The Trestle Board

The Trestle Board

By Bro... Paul R. Clark


DR. CHARLES PARKHURST in saying “To call things by their right names is always a direct contribution to wholesome effects” should receive credit for enunciating a philosophical gem. When a manufacturer seeks an economical distribution of his products, he doesn’t call a spade a shovel or “pussyfoot” down some side alley, timidly and fearfully, trying to develop vital facts, lest he uncover unpleasant truths which might materially change his pre-conceived ideas or notions.

Economical merchandising on a national scale is a problem so complex we can’t afford to shrink from the broad highway, lead us where it may. Merchants willingly spend thousands of dollars in developing facts to secure a clear picture of conditions as they are, not as they would like to find them. “A fact is a fact, whether you like it or not.” Unbiased opinions are difficult to get, because “an opinion changes with what you had for dinner.” So, we find merchants seeking facts. When unpleasant truths stalk into the conference room, business men welcome them and call them by their full names, and consider themselves fortunate indeed if they clearly uncover weaknesses in their products or their merchandising plan.

Many successful business men are members of long standing in the Masonic Fraternity. I am persuaded that, if given an opportunity, they might apply some of their hard-earned experience towards the solution of our Masonic problems.

I HAVE a close friend, a Mason, who is a large manufacturer of pianos. He is not lulling himself to sleep with clever slogans or advertisements in nationally circulated publications, nor with prettily worded or high sounding phrases when discussing his problems with his directors or stockholders.

The radio, the automobile, and the moving pictures are great, gaunt realities which overturn old traditions or customs of the piano trade and demand recognition. Turning his back on them, “ostrichizing” them by sticking his head in the sand, or parking his intelligence outside will not get him to “first base.” The changing habits of the present generation, and the new problems of this wonderful, but complex, 20th century are introducing conditions which must be called by their right names.

When pointing out some of the shortcomings of the average Blue Lodge, I am reminded of the story of the boy, returning from college, who nervously says to his father, “Dad, after all, the real thing in college is the social atmosphere. The real values lie in the social opportunities and – “Dad impatiently interrupts him at this point with the rather caustic remark, ‘What did you flunk in this time?'”

Nothing can be gained by denying the fact that too large a percentage of our brothers flunk in Freemasonry, as far as the Blue Lodge is concerned. A pitifully small percentage of those brothers who are Masonically insolvent take sufficient interest constructively to criticize the Craft, let alone discuss and try to find a solution to many of our Masonic problems. Those who haven’t flunked, like Dad, shouldn’t be too severe on the “boys” who might be justly accused of not studying or taking interest in the Craft. The boy who flunks in college is not always entirely to blame. The teachers, the parents, the curriculum, the atmosphere in the home, and the conditions under which he studies, all are contributing factors in his failure.

If newly made Masons, whom I am calling “the boys,” do not attend lodge and therefore do not take a deep interest in Freemasonry, the inevitable conclusion must be that the Fraternity or the atmosphere in the Masonic classrooms may be partially at fault. Supposing we approach it from this angle, not that the fault lies entirely with the Craft, but possibly the major part of the responsibility may lie with our Masonic leaders who do not recognize that conditions have changed considerably in the last twenty years.

SOMEONE has said that the difference between a Mack truck and a 20-mule team is the difference between coordination and persuasion. Human groups, like mules, to produce the best results, have to be organized and coordinated, as well as persuaded. Individual Blue Lodges may be efficiently coordinated fifty years hence, but I have my grave doubts. It seems to me that it is going to be a long up-hill pull.

In the Masonic Fraternity we find that the Blue Lodge, maintaining a separate and distinct identity and organization, to a great extent is a law unto itself. It is susceptible to coordination, but not subject to it. The Master may accept suggestions from the Grand Lodge or be may not, but the line of demarcation between the Grand Lodge and the individual Blue Lodge is quite rigidly fixed. The Blue Lodge requires considerable persuasion, with the hope that eventually the lodges may be coordinated, but it is evident that the latter is not possible without the desire on the part of the individual Blue Lodges. The lack of a national Masonic policy is a great weakness, but the independence of the individual Blue Lodges is a calamity, if considered from the standpoint of coordinating the Blue Lodges in any one state of these United States.

Most of us will admit that the average Blue Lodge is without a safe, sane, and well planned “selling campaign.” Further, it is just as evident that the Master of any individual Blue Lodge, if he has succeeded in vitalizing the lodge, can leave no authorized machinery to carry the policy on into the succeeding years. So the Blue Lodge is like Grandmother’s crazy quilt – it is a patchwork of individual ideas, with no blending or continuity of policies from year to year. The Master can and often does “carry on,” “follow through,” “step on the gas or apply the brakes” at will. This would discourage one of those wooden Indians that stood outside of cigar stores when we were boys – let alone a clear thinking executive or leader who knows that “Rome was not built in a day,” and that the selling of ideas and persuading the Masonic Fraternity is a problem not of a few months but years.

