Vision, Vitality, and Vigilance
R.W.Bro. Adriaan de Vries, Guest Speaker at Grand Lodge Night, Chinguacousy Lodge No. 738 on July 24, 2017
As a young boy growing up in Montreal, I remember taking the bus downtown along Sherbrooke Street on my way to my piano lesson and every week I would pass this strange and very huge fortress-like building just east of Atwater Avenue, between St. Matthew and St. Mark Streets. It occupies almost a city block. It has no windows in the normal sense and the big solid-brass doors looked like it would take major artillery to break them down. This building screamed, “Keep Out!” In my young imagination, I thought it was Canada’s Fort Knox and that that was where we kept all our gold. After all, nobody was going to break into that place. One Saturday morning I was driving downtown with my father and as we passed this forbidding edifice, I asked him what it was. His answer was as unforgettable as it was unequivocal: “Those are the Freemasons,” he said, “You don’t want to have anything to do with them; they do weird things in there.” My father was not a stupid man; he was an aeronautical engineer who built supersonic jet fighter aircraft and given the aspect of that building, his answer required no further explanation or discussion of any kind, because, in the mind of this young boy, you had to be a weirdo to want to get into that place.
My father passed away in 1989 and it was at his funeral after everyone had left, that my mother, knowing that I had been a Mason for 10 years by then, told me the most extraordinary thing. She told me that Uncle Benny had been a Mason, and quite a prominent one at that, so she was told. “Uncle” Benny, as my sister and I called him, had been my father’s best friend for over 30 years. When my father immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1930, it was Uncle Benny who had befriended him and helped him to integrate into the community and get himself established, an act of truly Masonic charity. Their friendship lasted for over 30 years until Uncle Benny passed to the Grand Lodge above, and yet at no time, it seems, did he try to dissuade my father from his misguided predisposition against the Craft. My father was a kind and placid soul, highly respected in his profession, raised by devout Lutheran parents, and I am sure would have made an excellent Mason, yet Uncle Benny did not think that he was permitted to initiate any kind of dialogue with his best friend. This after all, was the era of, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” What did it matter back then if a worthy man did not ask the question? There were plenty of men who did and new lodges had to be instituted as membership expanded and in order to give brethren the chance to advance through the chairs.
Things are not the same now. There are some who would say that we are experiencing a natural ebb and flow like a tide and that we have reached the low ebb. Inevitably the tide will turn once again in our favour. Perhaps this is true, but can we afford to bet on it? I, for one, am not willing to do so.
Our predecessors could afford to be complacent. Their main task was to “guard the west door” and to see to it that our privileges were secured to worthy men alone. Our task now is to find those worthy men. This attitude of passive complacency must be replaced by a new attitude based on active committment.
Some lodges may be experiencing a rising tide, but we must be ever aware that tides are not static and a high tide is inevitably followed by a low one. Anything which is not secured at the high tide will be swept away at the low, and so we need to replace complacency with committment no matter which way the tide is flowing. What form will this committment take and how will we bring it to reality is what I want to talk about tonight.
Our first step must be to develop a real understanding, a vision in fact of what is Freemasonry and why is it so important to us. Simply speaking, we have to know what we are talking about. At our recent open house this past June, our temple in Fergus was visited by a handful of people, and all of those to whom I talked seemed to be genuinely interested in us and the Craft. Indeed, there was one lady who was far more knowledgeable and curious than her husband. A simple description of the lodge room and its furnishings was not enough for these visitors. Our understanding of ourselves and our Craft must go far deeper than that if we are to reach out and explain ourselves and our Craft to those whom we seek.
At about the same time as I was taking that weekly bus ride down Sherbrooke Street, the Xerox Corporation introduced the 914 photocopier. This was a revolution in information technology on the same level as Caxton’s invention of moveable type 500 years ago. Until this time, if you wanted to make multiple copies of something you could use carbon paper, which was limited to three or four copies, or you could use a Banda or a Gestetner machine which could produce a hundred or so. If you wanted wanted unlimited numbers, you had to go to hot metal and no office could afford the space or expense that that took up. One might think that selling these machines would be as easy as pie, but it was not. First of all, they were expensive, and second, they were too good to be true. So Xerox had to develop a sales strategy as revolutionary as the product to overcome these objections and they called it “Needs satisfaction.” This programme was hugely successful, so successful in fact that Xerox ended up creating a separate company around it which they eventually sold off. Enlightened companies around the world now use this programme to train their sales staff. One of those companies is Heineken and I am a graduate of the school. Those very clever people at Xerox realised that they could not just sit back and wait for the orders to come in, they had to adopt an active posture. Neither can we continue with an attitude of passive inaction or we will end up like two young teenagers at their first dance—the shy boy too worried about getting turned down to ask that cute girl to dance, and that cute girl dying for that shy young guy to ask her because it would be improper for her to go over there and ask him. Will we go home tonight thinking about how wonderful it might have been to dance with that cute girl? What can we learn from the example of the Xerox Corporation?
