Harmony & Conduct

Part 15 of a 16 part series regarding morals and conduct.

In our monitor it talks about how we are to treat our brethren, and we are charged to “view their interests as inseparable from [our] own.” We should never dismiss another brother’s view, no matter how differing it may be. This should also be prevalent between lodges. Different lodges have different traditions and methods, which is part of the beauty of Freemasonry. We should respect and even embrace those differences when dealing with other lodges. We should also remember that birds of a feather flock together, and certain lodges will also have particular views on society. Naturally they’ll keep religion and politics out of the lodge room, but that doesn’t stop them from acting a certain way based on those particular views.

For example, some lodges remain secular while others prefer to be religion specific. Some will wear their religion on their sleeve while others are simply unchurched. Some will pray to a specific Deity, while others will have several holy books on the altar. Some will have strict dress codes, some are monolingual, and some let others use their lodge space. Some permit alcohol, while others don’t even allow the handicapped in. Some prefer to use the Masonic Trial system, while other lodges simply expel without due trial. It’s also interesting to note that some Grand Lodges have more control over the lodges than others. The differences can even get down to the color of one’s skin when it comes to admittance.

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These differences have often divided the craft and caused each lodge to adopt a “tribal mentality”, which of course is only human to do so. We naturally feel more comfortable around those who share the same views as we do. However, as Freemasonry is universal and knows no creed, race or rank, we are thus charged to take that extra step and examine the mentality of the lodge. Do we really profess the morals of the craft by exploring and developing the lodge consciousness, or would we rather subject outsiders to our views and pass judgement if they have differing opinions?

Yes, it’s okay to uphold the traditions of a lodge that is rich in history. Always be proud of your Mother Lodge. Freemasonry allows for many things; we just need to remember that it’s a big world out there and we should always respect each and every lodge that we visit and hold communications with.

Things like strife, discord, ill feelings and unmasonic conduct do exist in Freemasonry. This often leads to rivalries and lack of cooperation. Lodges should share commonality and reduce opposition, but at the same time they should also allow each lodge to maintain full control of their own affairs. It’s important to be able to bridge the gap between different lodge mentalities, so that we can properly promote the Freemason way of life and embrace free thinkers, creative minds, principles and virtues as well.

When we have harmony we are able to share knowledge and work together to raise the level of our society. As Freemasons, it’s our job to be pillars of the community. But how can we hold up a community if there are disagreements, bitter feuds and refusal to change methods? Discord will prevail, the pillars will crumble and there will be no hope for an enlightened society.

Of course, in the long run history won’t remember all the little arguments and discords we may have. So then, would all the disagreements even be worth it? Freemasons in the future will be too busy reaping the benefits of what we can build for them to notice any schisms there might be presently. Honestly speaking, not many people actually care about petty squabbles other than the few who happen to be directly involved. It is simply better to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, rather than dwell on any discord.

Moreover, it is vital to not let any news of discord within a lodge to get out. Dirty laundry is not meant to be viewed in plain sight, and it is our responsibility to fix problems at the lowest possible level. There’s a big difference between simply whispering good counsel in a brother’s ear and holding a Masonic trial, and the latter is to be avoided unless deemed absolutely necessary. Every lodge needs to maintain a good reputation:

It is one thing to fail in any Masonic duty; it is another to fail so publicly that the reputation of the Fraternity is hurt – that reputation of which we are taught that its preservation is of vital importance.  Occasionally, more’s the pity, it is necessary for a Masonic organization to take practical steps in regard to some brother who has failed to live up to the Masonic teachings.  Masons are only men who have solemnly agreed to do certain things; sometimes they are foresworn.  Sometimes our committees do not do their work aright and we are given cracked stones to work upon.  Sometimes a good man changes as he grows older, and even the sweet and gentle influence of the Craft cannot hold him in the straight and narrow way.

