Brother or Friend?

Brother or Friend?

A long time ago, I heard a Freemason tell another that they “should not be friends” with their Brothers. It was a strange comment to me, as I thought that when I joined Freemasonry, I would find like-minded people who I could spend time with, conversing and changing the course of the universe, all of us achieving amazing and lofty ambitions. These are the things you do with people you like. And don’t you like your friends?

Later on, once I moved into the higher degrees, another, more experienced Freemason said the same thing, adding, “it is a lonely path, being in these higher degrees.” While I might have doubted before, I did not doubt now. I have seen too many things go awry to question that wisdom. My quandary, though, was trying to figure out what the difference between Freemason and Friend is all about? Why can’t a Brother also be a Friend? Why shouldn’t a Brother be a Friend? How do I communicate that to others, who have stumbled into some awkward and emotionally disturbing situations? How do I avoid them, too?

Let me preface this with saying that this discovery, this understanding between friend and brother, has been a long journey. I have learned a lot about myself, as Freemasonry is wont to provide to a person on its path. I am the type of person who tries to have a pleasant demeanor and be welcoming. Call it being a Libra, a caretaker, eldest daughter, or whatever you will; my personality is to bring in as much hospitality as possible with my attitude, thoughts, and feelings so as to create a circle of warmth, trust, and authenticity. I feel it’s the only way to communicate well with people, and how I want people to communicate well with me. Being open gives me insight into who they are. Many people mistake this for friendship; I think in general, people from the United States mistake quite a bit for friendship, but that might be a topic for another time. Being nice does not equate to friendship. Being nice is, well, simply being nice. I have had this issue all my life and it’s something I understand about myself. While I attempt to be clear, I sometimes do not see the forest for the trees. I struggle to see how being nice may cause misunderstanding. Let’s call it knowledgeable naivete.

A friend is someone who you have created a bond with, someone with whom you know and have a mutual affection. Someone once said to me, you win friends. They are created through experiences of trust, sharing, and having someone with which is common. You might or might not provide some kind of support for a friend; it might be emotional, mental, or physical support.

Different friends have different levels of engagement and meaning. A friend might be someone with whom you share events throughout your life or someone with whom you only share coffee once in a while. There are no expectations in overall friendship; each relationship creates its own boundaries and ways of thinking and being together. In Europe, acquaintances are not friends. You may know someone for 20 years, but they are not your friend. They are someone you know. We have less distinction about that here in the United States. We rely a lot more on others who tell us what we should be. Friends are necessary for everyone; they provide us a window to the world and an ear to speak to when we need that confidant, that supporter, that person who knows us best.

A Brother is very different. While we choose our Brothers in Freemasonry, it’s a very democratic and discussion-heavy process. Brother, it should be clear, is a title. It may mean a fellow Freemason, but it is also a title of someone who is a Freemason. For someone to become a Brother, there is a lengthy and stringent process, where the requirements are spelled out based on the Masonic organization or body. For example, one has to be just, upright, and free, of mature age, sound mind, and strict morals. They don’t have to meet my morality; they have to demonstrate a morality that upholds the tenets of Freemasonry – for example tolerance and prudence. As a Freemason who makes a judgement about an applicant, I can say with authority that this isn’t a popularity contest: the applicant must meet the criteria and the majority of the Lodge members agree to the membership. While it’s nice to have people get along, it is certainly not a requirement unless something is seriously disharmonious. Some Masonic groups do not admit the other gender, or some do not admin non-Christians. Whatever the rules are about entrance, they are tightly controlled by the overarching organization.

In my opinion, the more diverse the group of Freemasons, the better the growth of the human and humanity. What better way to gain a better understanding of the self than to rub up against those people with whom we don’t particularly fit well? Think… rock tumbler. We like to think we have no rough edges but all rocks in a tumbler are pokey. If you catch on someone else, it’s not because your surface is super smooth. You have bumps, like we all do. That is how we get better. By working them out. We’ll talk more about this later.