In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow postulated a hierarchy of human needs which he illustrated in the form of a pyramid, a rather Masonic symbol. Perhaps Maslow was one of us. What can we learn from him?
At the most basic level are the physiological needs; food, water, shelter, and rest. Nowadays, we have a social safety net which provides for these and so we do not think much about them and the fact that at in previous times, great numbers of people everywhere were going hungry and were out on the street. The Great Depression saw long lineups of men seeking employment at factory gates and stories abound about how Masons made sure that their brethren were given preferential treatment when it came to hiring. This may sound like the stuff of myth or legend, but many years ago I met a brother who had immigrated from Scotland during the Depression and he told me about filling out a job application with the National Film Board of Canada. There in a little box in black and white was the question: “Lodge hailing from?” He retired after 35 years of service at that institution. Charity is one of our fundamental tenets and I know of no Mason who would fail to lend a hand to a brother in genuine need. Masonry continues to fulfill Maslow’s most basic human needs.
On the same level of basic needs are those of security and safety. We are bound by solemn obligation to go to the aid of a brother who is in peril or threatened with harm and our history is rife with well-documented accounts of brethren going so far as to risk their own lives to rescue a brother in distress or who has had to resort to the Grand Hailing Sign. I could go on for the rest of the evening relating accounts of how brethren came to the aid of their fellows during the American War of Independence or the War of 1812 alone.
These are the physiological needs. On the next level are psychological needs which are much less tangible but increasingly important as far as our mental well-being is concerned. We are social beings and the need for friendship, love, and a sense of belonging to and acceptance in a community of like-minded souls is a fundamental one. We can achieve a certain level of satisfaction in this regard among our family and close relations with whom we interact on a regular basis, but it is only when we are accepted into the company of people we have never met before that this need is satisfied on a much higher level. This is one of the things which elevates us above the level of primates who live in very exclusive communities and who have no contact outside their own except in combat. Because of our universal bond of mutually-shared trial and experience, Masonry fulfills this need as no other institution can. The more often and farther afield we visit, the more this strikes home. I once had the delight to visit Colombo Lodge in Sri Lanka halfway around the world where I was greeted with unrestrained warmth and brotherly love by brethren whom I had never met before and would probably never see again, but for whom hospitality and brotherly love was not just an obligation but an art-form.
The second level of psychological needs on Maslow’s pyramid is that of esteem; the need to accomplish something and to be recognized for having done so especially when that goal is clearly defined. What goal is more clearly defined than the flawless delivery of a piece of work, and what greater reward than the recognition one gets from doing it in front of one’s own brethren?
It is said all too often that Masonry takes good men and makes them better. This is blatantly naive. Masonry offers good men the path to make themselves better, but only if they accept the challenge and accomplish the goal, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. The challenge met and overcome out of desire is much more rewarding than the one met out of necessity.
This brings us to the top level of Maslow’s pyramid; the need for self-fulfillment, which he terms “self-actualisation” and he speculates that only two in a hundred can achieve this level.
Here, we have gone beyond mere physiological and psychological needs which sociology and medicine can define, into the realm of the spiritual because this level dares to mention creative needs.
A man’s intellect is not measured by his knowledge, but by his imagination. Having all the right answers is just the start, posing the right questions is the real beginning of wisdom. M.W. Bro. Raymond S. J. Daniels used to paraphrase the Book of Proverbs when he said, “Get knowledge, get
wisdom, but in all thy getting, get understanding.” M. W. Bro. Daniels spent most of his life searching for that understanding and I know of few men who travelled so far along that path and reached such a pinnacle of creative endeavour.
The only way one can hope to fulfill one’s creative potential is by continually challenging it and Masonry does this as no other intellectual endeavour does. Creativity dies when all the questions have been answered, when we have found everything we have been searching for, when we have run out of ideas. We will never know what are the genuine secrets but we will certainly come to know their value. We are, after all, Speculative Masons.
At this point, I must confess that I feel somewhat like that annoying little man in the Chevy truck commercial. Did I say that self-actualization is the highest level on Maslow’s pyramid? At the very apex, the tip of Maslow’s pyramid, right where you would expect to find the all-seeing eye, is the ultimate, transcendental need to help others achieve self-actualization. Maslow speculates that fewer than one in a hundred will reach this level but he is referring to the general population. Only about one in a hundred is a Mason so this means that every one of us has the chance to get to the top. Will you be one of these? M.W.Bro. Daniels certainly was. By giving each and every one of us the opportunity to become a mentor, Freemasonry gives us all the chance to fulfill that supreme need.