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The lodge in which someone holds membership may well be advised to do little rather than much.  There are times when something must be done; when the reputation of which we think so much is hurt by failure to do.  Then we have all the misery and pain of a Masonic trial; the sad washing of dirty linen in the lodge; the grief of seeing our good and great Order dragged to some extent into public notice; when ever a Mason receives the worst Masonic penalty – expulsion, or Masonic death – the world at large usually hears of it.  Few are the Masons who have no friends!  Hence a Masonic trial is very apt to create tense feelings in a lodge, if not worse, and the harmony which is “the strength and support of all well regulated institutions” is made into a discord. (Unknown, 1930)

There’s different things that draw men towards Freemasonry, one of which is that it provides a platform where we are all “on the level” and treated fairly. Isn’t there enough contention in the world? Do we really need to add to that contention? It’s true that politics do exist within our Masonic system and that it can indeed affect membership and attendance as well. It would be nice if there were no politics within Freemasonry, as it ought to exist well above such superficial things. Unfortunately, that is not the case. But that’s okay because we’re only human after all, and politics only play a natural part of our lives. The real key is to follow rules and regulations that we can all agree upon in order to be more effective in our labor as a whole.

Lodges need to unify, rather than separate. Constant bickering and dissension will only lead to disharmony and discord, and no one will want to be a Freemason after that. Although, you have to really think about the term “harmony” and what it can mean in some situations. For example, lodge harmony can often be used to exclude people. How many times have we seen or heard tell of a prospective member getting black balled for the “harmony of the lodge”? And not because he was a bad man, but because he simply didn’t “fit in”:

We know a man we dislike. He has different ideas from ours. He belongs to a different “set.” He is not the type we admire. Our dislike does not amount to hatred, nor is it predicated upon any evil in the man’s character. He and we are antipathetic; we rub each other the wrong way. When he applies to our lodge we must decide this question: will the unpleasantness to us, in having him as a member, be greater than the good to him which may come from his reception of the Masonic teachings? Are we sure that we cannot accept him as a brother merely because we “have never liked him?” (Claudy, 1929)

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And then there are those brothers who choose to leave the lodge simply because they can’t stand all the bickering and squabbling; in my opinion, those brothers give up way too easily. They would rather turn their backs on the lodge than work together to come up with a viable solution, and that’s not how Freemasons should act. Yes, heated arguments can be a bit unsettling at times; however there should be some leeway for such noisy debates during those times. Sometimes in order to keep the harmony within the lodge, we need seek out the cause of the discourse and try to fix it. There may likely be some ruffled feathers in the process, but if we are sincere enough in our actions we can avoid any desertion:

At times it is necessary to stand pain to get rid of a cancer.  But the best surgeon does not use a knife until all other means fail.  That lodge, that Master and those brethren who seek to compose differences, win the erring back to the path their feet should never have left, do a real service to their lodge, to their offended brother, to their erring brother and to the Fraternity whose reputation “should be our constant care.” (Unknown, 1930)

So what does real harmony mean anyways? Causing some brethren to simply “go with the flow”? Disregarding any rights or justice that is due? Shunning or even expulsing those who would go against the grain in order to keep what some would believe to be harmony within the lodge? Trust me brother when I say, that is not real harmony.

To be perfectly honest, it can be a real tricky thing at times. Here’s another way to look at it: we have the world of the profane outwith the temple, and then we have the world of Masonic light within. Outside the lodge we are separated by things like politics, religion, rank, status and wealth. However, inside the sacred walls of the lodge all those things are left at the entrance. Remember that when we pass through the entrance of the lodge we are “purified by the divine presence”, otherwise we cannot truly meet on the level.  One of the reasons we don’t solicit membership is because it might result in a clique or cliques within the lodge. If we are to experience the true spirit of the craft, we have to be reborn into a world where selfishness and ego don’t exist:

 The lodges of Freemasonry are not political organizations; they are not business syndicates; they are not social cliques. (Frazer, 1915)

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And what of discord? Can it be completely avoided? Probably not. Although from an optimist’s stand point, conflict can also be seen as an opportunity for growth. Let’s think for a minute about the twin pillars at the entrance to the temple. One of their great lessons is the “equilibrium of the opposites”, where the “ferocity of hate is counterpoised by the tenderness of love” and “hope tunes anew the broken notes of despair”. Without discord, we would have no conception of the value of harmony. Conflict is a natural part of human life. It’s how we choose to deal with that conflict that determines whether a lodge will flourish or collapse.