Selecting who becomes a Brother is only one part of answering the question, what is the difference between Brother and Friend? The second comes from repeatedly working in Lodge together as Freemasons. Human beings are normally drawn to one another as they perceive common interests. In Freemasonry, many Brothers travel together or offer their homes for visits and boarding. In the outer world, the non-Masonic world, this indicates or implicates friendship. For someone who is not clear about their Masonic boundaries, this kind of interaction can be misconstrued. Being nice isn’t being a friend; being nice in Freemasonry is expected and hospitable. Conversely, as I noted above, agreeing with someone isn’t a requirement to be or remain a Freemason. We all don’t have the same thoughts, same views, nor would we want to. Debate and rhetoric are things which create better humans, and Freemasons value the well-informed, opinionated debate. If you can’t discuss topics of importance with your Brothers, then you may not have success as a Freemason. In other words, disagreement or debate isn’t cause for hate or strife. It’s a cause for growth.

Rock. Tumbler.

There is a code of conduct that Freemasons have in interacting with one another that is fairly formal and is intact whether they are in a Lodge meeting or out in public or at a non-Masonic event. No Freemason would dream of striking another physically, calling names to them or their families, or treating them with anything but human decency. There is a respect for them as a human being but even more so, they have earned respect because they have the title Brother. There is also a respect for the hard work someone has put into their Masonic Order, whether it be from years of service, traveling to instruct or mentor, hours of meetings and committees, or other volunteer time. There is a respect of position, formally granted by the Lodge to that person who must spend their time coordinating, planning, instructing, and fostering further Masonic influence, as well as that Lodge’s officers who carry out the work. There’s respect for memorization, degree work, and one hopes, for the execution of the ritual. All of these require a sense of honor for fellow Brothers and a real dedication to support what they do, even if we don’t want to, can’t, or are not able to do it ourselves. We respect merit and ability. This respect is backed up by rules and regulations that demand respect, and a jurisprudence that enforces those rules.

I think this is where the waters become muddy. In the non-Freemasonic world, we bestow respect by our own credo. We win friends by living by our own ideals and sometimes we compromise those ideals for the benefit of having those around us who share our proclivities. We tend to choose our friends because they think like us, not because they think differently. We choose friends with our egos, generally. In a society that is increasingly polarizing, we need our armies around us to make us feel better. In a society that increasingly insular, we mistake the slightest hint of personal niceness as being hit on or being courted for, well, becoming a courtier. It can’t be stated enough that we don’t bring the outside world into Freemasonry and expect it to adapt. Likewise, we shouldn’t misconstrue the hospitality and fraternity of Freemasonry for friendship.

As you move through the path that is Freemasonry, your responsibilities, duties, and obligations become greater, wider reaching. Your duty grows, and your mind must be set to think of not only your own Lodge but your District, your Grand District, and perhaps your entire Order; it may even grow so far as to be responsible for the growth of Freemasonry itself. While a true, authentic friend would never ask you to compromise your avocation for them specifically, it places everyone in a precarious balance if you mix responsibility, duty, and obligation with going out for a few beers on a Saturday night with a single Brother. One has to be very careful where one boundary ends and another begins. How one comports themselves is in direct relation to how they have obligated themselves to a position within Freemasonry.

The largest and most difficult challenge is being “friends” with people early in your Masonic career and then weighing that with greater obligations as you grow. As we change, sometimes our friends do not. Maybe we don’t go out for beers any longer but stay home and enjoy a good study group online. There may be a bitterness about placing Freemasonry above friendship. There might be sadness because you spend time with a Lodge instead of a single person. I know of one person who became the head of their local Lodge. When that happened, people flocked to her to place them in positions of seeming importance in the Lodge, offices they desired. She succumbed to putting them in these positions and the Lodge suffered because of it because they weren’t equipped to do the jobs they desired; she thought of their desires and not the needs of the group. Friendship above Freemasonry. She learned a valuable lesson that first year.

