Part 13 of a 16 part series regarding morals and conduct.
Freemasons are constantly at labor, making the world a better place. We are to do good and make the lives of others as fulfilling as possible, not to get anything out of it, but because it’s our duty. Masonry is a lifelong journey. As we teach brothers who have just been initiated, passed or raised we ourselves are still learning, and we might not be that far ahead of them either. You can never learn enough about Freemasonry, what with all the morals, symbolism and history. However, it’s not just about learning but also about teaching and guiding your brothers, whether they be young or old. Mentorship leads to understanding and growth.
It’s our job to develop and strengthen each other as leaders in order to move forward as a lodge, correcting weaknesses and building on existing strengths. Every brother has potential, so he needs to take every opportunity available to learn from his brethren in order for that potential to grow. In order for Freemasonry to have vision and move forward, mentoring is vital in supporting individual and organizational growth. No man reaches the East on his own; he is put there and supported by his brethren. Your brethren will help you move forward, so it is your duty to return the favor and service them as well:
Now one of the great advantages of a lodge is that men rub shoulders with each other and learn that each is not the sole person in the lodge, but that others have their rights and are entitled to consideration. The friendly intercourse possible therein is undoubtedly of inestimable value in helping to mould the character of every member of the lodge. We are taught to subordinate our wills to the general good and to think unselfishly and for the interest of the lodge as a whole, rather than to try each to go our own way careless of the interests of others. In short, we not only polish our own characters but have them polished for us by the other members, while we in like manner render them a similar service. If, therefore, at any time some incident should occur which hurts our feelings or ruffles our equanimity, let us remember that this may be a well-directed blow of The Master Builder, which is intended to remove some excrescence from our character and thereby mould us hearer to the perfect ashlar. (Ward, 1926)
Sharing wisdom with our brothers allows us to learn to appreciate the wide range of opinions they may have on any subject. Outwith the lodge in the world of the profane, we use this education to try to make the world a better place – even if it’s just our small corner of it. The beautiful universality of Freemasonry allows brothers from different backgrounds to meet and perform labor together in the spirit of understanding and cooperation.
A Freemason cannot be a Freemason by himself. He needs a place in the lodge to be able to interact with his brothers, where he can be educated and prepared to do Masonic labor in and outside the Lodge. The initiation of a candidate is a lot to take in the first time around, so it’s important that the lodge assists him to understand the ceremony, reflecting on its meaning and determining how it affects his life.
Mentoring should be the responsibility of the entire lodge, and not just one person. Education doesn’t end after the 3rd degree, it’s part of a Mason’s lifelong journey – and it’s not one that can be walked alone. The important thing is to make sure a brother’s expectations are met while at the same time making sure that our own values are getting across to him. This is what true brotherhood is about:
In real life some men are more spiritually evolved or more intellectual than others, but we are taught hereby that instead of selfishly hastening on, such men should stay and help the weaker brethren, lending to them something of their intellectual ability or their spiritual insight so that they may keep pace with those more richly endowed. The spirit of esprit de corps is a high virtue and one which should particularly distinguish a Masonic lodge, and the spirit which will lead a more evolved brother to pause on his journey to help a weaker one is deserving of cultivation. Moreover, it brings its own reward, for such an action is in the highest sense unselfish, and thus further increases the spiritual evolution of the man himself and brings him yet another step along the path which leads to the goal towards which we are all striving. (Ward, 1926)
Understanding one another doesn’t simply happen overnight. It requires contemplation and reflection. Throughout life, we develop our outlook on things; we and those around us evolve and change, to the point that Freemasonry itself can take on a new meaning. Remember that “there is nothing static in either life or Freemasonry”, so that not only do we receive light, but yet more light later on in life. Some people would say that life and Freemasonry are linear, but I tend to think of them more as cyclical – we are constantly re-learning and re-teaching the lessons that are imparted, and hit new points of realization each time. As life evolves, so does Freemasonry; when we change, our perspective of Freemasonry also changes.
