Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

“I am not the person I was.” We hear that a lot, especially when it comes to growing older and, one hopes, wiser. Indeed, we’re not the same person we were. Over the course of time, our cells die, regenerate, add, delete, change, morph, and eventually we have all new cells. But we retain our name, our memories, our lives. Are we not the same person?

One would argue that of course we are. Or are we? Really?

We cling to our identities like dryer sheets to hot cotton shirts. In our minds, we are who we always have been. We are that twelve-year-old child who swam in the lake as well as that adult who had their first job in fast food. We remember events, creations, or possessions and claim them to be ours.

Conversely, we claim our “self” to exist because of those things. We do not change, or if we do, it is at a glacial pace. We affix our identity in time and space, and like an astronaut, place a flag on it and proclaim it to be ours, to be “true” identity: knowing who we are.Theseus_Helene_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2309_n2

In a recent conversation with a fellow Mason, I was discussing the Ship of Theseus. The paradox is quickly explained in this video: The Paradox of the Ship of Theseus. In essence, the question is this: at what point does the ship cease to become Theseus’ ship and become something else?

If we take one plank from the ship and replace it, we generally can agree that the ship is still Theseus’ ship. At what point, however, do you fix enough broken pieces that the ship becomes something else? My colleague was convinced that the ship remained and always remained Theseus’ ship. For him, the idea of identity stays with the generally recognized “thing” even if the sum of its parts is not original.

Conversely, the argument is this: if I am a thief, and I slowly steal the pieces of Theseus’ ship, replace them with identical parts,  take the original parts, and put them together in my backyard, who has the ship of Theseus? The original owner, or me?

My friend said that the original owner did. I disagree. If I take a painting from the Louvre, and replace it with an identical painting, and everyone recognizes it as the “painting,” who has the “real” painting? In my colleague’s eyes, then, have I really stolen anything?

identityI contend that I have, if nothing else, I have stolen the certainty of the Ship of Theseus. I have stolen, or potentially stolen, the idea of the ship. But these painful musings do have a purpose: they help us work out our identity – the answers to the question of: Who am I?

A brilliant article on this is found on Brainpickings. I would encourage you to watch the other short videos on this site: not only is the one on Who Am I thought-provoking, but there are links to life’s other huge questions. How do I know I exist? What is the Nature of Reality? But, I digress.

The question is, at what point is our self no longer “us?” Is it when all the cells in our body have replaced themselves? What about new neural pathways or brain cells? If we replace a leg or arm or heart, are we the same person? 

Freemasons live by an adage of “Know Thyself,” which also adorned the Oracle of Delphi  at the Temple of Apollo. We must first understand what it is that makes up our “self” and when does that “self” become something else. I think this is a life long exploration and, since the self is constantly undergoing change, are we always who we were? Perhaps not.

But then, where did “we” go? Does our identity persist? If it does so, how? What makes us, us?fingerprint

I asked my fellow Mason about clones, which sent us down an entirely different path, discussing identical twins, and the like. Does time make a difference? If a plank is rotten on Theseus’ ship, and it is replaced, does that make identity linger, as opposed to replacing a “new” plank? If I change my mind about how I feel about something, am I still the same person? What if I create new habits? What then?

We are ever seeking to understand our true natures; yet, our true nature is ever-changing. Freemasonry teaches us about the cycles of life, death, rebirth, nature. and science. It teaches us all of Life’s Mysteries. If stagnation is death and change is life, how can we ever be the same person moment to moment? Perhaps that is the mystery that we must ever follow: a constant, persistent discovery of who we are, and what we are doing.

Metaphor: The Language of the Mystics

Metaphor: The Language of the Mystics

In the outskirts of every society, you will find the mystics. Some are holy men in monasteries; some are Buddhists seeking enlightenment; some are public figures; some are Christians serving Jesus; some are Freemasons, like myself. Mystics have an amazing amount in common despite all that. They are not satisfied with what they learn in books, with ceremonies passed on for the sake of tradition, or with faith that comes from an assertion that “You really ought to believe in this.” What they want, instead, is conviction— the kind of conviction that comes only from a direct spiritual experience. Many say they have found it.

How do mystic seers convey their experience in words, or in stories? Our ancestors’ answer was: with tons and tons of different images – with metaphors, that is. Metaphors, after all, are symbols used to creatively describe a deeper reality, to give a sense of the color and taste of it. There are many metaphors in the teachings of Freemasonry.

How significant, then, is the relationship between mysticism and metaphor?