In some cases, maybe you never were friends and simply Brothers, but that is where the niceties and hospitality of Freemasonry confuse with the outside world. When you first enter into Freemasonry, maybe you are looking for friends or even family. You might be looking for those like-minded people and hope for friendship. Going and getting coffee and talking about esoteric subjects may be something you do with friends or with Brothers; it is the building of the relationship, and context, that makes the difference. It is not impossible to be a friend with a Brother – not by a long shot. Yet, what I see work is when Freemasonry is the basis of the relationship and that takes precedence. I can think of many instances where the reverse does not work.

In Co-Masonry, there is the added, extra challenge of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and other family members becoming Freemasons, sometimes in the same Lodge. This seems to take the modern familial relationship and make it even better. You have the common purpose of becoming better people, together, with a deeper grasp on your relationship. Perhaps it is because that “friendship” relationship never existed between siblings or parents – after all, it’s family. It was family first, even if the adults are friends, too. Freemasonry, in its familial format, supports those ideas and relationships deeply and helps them, in my opinion, become richer. I have seen whole families join Freemasonry and it creates a very strong, lifelong bond.

I have seen more than a few people who have given their entire adult lives to helping Freemasonry grow, and it is not an easy path. They are on the phone from 6:00 to 18:00, backed up in emails and meetings, planning and executing all the time. If they are lucky, they are able to carve out time for family and some close friends, some travel, and laughter. They have raised families who were nearly all Freemasons and have maybe raised some who were bitter about Freemasonry’s influence. Some have worked for decades to improve the lives of all Freemasons, with no thought to their own service or sleep. It is all a choice, and that sacrifice can be as hard as those that give up their individual lives to raise a family or a flock of parishoners. For these dedicated few, they have very few friends but many, many Brothers. For them, that is satisfying and healthy, and it helps them create the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in the world.

So, Friends? Or Brothers?

How to Attend an MPS Meeting

How to Attend an MPS Meeting

The Masonic Philosophical Society (M.P.S.) has officially been active for more than five years now. It has grown to over 30 Study Centers across the globe, in at least five different countries. There are even online Study Centers for North America and International seekers. Many people come to this blog without knowing that there are actual live meeting that you can attend to discuss nine very broad areas of study in a philosophical format. Why did the M.P.S. get created, and what is the goal? How do you go about attending one?

If you read the Mission Statement for the M.P.S., it states:

“The Masonic Philosophical Society is an institution which aims to provide an environment of exploration within the framework of Masonic principles and to inspire individuals to self-awareness. Dynamic study centers foster a culture for discussion and questioning with each center going beyond traditional education by delving deeper into the mysteries of the individual and his or her universe.”

While that might seem like an abstract goal, it has very concrete applications. Gone are the days of Pythagoras when men, and women, would learn the arts of astronomy, music, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric. It is a fact that over the course of the past 200 years, the Liberal Arts education has fallen in esteem and in attendance. Liberal Arts colleges are struggling to find validation. As we see in our media, on our Senate floors, and even in sporting events, human beings are losing the ability to express themselves in positive, constructive ways. While we may deliberate the individual merits of specific areas of study, it is not wrong to say that studying the Liberal Arts and Humanities creates a better society, a more positive, engaged, and enlightened civilization.

head1In the United States, it is the rare place where people may go and discuss freely, with informed beliefs, and expand their intellectual horizons. These M.P.S. Study Centers provide the interested individual with access to a wide range of topics, some controversial, into which they may dig their “teeth.” In general, we laymen may sit around with friends over a bottle of wine once in a great while and discuss the finer points of politics, religion, and solving the world’s problems, sometimes even with success. In the cases of the Study Centers, there is structure and content, and an easy place to learn more about the world and ourselves. The Study Center infrastructure supports keeping an open mind, listening, and healthy debate. We hopefully leave with more than what we carried with us into the meeting.

