In our monitor we are taught “to inculcate universal benevolence and, by the regularity of your own behavior, afford the best example for the benefit of others.” This is a vital part about being a Freemason. We should always be conscientious of our actions, but even more so when we are in the presence of our brethren:
You are to salute one another in a courteous Manner, as you will be instructed, calling each other Brother, freely giving mutual instruction as shall be thought expedient, without being ever seen or overheard, and without encroaching upon each other, or derogating from that Respect which is due to any Brother, were he not Mason: For though all Masons are as Brethren upon the same Level, yet Masonry takes no Honour from a man that he had before; nay, rather it adds to his Honour, especially if he has deserv’d well of the Brotherhood, who must give Honour to whom it is due, and avoid ill Manners. (Anderson, 1723)
We have a responsibility to be moral, upright men and to follow both divine and worldly law. If we are to make a difference in this world, it needs to be done in a manner that conforms to our science, but also to current times. Setting a good example in this sense doesn’t mean acting like we’re better than everyone else. On the contrary, we are no better than the brother next to us; as Freemasons, we meet on the level. Naturally we are only human with our own vices and desires, but setting a good example in this sense means showing that you have what it takes to exert self control and who can withstand troubles, all the while remaining humble. Take the level, for example:
The true Level is the surface of a fluid at rest, and we shall find the true Freemason when we find a man who has passions and desires like our own, but who is master of his own soul, who can endure the worst calamities of misfortune and not become bitter, and who can meet the greatest good fortune and still keep his feet on the ground. (Henderson, 1996)
It’s easy enough to do when we are just with our brothers. But when in mixed company we have to remember to maintain that demeanor and try not to conform to the world of the profane that is outwith the temple. It’s our jobs as Freemasons to be beacons of light to those around us. When you apply Freemasonry to your day to day life, that’s when you truly begin to understand it. It’s unfortunate, but there are those that are embarrassed to be Freemasons for fear of being ridiculed or alienated. If you truly know and understand what it means to be a real Freemason, then you will constantly advertise it so others will see how a Freemason lives his life:
Masonry separates a man from the crowd. The most incredible fact about being a Mason is that you can never, never forget that you are one. You can forget your wife’s birthday, but you can’t ever forget that you are a Mason. Show me a group that can make such an indelible impact on a man’s life?
As a Mason, I can never forget that I have a responsibility to live and conduct my business according to the tenets of Freemasonry. I can never be lost in the crowd. For a man to say, “I’m a Mason” sets him apart from other men. (Graham, 1993)
When we open lodge we set the tone of the meeting and how we should conduct ourselves. When we close we usually invoke Deity with words like “may brotherly love prevail and every moral and social virtue cement us”, which also sets a tone for how we should conduct ourselves outside the lodge room. It’s a reminder that we are to continue to act as proper masons until we open lodge once more.
In order to make men better, we ourselves need to be better and show younger masons what it truly means to be a Freemason:
Masonry gives a man a positive picture of what it means to be a man. In a time when numbers are more important than a man’s name, this is a message that makes sense! No group or organization gives recognition to the worth of a man’s life as does Freemasonry. The Masonic message is simple: “You’re important.” As Masons, we make one thing clear. “As a man, you have tremendous potential and we’re going to show you how to become the best.” Masonry never looks down on a man. Masonry denies that a man is basically “bad.” Masonry sees the possibilities in a man and gives him a way to reach for the stars. (Graham, 1993)
We can never allow our moral standards to fall in the presence of our brethren. We are sworn to not only be inflexible in our fidelity but also to study and uphold the morals of Freemasonry, all the while acting in accordance with them. Not only will we be setting a good example for other brothers but we’ll also be helping our own self esteem in the process. How can we expect our brethren to conform to the ideals of the craft if we ourselves are unable to? And more so, if we cannot be beacons of light outside the lodge room, then why should we expect prospective candidates to join and study Freemasonry? Everything has consequences.
It’s all about passing on and leaving behind what we have learned, and the best way to do that is to live what we learn. “May all these principles and tenets be transmitted pure and unpolluted from generation to generation.” Not everyone can be a great leader; that is well understood. But every single one of us is able to lead in our own way and usually the simplest way is to just set a good example:
Our leaders must possess imagination. Our leaders must be able to bring a sense of excitement to the Fraternity. Leadership means being able to move men’s hearts, to make them proud of their Masonic membership. Leadership means being able to motivate men to action. It means getting Masons to come out of the closet and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the Fraternity. Masonic leadership means a willingness to take bold steps. Our leaders must possess a new vision for our Fraternity. If a man does not have this kind of vision, if he does not possess the skill to make things happen, then he should not be elevated to a leadership position. (Graham, 1993)
It might be difficult to follow a leader who is lacking in several things, especially when they are set in their ways. I like to think that whatever flaws we see in them can also be an example of how we shouldn’t be. It sounds harsh, but perhaps if our senior masons see us living up to the moral standards Freemasonry provides, they yet may be inspired to become better men still. “What you observe praise-worthy in others you should carefully imitate, and what in them may appear defective you should in yourself amend.”
Whether or not we are in the presence of our brethren, we should always set a good example; if not for them, certainly for ourselves. Even if we are certain that no one is looking, remember that we can never escape the All Seeing Eye. Thus we should be ever mindful of not only how we act but also how we think:
Always commit an act as though the world were looking at you.
– Thomas Jefferson, date uncertain.
Anderson, James. (1723). THE CHARGES OF A FREE-MASON. EXTRACTED FROM The Ancient RECORDS of LODGES beyond Sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the Use of the Lodges in LONDON.
Graham, John R. (1993). Masonic Leadership: It’s Time to Set the Pace. Excerpted from “THE WORSHIPFUL MASTER’S HANDBOOK.” Grand Lodge, F.A.A.M. of the District of Columbia.
Henderson, Kent. (1996). The Working Tools. Excerpted from “Masonic Education Course.” Victoria, Australia.
Herron, Clive. (2004). Freemasonry and the Public Image. Durban, South Africa.
Herron, Clive. (2010). You and the Image You Project. Durban, South Africa.
Unknown. (1930). The Reputation of the Fraternity. Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic Service Association.