How far a brother progresses up the levels of Maslow’s pyramid is entirely up to him. Like every worthwhile endeavour, you get out what you put in. If Freemasonry truly is a science which cultivates and improves the human mind, then this is sure evidence of how it achieves this end.
Freemasonry fulfills the complete pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs in a way that no other institution even attempts. This is my vision of the Craft. You may have another, but make sure you know what it is, for in the words of my favourite book of the Bible, the Book of Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
All of this is a wonderful academic exercise but Freemasonry cannot exist
merely in the ether; it must thrive as a living entity in the real world and to this
end we must add the element of vitality. We must bring it to life.
One way we can begin to do this is by examining our own attitude both
within the lodge room and without. “May kindness and brotherly love distinguish
your conduct as MEN and as Masons”, says the General Charge.
A good friend of mine whom I raised is a major Bay Street fund manager
who oversees a lot of other people's money and he takes his moral obligation
very seriously. On his desk open for his daily contemplation is a miniature set of
the working tools. I daresay that he derives a great deal more benefit from this
than he would from reading his daily horoscope. This is just one example of how
a brother has brought the living Craft into his daily life. I am sure that many of
you have others. The Masonic ChiP programme is but one. Our attitude outside
the lodge room can affect our attitude inside, and vice versa. We must also
imbue our attitude inside the lodge room with a sense of vitality, especially in our
During the five—year period ending in 2015, 1,926 Entered Apprentices
dropped out and went no further. My immediate reaction when I learned this was
to blame the work which had been performed. My reason for this was personal
experience. When I went through the degrees in Ashlar Lodge Nr. 247, the work
was not only flawless, it was vigourous, exciting. It inspired me to go on and
follow this example. I do not know if I would have gone on with the enthusiasm I
had if the work had been lifeless or embarrassing as I have seen on occasion.
I am sure that most, if not all, of us can remember the first time we heard
the Junior Warden's Lecture. Can you remember what your reaction was? I think
that mine was, “How the hell did he do that?” Some may have thought, “I’ll never
be able to do that.” I have had the privilege of giving the JW Lecture on a half-
dozen occasions this past year and when I have talked to the candidates
afterward, I have sensed an attitude of, “I want to learn how to do that.” Maybe it
is because after 29 years I have finally got it right. If you do remember the first
time you heard it then it is because it was done well. It is the
same with every piece of work.
On pages 60-64 of Meeting the Challenge, there is a discourse on how to
perform our work, from tips to make memorization easier, to breathing,
enunciation, and accidence. I believe that Grand Lodge should publish this as a
separate pamphlet which should be given to every EA. It should be the first thing
he reads, not the last, for some candidates drop out because they feel daunted
by the idea of having to memorize work, and this instruction has the effect of
giving one the confidence to be able to do our work to the highest degree of proficiency.
Our ancient operative brethren worked with stones: Each one had to be
cut perfectly and put perfectly in place or the structure would tumble down. So it
is with us and words, from which we build our edifice. Think of needing to be
prompted as like pulling out a stone. Pull out too many and the building
Vitality, my brethren, is an attitude which we bring to our Craft and our
work. The next time the WM asks one of us to do a piece of work, what should
be our attitude? “I am going to have to do that piece of work,” or, “I am going to
get to do that piece of work.” If our attitude is one of vitality, then we will set an
example to inspire our candidates and make them want to go on, and we will
have far fewer dropouts as a result.
Another reason given for the failure of 1,926 EA s to advance any further
was the so-called “Dan Brown effect” which produced a tidal surge of
applications at a time when many lodges were desperate for new blood. This
explanation is far too simplistic, however, since I myself am a kind of “Brownie”,
only in my case, a Houstonian. In 1979, my house-mate, a 32nd degree Scottish
Rite Mason and I were watching The Man Who Would Be King, a film based on
a story by Rudyard Kipling and directed by John Houston, both of whom were
Masons, and at the point where Peachie Carnahan (Michael Caine) asks Kipling
(Christopher Plummer) to do him a favour “for the sake of the Widow's son,” my
roommate went nuts. “They can’t say that; that’s a Masonic secret!” Then and
there my father's admonition flew out the window and I knew that I had to find
out more. The first person I asked about Masonry was my priest, an Anglican,
by the way. His answer was that while he himself was not a Mason, he knew
several that were and that it had been very good for them. That was all I needed
to hear: I was initiated soon thereafter.