There are hundreds, maybe thousands or millions of metaphors in existence about mystical things. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, once said that God created everything in the outer world to serve as a metaphor for the inner. The outside world contains objects that can awaken and remind us of truths that, when applied, can be of real benefit. For example, if you read mystic literature about the soul, you might find the soul as ladder, the soul as garden, the soul as mountain, the soul as ark, the soul as mansion or castle, the soul as shining, living stone or even precious jewel, and so on. There are equally as many metaphors about the path to enlightenment.

34382722213_6e1d57324f_zA metaphor is a comparison. A metaphor establishes a relationship at once; it leaves more to the imagination. It is a shortcut to the meaning; it sets two unlike things side by side and makes us see the likeness between them. A metaphor is a comparison that doesn’t use the words “like” or “as,” while a simile is one that does use those words.

Why do metaphors in the writings of the mystics even matter? As the great consciousness-researchers Julian Jaynes and Owen Barfield both explained in their writings, it is very difficult to discuss consciousness except through metaphor. Metaphors create new ways of thinking, new realities, and new worlds.

Do metaphors shape the way we think? Let us look at an example.

Juliet is the Sun
From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the metaphor, “Juliet is the sun.”

This statement equates two different things: one human, the other sidereal. Juliet is a human; the sun is a star. How do they get to be equal?

For the purpose of illustration, I will show how a metaphor is born, logically. We could say:

There is a human called Juliet.
There is a star called the Sun.
The human called Juliet is radiant.
The star called the Sun is radiant.
Therefore, the human called Juliet is like a star, called the Sun (because of the radiance).

Not very thrilling or poetic, is it? How can we make it more exciting? How is the metaphor created? First, we delete all the unnecessary words and steps, only leaving the simile “Juliet is like the Sun.” The final deletion comes about by eliminating the word, “like.” Voila! “Juliet is the Sun.” 34382660583_c940b54102_z

As we can see, this metaphor comes alive through deletion and transformation. Keep taking away words until something “becomes” something else. Keep stripping away the Maya and the illusion until we arrive at the truth: the direct perception or the mystical experience.

In the words of William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to a man as it is, infinite.”

If you have ever had an “aha” moment, there is something wonderfully joyous about experiencing the mystical – to remember that we have spiritual faculties in us open to the dimensions beyond. Wonder. Awe. The metaphorical language of the mystics points us to the stars – bridging earth to heaven and to a world beyond itself.

But how do we react when we encounter something that exists outside of our realm of study? Does everything have to fit into what is already known, otherwise it doesn’t exist? The experience of the Transcendent seems to defy expression.

One of the greatest mystical saints of all times, St. Teresa of Avila, says that the intellect cannot go with her to the higher realms. It must stay behind. She writes in her book The Interior Castle: “One should let the intellect go and surrender oneself into the arms of love, for His Majesty will teach the soul what it must do at that point.”

I do believe the central role of metaphor in shaping consciousness can be impactful in someone’s life. I also believe the intellect is not always our ally. 35192178685_29b4993ed4_z

Such was the case with Edgar Mitchell, astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission. On his return trip from the moon, he stared out of the window at our blue planet, Earth. At that moment something profound hit him. All of a sudden he was lifted out of his normal consciousness and felt an intense oneness with planet Earth and the universe. In a flash of higher consciousness a higher truth was revealed to him that dramatically changed his intellectual perspective. (Watch Edgar Mitchell’s “We Are One” video)

How lovely to live in possibility, to think in beautiful metaphors, to cherish the precious jewel in each sacred word,  and to overflow with sweeping amazement. Your turn. What mystical metaphor would you want to leave behind as a jewel to humanity?

Note: Featured images are from the Art Exhibition, Beyond the Stars; The Mystical Landscapes from Monet to Kandinsky.

Music and the Quadrivium

Music and the Quadrivium

Music is delivered to us via our sense of hearing, which when young hears a wider range than when we are older. Our mind processes the complex mathematical formulas of sound waves, and that processing, can affect our mood, thoughts, feelings, and memories. Music is found in all cultures, at all human times – humming, hitting things together, singing, instruments. We have found a way, through music, to sounds and words much more integral to our lives than mere language.

There are so many aspects of music that it is impossible to scratch even the surface here. In a recent conversation, I asked a Brother, proficient in music theory, playing music, and song, what he felt the most important aspect of music was. Without hesitation he said, “The perfect fifth.” I asked him to explain.