It’s always said that we have “privileges” in being Freemasons. However, these privileges are not monetary in value. Neither do we receive these privileges simply because we are Freemasons in name, hold sway in the lodge, or have some mentionable rank. Having a commonly shared goal, desiring improvement, sharing experiences and wisdom – these are the true privileges of the craft. They can’t be expected nor demanded, but rather kept, shared and demonstrated through our actions. Rather than receiving privileges from Freemasonry, it is simply a privilege in itself to be a Freemason.
One of the things Freemasonry teaches is “mouth to ear”, in that “…you might whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonishing of his errors, and in a most friendly manner, seek to bring about a reformation.” If you see a brother failing to live up to the standards of the craft, you should take him aside in private and counsel him with friendship. The key part of this is that it needs to be friendly and not assaulting; otherwise you should simply keep quiet. Too many times in our lives are we criticized outright in full view of others. Freemasonry teaches us to do this discreetly and in a beneficial way:
The Freemason is taught by an expressive symbol, to whisper good counsel in his Brother’s ear, and to warn him of approaching danger. “It is a rare thing,” says Bacon, “except it be from a perfect and entire friend, to have counsel given that is not bowed and crooked to some ends which he hath that giveth it.” And hence it is an admirable lesson, which Freemasonry here teaches us, to use the lips and the tongue only in the service of a Brother. (Mackey, 1878)
Sometimes whispering good counsel doesn’t always work. If you know it won’t be well received then it is better to remain silent, conforming to what was taught in the first degree. Some obligations require us to “give due and timely notice of approaching danger”, however sometimes danger cannot be avoided and thus whispering counsel ends up just being a complete waste of time. At that point it becomes a judgement call.
In addition, it might be wise to give the benefit of the doubt before approaching a brother and consider his side of the story as well. Remember, we are all trying to do what we think is right – which may or not be what is truly right. We always have to take into account all the facts, interpretations and viewpoints.
It’s our responsibility as Freemasons to whisper good counsel, just remember to use prudence and discretion. It should be between just two brothers, and nobody else. A third brother may seem a little intimidating, the brother in question might feel cornered, and the counsel might not be well received. Remember – impact, not intent.
Receiving advice also requires an amount of charity as well; we should remember to act by the golden rule and consider each other’s feelings. We need to listen to what he has to say, especially if it’s in response to our actions. He has considered us so we in turn should consider him, even if we don’t agree with him. It’s our duty as brothers to hear each other out, to think about what everyone says and more importantly, thanking each other for their time and effort in offering wisdom. If a brother has offered you words that you don’t agree with, justice dictates that you should at least think about what was offered, because some things may be harder to realize than others.
This is a vital part of Freemasonry. A friendly reminder of one’s obligations should never lead to a point of contention. Never put another brother down, and remind him of what it means to be a Freemason. Help him as much as you can, and be receptive at all times. Although no one is a perfect ashlar, we should always strive for the ideal in beauty and perfection, and the best way to do that is to help others do the same:
To whisper good counsel in the ear of an erring brother is sound Masonic teaching. To prevent tarnishing the reputation of the Fraternity we must not only endeavor to live up to the high level of our teachings, but strive to help our brethren do likewise. The best way, the brotherly way, the way of Freemasonry is by kindly caution, the friendly word of admonition, the hand stretched out to assist and save the worthy falling brother. (Unknown, 1930)
Dunn, Theron. (2008). What is Whispering Good Counsel? A Beacon of Masonic Light. California, USA.
Grand Lodge of California. (2005). Freemasonry and Education. Grand Lodge Education Series.
Johnson, Nick. (2008). Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry. Morris, Minnesota.
Johnson, Nick. (2008). We Need a Plan. Excerpted from “Mentorship.” Morris, Minnesota.
Mackey, Albert G. (1878). Mouth to Ear. Excerpted from “Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Vol. II.” Philadelphia: Moss & Company.
Milliken, Frederic L. (2012). The Ultimate Masonic Lesson. Rowlett, Texas, USA.
Roche, Martin P. (2008). “Great and Invaluable Privileges” – a Masonic Mystery Examined. East Lancashire, England.
Ward, J.S.M. (1926). The Moral Teachings of Freemasonry. London: Baskerville Press.
Work, Ryan C. (2011). Masonic Education and Mentorship. Washington D.C., USA.
Unknown. (1930). The Reputation of the Fraternity. Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic Service Association.