Many people hear the word “Masonic Philosophical Society” and believe that this is a Masonic organization. It is not. Let me say that again – it is not an official Masonic Organization. The M.P.S. is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization, built off the principles of Universal Freemasonry,  a Masonic organization that has been in the United States for more than 100 years. The ideals and ideas of Universal Freemasonry were the foundation for the building of the Masonic Philosophical Society Study Centers, where Freemasons and non-Freemasons may go to have enlightened discussions on a wide, and I mean WIDE, variety of subjects.

These Study Centers provide a place for people to discover what subjects are of interest to Freemasons and dispel myths about what Freemasonry may be; of prime importance, they further the ideals of helping humanity rise above the petty squabbles that pepper our daily life by providing thought and fodder for personal action. This isn’t a call to arms or a recruitment station. This is a place where all people can discuss on equal footing difficult, complex, and maybe unknown subjects within a group.

Most M.P.S. Study Centers are located in a library or public location. The times listed in the notices from meetup.com or from the Facebook Masonic Philosophical Society page are the actual start times for the meetings. No food is served at the meetings but you may choose to bring water or a drink, and most public locations allow for this. If you have questions about the topic or the location, the best place to access this is from the meetup.com links on the philosophicalsociety.org website. Here is an example of the meetup.com site for Santa Cruz, California. You may want to “like” the Facebook page and then you will see a continuous feed of blog posts, polls, questions, and inspiring quotations.

sepiaSo, you might have found an M.P.S. Study Center and now you want to attend? Excellent!  The discussions are led by a “Presenter” and a “Moderator.” While there may be handouts on the topic, with information and points of discussion, there may also be videos, art, music, or other displays to help foster the discussion. Topics really run the gamut; the group may be discussing climate change or Spinoza’s ethics or the Mona Lisa. The question that is the title of the Study session will normally be a yes or no question, providing the opportunity for debate and informed discussion on the merits of each side. The Presenter will provide the information up for debate and pose questions to the group to stimulate discussion. The Moderator will ensure that the guidelines of the Study Centers are kept in mind and will help foster the discussion should it either turn away from the original topic or slow/falter.

For those who are nowhere near a physical Study Center, there are three online Study Centers which may work for you. One is for all of North America and another is International. There is also a Spanish-Speaking Study Center. All of these online forums use Zoom as the online platform for voice and video. If you do not have a camera, that is okay – you can use your computer, phone, or even a landline to dial in. Video makes the experience more interactive and you can see what a Presenter is offering. It is important with online Study Centers to make sure that you are on time, and have as good of access as possible, and are in a location where you can talk for 90 minutes without interruption. You should mute yourself when you are not talking during the meeting. Make sure you have the Zoom app or desktop setup complete before the beginning of the meeting. If you have questions about how to access the online Study Centers, use the Contact Form on the website or contact the M.P.S. Director, Dennis Garza at dennis.garza@philosophicalsociety.org.

There is no need to come to the Study Center with deep experience in the topic being discussed. However, it does help to come with at least an idea of the topic being discussed. Google the question and inform yourself of some of the aspects that may be brought up. I will stop here, briefly, because there is something to say about belief, opinion, and fact. Many Study Centers have debates on potentially “hot” topics.

The purpose of the debate is to not change someone else’s mind; the purpose is to have an informed discussion that helps enlarge and enliven your own world view. M.P.S. does not adhere to any dogma and everyone is free to think what they wish. Opinions are informed by facts and knowledge; beliefs are unstudied theories in our minds. Facts are, well, just that. To come to an M.P.S. Study Center with the idea that you would change the minds of individuals is not its purpose. While you may not need to come informed in detail about a subject, you also should not come with a personal mission to recruit the group to your personal beliefs. Keeping an open mind is extremely important and, as we all know, sometimes difficult to do.

There might be an impassioned debate or there might be quiet discourse. In all cases, the Moderator will ensure that no one talks over another, that no one expresses hate or intolerance, and that each person is respectful of the beliefs and opinions of others. The goal is to listen, and anyone who cannot listen will not gain very much from attending these Study Centers. Being respectful of the general rules of the discussion will ensure that you and the rest of the attendees get the most out of your time together. No one will be selling or lecturing at an M.P.S.; anyone doing either of these activities will be expected to retire to a more suitable location.