So the biggest reason for those 1,926 dropouts, and perhaps the most
difficult one for us to face up to is simply the fact that most of those men should
never have been considered as candidates in the first place. This is where
vigilance comes in. Vigilance can be either a two-edged sword or a two-sided
coin, depending on how you chose to look at it. It implies watchfulness, staying
awake and alert in anticipation of something bad or also, something good. Think
on the one hand, of the English keeping a vigil in anticipation of the coming
Spanish Armada, something very bad, and on the other hand, of the Christian
Easter vigil in anticipation of the resurrection, something very good.
In the case of the 1,926, obviously, vigilence was not applied for reasons
which are best left for another discussion, the obvious lesson being that just
because a man asks the question does not automatically qualify him for
participation in our secrets and mysteries. We must be more vigilant in this
regard. An application must be signed by two sponsors and both must know the
candidate, not just one who asks someone else to sign it out of formality. When
a lodge receives an application, a committee of investigation is struck, consisting
of senior brethren who are not the sponsors, to interview the candidate whom
they more than likely have never met before and about whom they know very little
other than his name, address, and occupation. They are expected to make a
decision based on a single conversation. Why do they not interview the
sponsors as well? How long have you known the applicant? Who or what initiated the contact? There are many questions which both sponsors should be
able to answer. We have just spent some time in Grand Lodge debating whether
there should be a minimum time between degrees. This is not the answer. We
should be talking about a minimum time that we must have known the candidate
before we will consider his application.
This is one side of vigilance. There is another, the positive side. A wise
lady named Isobel Patterson once said, “One does not make friends, one
recognizes them.” Brethren, if you are asleep, that man is going to walk right by.
Now I would like you to consider very carefully the words of the General
Charge at Installation. You have all heard it many times and each time you have
been moved by its Shakesperean eloquence, its Aristotelean philosophy, and its
sublimely Platonic sentiment. But underneath is a clear but subtle message,
subtle because, after all, it is Masonic.
The authors admonish us that while we continue to enjoy the benefits and
appreciate the value of the Craft, we must never forget the duty which we owe to
the Order. But what is that duty?
At the beginning of the third section of the Charge is found what for me is
the most recognizable and well-known five-word phrase in our entire ritual, and
whenever I have the honour of giving the Charge, I like to pause just long
enough for everyone to mouth these words silently or repeat them in their
heads. Tonight I would like to hear you all speak them out loud. You all know
them. The sentence begins, “Before I conclude, my brethren, let me portray to
you the ideal of a Freemason.” What comes next? ……………………………………………. Everyone, repeat after me: If you see a MAN.
If you see a MAN. The authors of this charge chose all of their words with
cunning precision and they chose this one with deliberate purpose. They did not
write, “If you see a brother…” This could be any man. A man who quietly and
modestly moves in the sphere of his life. The message is clear for the word is
repeated four more times. The man who is free from superstition, free from
infidelity; the man who towards himself is a severe judge; the man who without
courting applause is loved by all noble-minded men. The last sentence reveals
the whole argument as a challenge but since, as Masons, the authors do not
spell it out they leave it up to us to realize what it is and take it up. “If you, my
brethren, meet such a man, you will see the personification of brotherly love,
relief, and truth, and you will have met the ideal of a Freemason.” And if you do
nothing about it, then you have not done your duty, not only to the Craft, but to
that man as well, for both the Craft and that man will benefit from our accepting
him into our ranks.
If it had not been for that movie and my friend's reaction to it, most likely I would not be a Mason today and I would be a much poorer man. After I had been initiated, I found out that half the members of my club whom I knew well and with whom I had drinks every day were Masons and yet, none had ever even mentioned this to me. This was less than 40 years ago yet “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was still the prevalent dictum. We still have a long way to go before we have totally replaced this attitude of passive complacency with one of active commitment No more, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” no more 2B1ask1 bumper stickers,
from now on, our mantra must be, “If you see a man.” If it is true that a man's real wealth is measured not by his money but by the character of his friends then, my brethren, Freemasonry is a priceless treasure to which we are all heirs. May the Great Architect grant us the vision to realise what that treasure is and what it offers, the vitality to bring it to life, and the vigilence to recognise those worthy men with whom we must share it.
If it is true that a man's real wealth is measured not by his money but by the character of his friends then, my brethren, Freemasonry is a priceless treasure to which we are all heirs. May the Great Architect grant us the vision to realize what that treasure is and what it offers, the vitality to bring it to life, and the vigilance to recognize those worthy men with whom we must share it.
Worshipful Master, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to
address your lodge.