On Don's July Diary and the dilemma of Truth

From Damien of Lodge Devotion

As editor of Devotion's newsletter, I look forward to my monthly sneak peak at "Don's Diary".

Last month Don wrote;

“... We are required to refrain from every topic of political discussion whilst in the lodge room.  There can be no room for misinterpretation of this requirement but it is emphasized that it only applies to the lodge room.  We are also required to do unto others as you would wish in similar cases they should do to you.  Again the requirement is straightforward and, furthermore, together they are complementary.  It seems, therefore, that the constraint on discussions outside the lodge room is not to engage in subjects that might hurt someone else.  If all this is so straightforward then why do some demand political correctness as well?"

As is often the case, Don's submission last month provokes thought. At the centre of Freemasonry is "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth" - but Don is too interesting to used such a cliche. All Grand Lodges and Freemasons universally use this phrase when describing the Craft. Just as popular is the description of Masonry being a "system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols". Both are just as vague.

While Brotherly Love is generally self evident to any Mason and Grand Lodges heavily report on the collective charitable efforts of brethren, "Truth" is often something that takes a back seat in our official Masonic lives and correspondence. Maybe truth is just too hard, perhaps it is its intangible nature or elusive complexity, but certainly Don’s article, its' reflection on "Political Correctness" and the established Lodge room taboos of "religion" and "politics", evoked a consideration of "truth" and what it may mean and how it can be unveiled.

There is a clear practice in modern Freemasonry to avoid discussion that might result in conflict that may threaten fraternity and communion. This line is set in custard and is as clear as mud, but perhaps our fear of giving offence sees "truth" as a causality.

Certainly too the silent nature of Freemasonry seems to endure. Perhaps this is a reflection of times past when our organisation was perceived as a "secret society", leading to fear and suspicion. Perhaps the usual shying from contentious issues is a reflection upon this history, which has left us with a legacy of polite silence in our discussions with fellow brethren and the world. Perhaps it is a reflection on the rightly celebrated diversity of religion, race, colour, country and "political" outlook in Craft members. However this diversity necessitates tolerance, not silence.

Freemasonry has implied and explicit guideposts for our thoughts and words governed by consideration for others and the search for unity through humanity's common nature. The most basic of ritual contains the theme that we all have a shared mortality and that all deserve uncompromising respect (and assistance when a mason is able to offer it). For me, this is best expressed in the beautiful Second Degree Working Tools, but it is echoed throughout the rituals of the Craft.

As Freemasons we should search for similarity rather than difference and when difference is found, celebrate it provided it is not destructive.

The first page of Freemasons Victoria's web site tells us

Freemasonry teaches:

Tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behaving with kindness and understanding to all people.

Practising charity and care for the community by charitable giving and voluntary work.

Striving for the achievement of the highest ethical and moral behaviour and spiritual truth.

So Grand Lodge encourages tolerance and respect, kindness and understanding and the highest ethical and moral standards. I think it is a safe bet that all Freemasons would concur. While tolerance and acceptance is both clear and critical to living as Freemasons, moral and ethical standards can be murky as they require value judgments. While I am sure we all make these, their seems to be a reluctance to express or explore them on matters which are complex or contentious. Once again we need to be guided by tolerance and sensitivity rather than silence.

The brotherhood I experience with brethren is obviously a central part of Freemasonry, but mateship is something that can be found in many organisations and venues. The bond of Freemasonry is different. Freemasonry creates an instantaneous understanding between brothers who meet for the first time and whose paths may not normally cross in society.

At the core of Freemasonry is a small kernel of benevolent and idealistic ideas not found in many parts of community, and certainly not expressed with as much beauty and eloquence as in the Craft. These are hard to articulate and summarise but speak of tolerance, honour and duty, moral truth, rectitude and virtue, acting as an example and precept for the conduct of others, improving society, extending relief, charity and consolation, the natural equality and mutual dependence of men and acting with kindness. I am sure when lodges of research try to identify the positive influence that Masons have had on societies, what they are really trying to do is subconsciously validate the idealism of Freemasonry. Expressed simply this is Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. If Freemasonry is truly is a global brotherhood to unite and facilitate brotherly love and improve ourselves, then surely one basis of that communion must be tolerant and open (truthful) dialogue. If that conversation is stilted or sterile because of some vague fear of giving offence or introducing a subject which potentially could lead to confrontation, then Freemasonry is not a conduit of meeting of minds and promoting understanding and ethics as the home page of Grand Lodge says. Rather it is an organization that facilitates diverse men being in the physical presence of each other rather than fostering and promoting qualitative, meaningful, and thoughtful interaction between those men.

If we allow "political correctness" and fear, but particularly silence, to stifle us, a great chance has been missed to realise one of the opportunities of Freemasonry presents. To educate and illuminate through exploration and analysis. Freemasonry prides itself on the participation of diverse men from all walks of life, kings to destitute brethren, let's not make this empty rhetoric but promote an authentic interaction and fellowship, a genuine respectful and considerate exchange of thoughts and experiences which perhaps other homogeneous organisations that one could join do not promote.

 To read Don's Original article, click here