M_Octave_Fourth_FifthThe human mind likes consonance, or harmony in its music. We find our minds like notes to be evenly spaced, and those that are not are “out of tune.” The perfect fifth is considered the most consonant of musical intervals. However, the musical scale cannot, mathematically, work with all perfect fifths, up octaves and down. There must be adjustment, otherwise it sounds “off.” This equal  interval spacing, what we’re familiar with today, is called equal temperament. There are several tuning methods, and several types of equal temperaments. These differences come from how the octave is divided mathematically.

This brings us to The Well-Tempered Clavier. The Well-Tempered Clavier is a collection of two series of Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys, composed for solo keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is sometimes assumed that by “well-tempered” Bach intended equal temperament, the standard modern keyboard tuning which became popular after Bach’s death, but modern scholars suggest instead a form of well temperament. There is debate whether Bach meant a range of similar temperaments, perhaps even altered slightly in practice from piece to piece, or a single specific “well-tempered” solution for all purposes. There are 24 pairs of preludes and fugues, in each book (48 total) each representing the entire set of musical keys.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), German musician and composer playing the organ, circa 1725. From a print in the British Museum. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

This set of music is significant for a few reasons. The first is that it is really Bach’s catalogue of the styles and techniques of Bach’s day. It inspired many composers and it can be seen, in some ways, as a type of “color card” for music – not unlike the paint chip cards you find in a hardware store. The music exploits tuning methods, temperaments, and construction that Bach would have used on any keyboard instrument.

Interesting book on humankind and music here: The Singing Neanderthals: the Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005. ISBN 0-297-64317-7 374 pp.

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Whist sitting in school, slaving away with compasses and a ruler, one hardly remembers that geometry is the study of the measurement of the earth. Earth. The thing we sit on, utilize, and finally rest in when this is all over. The geometry in schools today looks nothing like the geometry of 3000 years ago. It is difficult to divorce geometry from the other liberal arts when we take into consideration the scale to while discoveries are interconnected. Geometry arose from the needs of agriculture, civilization, and war. For so much of this, we can thank Archimedes of Syracuse. A student of Euclid in the 3rd c. BCE, his advances in the field of geometry furthered irrigation (Archimedes’ Screw), astronomy (the first planetarium), and weights & measures (Archimedes’ Principle). The most interesting, to me, is The Method of Exhaustion (remember Dialectica) also known as “The Method” or “Archimedes’ Method.”

“…, to estimate the area of a circle, he constructed a larger polygon outside the circle and a smaller one inside it. He first enclosed the circle in a triangle, then in a square, pentagon, hexagon, etc, etc, each time approximating the area of the circle more closely. By this archimedes_circleso-called ‘method of exhaustion’ (or simply ‘Archimedes’ Method’), he effectively homed in on a value for one of the most important numbers in all of mathematics, π.” 1

Linked together with this Method is the “Method of Mechanical Theorems.” Proofs are everything to the mathematician, and in his Method of Mechanical Theorems, Archimedes had none that would be accepted. He set out using Eudoxus’ The Method of Exhaustion to prove what he knew to be true. In a letter to Eratosthenes, in manuscripts discovered in 1906, Archimedes outlines his thought processes. This document is known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Certain theorems first became clear to me by means of a mechanical method. Then, however, they had to be proved geometrically since the method provided no real proof. It is obviously easier to find a proof when we have already learned something about the question by means of the method than it is to find one without such advance knowledge.

The importance of these discoveries and the methods by which Archimedes came to them may be obvious – who doesn’t need π? However, it is also fascinating to peer inside the mathematician’s mind and view it with a Freemason’s perspective. Here was a man who could see the Plan, understand the Plan, and only needed to bring it to life: a divine spark of wisdom, the will to discover, and beauty in its presentation.

For an interesting and short expose on The Method and the “Archimedes Palmipsest,” whence this Method is documented, review  “The Illustrated Method of Archimedes” by  Andre Koch Torres Assis and Ceno Pietro Magnaghi. The PDF can be found here.

Additionally, the originally translated letter from Archimedes to Eratosthenes can be downloaded here. (Thank you, JSTOR.)

Just a note (1): The Story of Mathematics, Luke Mastin – – I’ve done my best to verify statements here, and so should you.

The History of the All Seeing Eye

The History of the All Seeing Eye

What people in the U.S.A. commonly referred to as the “All Seeing Eye” is more appropriately called the “Eye of Providence.” No, not Rhode Island. This would be the more divine providence – the big guy watching over all of us. Or gal. Or it. Whichever you prefer.