Everyone is welcome to an M.P.S. Study Center and no fees are ever accepted or expected. This is a free forum discussion and people of all walks of life, education, religions, work background, ethnicity, or locale are welcome to attend. In fact, diversity delivers a far more stellar discussion than if everyone is sitting in a circle agreeing with everything. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you disagree; bring your experience and knowledge to the fore to share. Attendees do not get a full picture of a debatable question aristotleif they don’t have all opinions.  Do your best to keep a very open mind about a subject, especially those that you feel strongly about. Listen carefully and feel free to take notes or bring your own materials for reference. Many times, this is the key to a very healthy debate – many sources forming a single view of a difficult question.

You may want to become a member of the M.P.S. It’s free, and it shows your support for the continuing efforts of the M.P.S. By signing up, you state that you are behind three Grand Objectives of the organization:

  1. To destroy ignorance in all its forms; and
  2. To encourage the study of Culture, Philosophy, and Science; and
  3. To work for the Perfection of Humanity.

Additionally, you can support the M.P.S. by using your smile.amazon.com account to donate proceeds from Amazon sales to the M.P.S. Again, it’s a small way to show your support for this important educational and community service that is so lacking in our lives.

Lastly, don’t be shy about asking to know more about Freemasonry. Many of the attendees are Masons and are happy to discuss the merits of Freemasonry. You may be able to stick around and continue your discussion to your satisfaction. The Moderator will be happy to also provide you further contact information should you desire it.  Interaction is great; and curiosity is even better. Check out some of the links above if you want to know more; it only takes one step to dive into a wider world.

Additional Note (8/12/19): There is also an online Study Center in French. For those interested in this, please contact dennis.garza@philosophicalsociety.org.

Tolerance and Debate

Tolerance and Debate

Debate is described, by Merriam Webster, as “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.” Tolerance, by the same arbiter, is “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Why do we examine these things here? As an interested party of the Masonic Philosophical Society, it is our position to debate, with tolerance, the yes or no questions put forward to us. We are directed to keep an open mind and examine the nuances and subtleties that make us different and thereby enlarge the scope of our own understanding. In the mission statement of the M.P.S., we read, “The Masonic Philosophical Society is an institution which aims to provide an environment of exploration within the framework of Masonic principles and to inspire individuals to self-awareness.”  M.P.S. meetings, for those who have been to them, are respectful interactions between differently-minded people, each make a case for or against a specific subject. The Meetups are, for all intents and purposes, a mini-debate.

The art of classical debate has slowly been dissipating in our modern society. In Ancient Greece, the “Socratic Debate” was a form “of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.” At the height of 18th Century “Enlightenment” culture, debating societies were the norm in London. It is thought that out of those debating societies, school debating societies emerged. There are a few debating societies in assorted countries today, but they are difficult to find. What debate there is appears to have morphed. If one listens to school competitive debating teams in recent years, it look as if to be less about the idea of sharing thought and more about speed, points of rhetoric, and form. One must study for weeks to prepare and be ready for the speed and style with which points are addressed an answered; words spoken are almost unintelligible to bystanders. Likewise, a political debate is little more than a series of standard rhetoric, backbiting, and false facts set under the title of “debate.” Luckily, such organizations such as “The Commonwealth Club” [https://www.commonwealthclub.org/] exist to be able to listen to informed debate between two very differing points of view, whether it be on climate change or mental illness. It is a true exchange of differing ideas. 