If a brother says something we disagree with, we remain tranquil. Escalation never solved anything. Things like ganging up, belittlement, abuse of power and strong tactics are unmasonic and only leads to more contention. We are not warriors but laborers, and thus must use our thoughts, words and actions as tools – not weapons. Instead of focusing on winning an argument, what we should really be doing is putting our energy towards whatever common goal is shared. If there is no goal, and all you’re trying to do is get your point across then perhaps resignation wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Is all the discord even worth it?

Always remember that the tenets of the craft should be our constant care. We can’t lose sight of them, otherwise we lose perspective. Simply avoiding discord doesn’t really help. A rough ashlar requires some destruction in order to become a perfect one. If all you’re going to do is try and maintain harmony at whatever the cost, then you’re not much of a laborer are you? As Freemasons we need to build a better world, and we can’t do that without moderation and stability:

“Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony.”

— James Ellis

 Nobody likes being in a situation that is uncomfortable, that much is certain. It’s a lot easier when everyone is in agreement, and nobody argues. But there’s a clear difference between remaining silent and being silenced. It’s true that if you don’t have something nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all, but you can still make an argument in a civilized manner so that whatever is on the table can go forward in the right direction. A lot of lodges tend to have inner circles, where things are discussed and agreements are reached, after which they bring forward to open lodge and force those opinions onto others. Anyone daring enough to oppose that inner circle would be deemed “unmasonic” and accused of causing discord. Who could blame those people for leaving? That kind of activity should never be condoned, yet it happens more often than a lot of us would like to admit.

What if the other side is correct? Then the rest of the lodge has to choose between rational thought or being labeled “unmasonic”. Actually using the word “unmasonic” is unmasonic in itself. The last thing a Freemason wants to hear is that he is “unmasonic”, whether that be in open lodge or even mouth to ear. It’s tricky, learning how to be a gentleman and at the same time having constructive arguments. The important thing is to be constructive, and not focus on trivial things that really don’t matter in the end.

So true harmony then is actually an atmosphere where discussions can take place without resorting to derailments or attacks, where disagreements are not frowned upon but welcome, and where we can still stand at the end and call each other brothers, whether or not an agreement was reached. If we open our hearts to the reception of another’s thoughts and opinions, we will gain more perception, wisdom and truly learn to understand one another. Remember that above all else, brotherly love must prevail:

That unhappy Brother whose “proposal for the good of the lodge” has been rejected by an overwhelming negative vote – has anyone realized the taste of ashes in his mouth and tried to lessen the hurt and embarrassment to his feelings? To soothe the unhappy is not only incumbent on Masons in charitable programs; it is a necessary chord in the harmony of the lodge. It is not enough to reject a Brother’s well-meant but undesirable proposal. He must be helped to understand that his zeal for the lodge is truly appreciated, but that his suggestions are presently unwise or impossible of achievement. In this sense it can accurately be said, “Relief begins at home.”  (Hahn, 1964)

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It’s no wonder that Freemasons prefer the company of other Freemasons. There are times when we are troubled and going to lodge helps to soothe the soul, as we are in a place where there is no discord but only peace and harmony. If there is such discord in your lodge you have one of two choices: either leave and go elsewhere, or stay and try to overcome said discord, which will lead to having a stronger, more harmonious lodge in the end. Obviously the latter is the better decision, but many a brother will choose the former because they simply lack the fortitude. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really there isn’t. Maintaining peace and harmony can be one of the most daunting tasks as a Freemason. I think as long as effort is put in, we can only go forward from whatever situation we may find ourselves in:

“Harmony being the strength and support of all well regulated institutions, especially this of ours.” This phrase, or one similar, is familiar to all Masons. Harmony–oneness of mind, effort, ideas and ideals–is one of the foundations of Freemasonry. Anything which interferes with Harmony by so much hurts the Institution. Therefore it is essential that lodges have a harmonious membership; that no man be admitted to the Masonic home of any brother against his will. (Claudy, 1929)