WE MUST build the foundations now and not be discouraged if the temple is not completed within our lifetime. The habits of the crowd, mob psychology, when applied to our Masonic Institution, are rather mundane phrases – and to the Masonic idealist a little unpleasant, if not irritating. Many of our Masonic Daddies are not unlike some parelits, who refrain from discussing social problems with their children. We have a little false modesty, and we feel that there is something wrong with anyone who criticizes an institution as old as the Masonic Fraternity; but we men of lawful age who are well qualified should not shrink from “calling things by their right names.” If we haven’t the backbone to face an unpleasant truth, we are second cousins to a moral jellyfish – nor, then, can we expect to enlist the services of men of recognized leadership and executive ability to guide our lodges.

Historical review, symbolism, and ritualistic repetition have their place in every Masonic lodge; but, when these clog the wheels, even though they are absolutely essential in the initiations of the first three degrees, it is time to consider the psychological effect that these have on he “brothers on the right and left.” Our Masonic diet is unbalanced, and we devote too much time to symbolism and repeating rituals.

Some of our lodges would be better off if the Trestle Board could be misplaced for at least six months of the year. Many Masons, with whom I have discussed this, do not hesitate to face the truth and freely acknowledge the fact that a full Trestle Board is more often a menace than a blessing.

“Grinding out rubber-stamp-Masons” is not unlike letting down the gates at Ellis Island. We found that an unassimilated immigrant was a real menace. A brother who has been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, unless he absorbs Freemasonry, is far from being a tangible asset to the Fraternity. Yet, how many times we hear men in the ante-room and speakers in the Fast talk about the potential possibilities of these bankrupt Masons?

And, we go blithely on raising Masons and then watching them sink back into Masonic oblivion. This is the nearest thing to perpetual motion that any man ever conceived.

A COMMUNITY with five Masonic lodges of 150 members each is richer and better off Masonically than with one lodge of 750 members. If these five lodges select men because of their social likes or dislikes and then limit the memberships; I wonder if your imagination can grasp the possibilities! The personal touch, the opportunity for developing real Masonic brotherhood in a small lodge of 150 members, composed of brothers who have similar hopes and aspirations and who would mix more intimately, opens up new and unexplored possibilities; nor does this idea in any way violate the universality of Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge certainly does not object to forming new lodges; but, when the Master hugs to his breast the tradition that to be successful the lodge must be big, and that a full Trestle Board and a long waiting list are an indication of goodness and virtue, it seems to me that the Masonic Fraternity is chasing rainbows – and the pitiful part about this is that so few of us seem to realize it.

Can we not see the futility of striving for volume, for big crowds, for a large, unwieldy Masonic mass, few of which are able to appreciate what it is all about? If we padlocked the doors and put the Trestle Board on the shelf for a while and then attempted to draw those who profess to be Master Masons (and who are so technically) back into the lodge, we would get results that would surprise us.

THIS summer a derby was held in Kentucky, at which 80,000 people were present. At this event there were more airplanes than there were automobiles twenty years ago. The American people spend more than $1,000,000 a day on radio equipment and accessories, yet three years ago the radio was an experimental toy indulged in by few people. Can the Masonic Fraternity expect to continue with the same methods that were used successfully by our fathers, in view of the disturbing influences that are being recognized by our schools, colleges and churches from one end of the land to the other?

The average Mason may have a very high code of ethics, but his Masonic obligation to attend the meetings has been diluted by these distracting and disintegrating influences – and we are in competition with some very potent undercurrents which the Blue Lodge must acknowledge. If we stop “grinding out Masons on a tonnage basis,” which takes so much of our time, we can devote some attention to the real worth-while things and bring out the richness and depth of Freemasonry, which have never been really uncovered to the Masonic masses. A lodge with a limited membership would at least have time to develop Masters of Masonry instead of “grinding out half-baked Masons,” who become Masonically insolvent due to this moth-eaten tradition that seems to grip the average Masters to strive for bigness and volume continually.

If we limited our Blue Lodge membership and devoted some of the time now consumed in working the three degrees to selling Masonic ideas to the brothers on the right and left, those who profess Freemasonry might practice it more diligently. We need better Masons, not more Masons. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements, but we ought to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our faults and to try to correct them. Volume production, with no consistent policy to keep our brothers in Masonic intercourse, is a fault which we do not fully recognize; and our failure to accomplish results is blamed on general conditions.

IF THE Blue Lodge’s chief function is to graduate Masons to the so-called “higher degrees,” then I would say, “Let’s speed up the machinery, because it is very efficient and is producing results.” If, on the other hand, the attendance in the Blue Lodge is the barometer of its success, then it is quite evident that we have much to be concerned about. Limiting the Blue Lodge membership may not be the only remedy, but isn’t it reasonable to state that this would allow a lodge graciously to do what every Blue Lodge does to some extent? By following a policy of this kind, it seems reasonable to suppose that we would have greater opportunities for increasing the interest of those who have already joined the Craft and are wondering what it is all about.


– Originally published in THE MASTER MASON – MAY 1926

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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