one and the same time both the trainee, the trainer, as well as his own judge. Looking at our system in this manner makes one wonder how it still works for 300 years! …
Secondly, symbols are a sort of a shorthand language. Every human society makes use of emblems to transmit its principles and moral values to the young. We use emblems as symbols of abstract ideas. The ‘thing’ we use as symbol has no intrinsic symbolic meanings. It is we that accord this symbolic meaning to that ‘thing’ we call emblem. What is important is that symbols are part of every human culture and that they give rise to emotions in us. A flag is but a piece of cloth with a certain design and colors. Yet as soon as I see or hear the word ‘flag’ I immediately see in my inner eye a very certain flag; my flag. The feelings aroused in me express my identifying with the group I belong to. The more I feel I belong, the deeper will those feelings be. This emblem is just a trigger to deep meanings and feelings in me, which are part of my culture and nationality. Just like the bell to Pavlov’s dog, only he connected it with food and his biological needs; with us it is not a reflexive system but a response imbedded in our super-ego and an expression of our value-system.
Now think how difficult a task it is for newly made brethren: they have to learn which emblems we use and what does each one of them signify. This is learning of data. Before the data itself is absorbed and made part and parcel of their concepts, they remain data. They will start to have a symbolic meaning only after these young brothers have gone with us a mile or two; until they will begin to react emotionally, not mentally. We often forget how difficult this process is. Moreover: we often forget to tell these newer brethren that they should have patience with themselves in this process of assimilating the data and its meanings.
When asked: what is Freemasonry? I usually say that it is a human organization which adopted the tools and ideas of Mediaeval stone masons, in order to educate its members moral principles. It seems to me a far better definition of what our Craft is than ‘a unique system of Morality…’
What is implied in my definition is the uniqueness of our educational system: we give our new Brother working tools and tell him to work on his Rough Ashlar, which he himself is. Actually, this is an educational system void of any remuneration. Although in closing the lodge the Senior Warden says “after seeing that every Brother has had his due” what we receive is also symbolic. We don’t even give the new brother a real measuring-rod by which to judge how well he worked on his stone. Nor do we have any system of sanctions which can be applied during this training period. What I’m trying to say is, that herein lies the uniqueness of our system; it is the difference between leading the trainee to educate himself, as opposed to taming him. Can you see the difference?
As I said before, we put before a newly initiated brother a rather difficult task: we expect that he absorbs our value-system and turns it into a part of his personal Weltanschau, that he will be his own censor, and that even the need to work on his stone will come from within him. I’m sure that when you look at it in this way you can well realize how high this fence is we put before our new Brethren. Actually it is high even for us old boys…
In North America brethren often say that “Freemasonry makes good people better”. I’m not fond of this statement. After all, Freemasonry is not a living being and therefore it has no willpower nor the ability to ‘do’ anything. Only we men can make anything. Secondly, and in my view this is the crux of the matter: our educational system transfers the onus to the brother himself; So, it is not Freemasonry but only the brother himself who can make himself better. Then, of course, ‘better’ is comparative. Better from what? Better in what? I hope you’ll agree with me that this phrase is just a platitude which sounds meaningful but signifies nothing.
Now we come to the real issue: in my daily life, how can I know that I have actually turned the teachings of Freemasonry into a part of me? How do I know that I’ve succeeded in this self-educating? How do I know that I have worked on my stone well? I do not mean empty slogans or philosophizing; I mean a real application of humanistic and moral values to my daily life.
When I was a Troup Scout Master I used to tell my young leaders: why look for provocative topics which have little to do with what we call in Hebrew “מידות הצופה”. Why talk about violence in families or single mothers? Just pick up your newspaper and you can find many cases in which someone acted in contradiction to “a scout is a friend to all men and a brother to all scouts”. Every case of offence towards a fellow man can be a topic for discussion! Every injustice. To be a Freemason is not different. Am I applying the moral principles of the Craft in my daily life? Are they my measuring rod? Or am I just going to the lodge but come out empty; just going through the motions? When I pass a man playing on the street corner do I feel the need to search for a coin in my pocket? Have I phoned a sick brother? Does any offence against a fellow man or an act of injustice stir me? And what about my tolerance? Does it exist or doesn’t it? And how do I act with my family?
The bottom line is the application of the principles of Freemasonry. Not just the preaching! It is true that it does not always come naturally; it needs constant working on my stone.
Where does this journey begin? It seems to me that the Charge in the N.E. corner puts the stress on the vital aspect needed for this self-education: sensitivity to the needs of my fellow-men coupled with a constant awareness of my behaviour and attitudes, overcoming the natural egotism imbedded in each one of us. It is a constant aspiration towards an ideal which may never be fully achieved, but just like the Boy Scouts: “I promise to do all I can for…” which in our case are the principles of Freemasonry.
Our brand of Masonry does not active promotion. We are not missionaries of our Craft. We wait until a man turns to us. This is important because we want candidates to have the urge to fill their life with a value-system. Without this urge there is little chance that after having become a Mason they will work on their stone. Furthermore: our branch of Freemasonry does not involve in politics as an organization, but if each of us works on his stone properly we will contribute to a higher standard of morality in all the circles of our life. We hope that just like the ripples created by a stone when it falls into water, so will we influence the pond we live in. Indeed this is a bit idilic, but I do not know of any other system which will make us constantly aware of the need to work on our stone, leaving the onus on us to do so.
Finally, I’d like to turn our eyes to the issue of making new Masons: do we prefer an elite minority or should we aspire to make as many Masons as we can? In my view the criterion should be: only those who feel the need to make their lives more meaningful. They don’t have to be rich; they don’t have to be philosophers; they only need to have the need to add that little bit of meaning to their lives.
Will we succeed in turning ourselves into a perfect ashlar? Most probably not fully! Am I satisfied with my own work on my stone? Certainly not always. Is it worth the effort? Certainly yes!
What do you think?
by: Dan Doron (found online in 2011)