The last thing anybody wants is to make a brother feel uncomfortable or even cause him harm. A lodge is a sacred place where we come to feel safe, and loved by our brothers. A brother should never be subjected to things like berating, slander, cursing, vulgarities or racism. Maintaining peace and harmony is also the reason why the topic of religion and politics is forbidden within the walls of the lodge room, when the master has banged his gavel to indicate the opening of the meeting:

There are probably no other topics of discussion that have caused as much ill will, alienation and contention as have politics and religion. In the interest of harmony among Brothers, it is considered un-Masonic to introduce any religious, political, or other divisive topic into a Masonic discussion.

– Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota, 1986.

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Anything that might cause discord within a lodge is left at the door. We’re free to believe what we want and to have our own opinions, but in the spirit of brotherly love and peace we need to check whatever argumentative attitude we may have, and suppress the urge to correct brothers in a manner that is undignified. In order to make the world we live in a more peaceful society, we have to start at home, in the lodge room. The lessons we teach and learn are to be practiced within the lodge, so that each and every brother can see that universal societies can exist – where peace and harmony are a means and not just an end, and where everyone is accepted no matter what:

The “camaraderie” of the social hour of the Lodge cannot be equaled elsewhere.  Within these portals where men upon the level and part upon the square, the “good time” is not confused by questions of “who is he?” or “what does he do?”  Men enjoy Lodge functions not only because of the “innocent mirth” which the Old Charges enjoin, but because of the freedom and happiness; one must accept all others in the Lodge at face value. (Unknown, 1934)

The old prayer that often accompanies the closing of a lodge is there for a reason. We are to remain harmonious with our brethren not only within the lodge but outwith as well – “May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us” – cement meaning that we should carry that spirit of Freemasonry with us until it’s time for the Master to rap his gavel once more.

As Freemasons, we should remember that without discord, there cannot be harmony. A lodge needs to be balanced, and peace cannot be forced. Sometimes things may present themselves in a way that is unknown to us. If we remember the dictates of the craft, we can get through any storm that may surprise us – so let’s not turn away from problems, but rather embrace them and see them as opportunities to grow:

All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.

— Alexander Pope

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Accuosti, Tom. (2008). Enlightened Harmony and Discord. Main Street, Southington, Connecticut.

Bryce, Tim. (2009). The Politics of Freemasonry. Palm Harbor, Florida, USA.

Claudy, Carl. (1929). The Black Cube. Short Talk Bulletin, Masonic Service Association.

Clevenger, Michael D. (2010). Leading with Masonic Values – Brotherly Love. Worthington, Ohio.

Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota. (1986). Standard of Masonic Conduct. Short Talk Bulletin.

Frazer, E. (1915). Problems in Masonic Charity. The Builder. National Masonic Research Society.

Hahn, Conrad. (1964). Relief. Short Talk Bulletin, Masonic Service Association.

Hemphill, Kenneth, L. (1999). The Boundary Line of Our Conduct. Southern California Lodge of Research.

Johnson, Nick. (2008). Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry. Morris, Minnesota.

Johnson, Nick. (2008). We Need a Plan. Excerpted from “Mentorship.” Morris, Minnesota.

Milliken, Frederic L. (2008). A Flawed System: Why there is so much disunity, disharmony & discord in Freemasonry. Rowlett, Texas, USA.

Milliken, Frederic L. (2012). Blue State – Red State Freemasonry. Rowlett, Texas, USA.

Milliken, Frederic L. (2012). The Ultimate Masonic Lesson. Rowlett, Texas, USA.

Pursley, George W. (2012). A New Masonic Year Begins in Lancaster. Lancaster, Ohio.

Ratcliff, John W. (2008). What’s this $#!+ about Masonic Harmony? Lake St. Louis, Missouri.

Unknown. (1930). The Reputation of the Fraternity. Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic Service Association.

Unknown. (1934). Gifts of the Magi. Short Talk Bulletin, Masonic Service Association.

Weinberg, David. (2006). Harmony Isn’t What It Used to Be. Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary.

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