The Eye of Providence is the idea that some divine force is watching over us all, sees our deeds and actions, and judges accordingly. The Eye is associated with the Judgement card of the Tarot: Alchemical texts of the 17th Century and Egypt.

While the Eye of Providence, as noted above, has from the 18th Century C.E. onward been associated with Christianity, the idea of an “all-seeing God” has been around for Millenia. What is called “The Eye of Horus” originally was known as the Wadjet Eye, for the goddess Wadjet.


The Eye of Horus

Wadjet, as many can read on the Internet and in several Egyptian Mythology books, was one of the oldest deities in Egypt and dates from the pre-dynastic period. She is associated with Lower Egypt as well as the papyrus. Her name symbolizes the color of blue/green – the color of the papyrus plant. She is nearly always associated with a cobra and is considered the protector of pharaohs and the ruling classes of Egypt.

She’s seen as the Goddess, which represents time, heaven, and hell, and she is an ardent protector, especially of children. Over the millennia, she has been merged with many other goddesses, such as Bast and her sister, Nekhebet, Goddess of Upper Egypt, who is shown as a vulture. Wadjet has also been associated with Buto, the city which first revered her – originally named Per-Wadjet.

According to Herodotus, in his Histories ( Herodotus, The Histories, ii 55, and vii 134), “The Egyptians were also the first to introduce solemn assemblies, processions, and litanies to the gods; of all which the Greeks were taught the use by them. It seems to me a sufficient proof of this that in Egypt these practices have been established from remote antiquity, while in Greece they are only recently known.” There is note of a Temple to Wadjet in Buto (Per-Wadjet) that had an Oracle in it; it was considered that the Greek practice of using Oracles was co-opted from the Egyptians who, as Herodotus states, “taught them in their use.” 

The Eye of Wadget

The Eye of Wadget

Originally, oracles were used to be able to link the individual to the divine. A worshiper would travel to the oracle with a very specific and important question relevant to their lives. Kings would consult oracles to strategize on war or gain insight on divine events which would influence their people, like famine or floods. Using auguries drawn from various animals innards, smoke, visions, the flight of doves, or other “symbols,” the oracle would define the upcoming events based on intuition and divine inspiration. Oracles were eventually replaced by priests and religious figures as a way to connect the individual with their god or goddess, and in a way be a conduit for the divine.

We humans have always been looking for a way to have some kind of communion with the mind of our Divine source, whether it is through other individuals, hallucinogens, runes, tarot, channelling, or simply study. We look for some higher source to tell us what we ought to do, what will help us be successful, happy, healthy, or free. In this case, I find the idea of the Eye of Wadjet to be a symbol that connects us to a dusty, mythic past with some vague idea of what it really meant.

We’ve gone from the protection of a goddess to the protection of a country or our ideals, or maybe even our prosperity. I think this is the most interesting thing in this: the symbols we have in our daily lives are historical treasures that have been modified as our cultures modify them. They come to reflect what, and how we think about the world.

Trivium: Rhetoric

Trivium: Rhetoric

We’re back with the third part of the Trivium: Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through communications, either written or spoken. There are always two components to rhetoric – the rhetoric and the audience. Rhetoric’s aim is to make comparisons, evoke emotions, censure rivals, and convince their audience to switch a point of view. Rhetoric takes the form of speech, debate, music, story, play, movie, poem; nearly anything that can be written or spoken may be a piece of rhetoric. In fact, it may be the rhetoric that makes the art.

In the poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, the author provides a brief insight into life’s travels:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The rhetorical line of this poem is: “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Frost has set a scene for us of decision, or indecision, and given us a glimpse into his thoughts, which may be our thoughts at any given moment. His work is convincing us that in order to perhaps make a difference in our lives, we should tread whether others have infrequently traveled.

When we talk about skilled negotiators, people with “charisma” and “charm,” we are really talking about the art of rhetoric. We use rhetoric in our everyday lives when we create a job resume, negotiate to buy a car, when we debate politics, or even when we are convincing a teenager to clean their room. We may do it every day, but do we really understand the finer points of rhetoric? It seems to be the pinnacle of the Trivium and the highest goal we can work toward in order to communicate our ideas with one another effectively.

A nod to this blog for providing the Cornelis Cort images.

Trivium: Logic or Dialectica

Trivium: Logic or Dialectica

Today’s theme is Logic, or as seen the picture here, Dialectica. As the New Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Logic is the science and art which so directs the mind in the process of reasoning and subsidiary processes as to enable it to attain clearness, consistency, and validity in those processes. The aim of logic is to secure clearness in the definition and arrangement of our ideas and other mental images, consistency in our judgments, and validity in our processes of inference.”