In a recent conversation on media, it was pointed out that the average individual in the USConstitutionUnited States, prior to the advent of Yellow Journalism about 1895, received their “news” from varied opinions. Newspapers, the main form of information, were clear in their support of one political party or the other; with names like the Carolina Federal Republican, Democratic Press, or the Impartial Register, you knew clearly which way the articles and opinions would be written. You knew the “slant” of the news. From the printing of the “Federalist Papers” in the later part of the 18th Century until the end of 19th Century, people of the U.S. read partial and partisan newspapers willingly and enthusiastically. All indications are that people read more than one; it was not uncommon for people to read many papers espousing what they believed and what they did not in order to round out their opinions on the matter. The Jeffersonian way of thinking held sway:

The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them. – Thomas Jefferson

It has only been since the squelching of Yellow Journalism and the adamant fight of objective reporting that we have really had mostly “impartial” news – the majority of the 20th Century. In modern journalism school, the writer learns there is no “I” except on the opinion page; facts are reported and only facts. Current generations have been told that their media should be impartial and driven by facts. Opinions do not have a place on the nightly news. However, we are rounding a new era of citizen reporting with the advent of the internet, where anyone can write a blog, a newspaper, form an opinion, and post it on Twitter. Opinions are being touted as fact, and it is up to the reader to discern what is true and what is not. We are no longer subjected to generally objective reporting, and we are learning how to deal with it as a culture. An excellent Freakonomics episode on this subjected is entitled “How Biased is Your Media.” [http://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-biased-is-your-media/]

TOLERANCEIn this new electronic media era, we are learning again how to debate and how to be tolerant. We are learning to see more than one side, and to perhaps give leeway to “the other guy;” being able to see the whole picture gives us a 360-degree view. If we didn’t have the other person’s outlook, we only get half of the story. As human beings, we need to remember that our perspective is limited by our senses. In addition to our physical perception only being able to see what is in front of us, we register different words and not others, we see different colors than are “true.”

In this book, “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right, Even When You’re Not” [https://www.amazon.com/Being-Certain-Believing-Right-Youre-ebook/dp/B003J5UJHW/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1492057108&sr=8-11&keywords=certainty], author Robert Burton states that “certainty is a mental sensation rather than the evidence of fact…” From the sciencebasedmedicine.org article noted below, “Certainty and similar states of ‘knowing what we know’ arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason. Your certainty that you are right has nothing to do with how right you are.” In other words, we need to be conscious of the physiological and mental needs of certainty overcome this “mental sensation.” We get that by listening and interacting with others of differing viewpoints and continually testing ourselves and our ability to be silent and listen. We can’t hear if our ears are jammed up with our own “certain” thoughts. The interesting article from sciencebasedmedicine.org on this book is located here. 

There are some who might say that politics has no place in the Masonic Philosophical Society blog, as it’s associated with Freemasonry, and Freemasons absolutely do not speak about politics and religion. Political or religion talk breeds strife and dissent; it divides where Masonry builds. Yet, the M.P.S. is not Freemasonry but a different entity where philosophical views may be debated with respect and tolerance. There are others who say, “bring it on!” They are willing to look at the arguments presented as more philosophical discussions and less about “Freemasonry.” This varying point of view about the blog posts is a debate as much as any two articles posted are a debate. In learning to debate, we breed tolerance and therefore become better people – the whole devoir of the Freemason.  It may even be that the idea of debate may be debated; is it not that all aspects of life may be open for free thinking? 

In debates, the same arguments holding-handsmight be presented for differing points of view and to stimulate the thought that there may be varying sides of a debate even outside of the presented topic. Those who have been on debate teams are aware of the need for a well-rounded view when it comes to debate; seeking beyond what we know and what we think we know is difficult. We need that jolt of a drastically different viewpoint to understand that wider view of the world, and to understand how others think and live.  In order for that to happen, we need to be able to listen well and with tolerance. 

We should be unafraid to approach sensitive topics and learn about them ahead of time. There may come a time when a drastic point of view is presented and tolerance is tested in an M.P.S. discussion; it’s at that moment when we can let go of the “self” and truly learn more. Like our 19th Century forefathers, we can then wade into it willingly and with an open mind, learning both sides of an argument and thereby create some tolerance within our own minds.