Aristotle is generally considered the “Founder of Logic,” although many others before him put themselves to the task of thinking about how we think. One of these, Zeno of Elea, was considered to have developed reductio ad absurdum, or the method of indirect proof. If something cannot be both true and false, then an argument can be made from reducing the statement to the absurd.

For example, “The earth is round. The earth is not flat. If it were flat, people would fall off the edge.” Since the earth cannot be both round and flat, the statement is true.

Another good example, from Wikipedia (Yes, I know. Don’t judge.), reads:

xenophanes1The ‘reduction to the absurd’ technique is used throughout Greek philosophy, beginning with Presocratic philosophers. The earliest Greek example of a reductio argument is supposedly in fragments of a satirical poem attributed to Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570 – c.475 BC). Criticizing Homer’s attribution of human faults to the gods, he says that humans also believe that the gods’ bodies have human form. But if horses and oxen could draw, they would draw the gods with horse and oxen bodies. The gods can’t have both forms, so this is a contradiction. Therefore, the attribution of other human characteristics to the gods, such as human faults, is also false.

logic2Logic is mental training: once the words and language have been developed, we can think through situations, problems, and reason our way to clear conclusions that work in conjunction with the natural world. For example, if we seekers of Truth are to grow and understand how a symbol might be applied to our everyday lives, we need to understand not only what the symbol is, but how it works in the world around us, how nature employs it.

Logic utilizes the senses but the connection must be made in the mind to form usable conclusions. Logic is, to me, a fundamental aspect of any human being’s career, if one expects to progress through life and learn. We can learn Logic in the modern age via University, but this really teaches us about Logic, not how to employ our logical mind. It seems that only through discourse, or dialectica, are we able to truly develop logical thought processes and reasoning at a higher level. Masonic Philosophical Society, anyone?


As a side note, the Catholic Encyclopedia on has a very good article on Logic and its history. It’s concise and certainly doesn’t include manuscripts; I would encourage anyone with a keen interest in Logic or Dialectica to read Aristotle but also some of the pre-Socractic philosophers, whence a great deal of our modern ideas of logic come.

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”


Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: A word bandied about often by many citizens of the United States. I wanted to explore it because in a recent conversation, it was used akin to arrogance and I wasn’t sure that was correct. The word “entitlement” doesn’t appear in the English language until 1782, and I was unable to find its original source. However, in a very interesting article on Entitlement, (in a blog called Language Log),  the author is investigating the question of when the term went from being a positive term to being a negative term. The article in question is here.

Specifically, we North Americans now tend to use the term in a negative way: ” a sense of entitlement” is used to discuss someone who is feeling privileged, or feeling they need special privileges when they are not due them.  Additionally, the government uses it in a negative way to indicate the same thing; “entitlement programs” are seen as those programs which feed the parasites in society and are not empowering. Some elements of society tend to refer to them as “handouts.” Others see “entitlements” as a duty to care for fellow human beings.

These references and discussions leads one to see a culture that seems to be pushing the idea of activity and work as the only valid “value” in society. As a nation, we see our work as a symbol of uprightness, honesty, and strength. We see the homeless, poor, and unemployed as having done something wrong or lazy or both. If your parents instilled that value of working hard for your goals, no matter what they are, the thoughts have crossed your mind at some point in your life that someone must have done something wrong to be laid off, fired, homeless, poor, or generally in a poor state of affairs. Guaranteed. The only way one cannot feel this way is if one has been dragged through the proverbial “ringer” themselves and had to be that person who is poor, homeless, oppressed, or otherwise fallen into “bad times.”

Do we take our judgement about “entitlement” to extremes? I ask myself that often. I go to a yearly conference where dozens of people arrive to a site and live in a cooperative atmosphere for days at a time. Living in dormitory settings and eating meals family/buffet style, it’s expected that everyone participates in the setup, cleanup, and EFZmaintenance of the site. No one is exempt from this expectation except the infirm or very senior or aged attendees. In general, this seems to work very well. People are cooperative, happy to help, and understand not only the value of “many hands make light work” but also Industry or work are good for us overall. People feel better when they are participating and joining in the creation of a harmonious and giving space. When twenty people clean up, it means more time spent for everyone in other activities.  The group is happy and the environment is uplifting.

You all know what I’m going to say here. There is no perfection and no paradise. There are always one or two people who struggle with these cooperative work or shared space concepts. They place all their items in the showers of the bathroom that is shared with ten people. They lock the bathroom door, restricting access for those same ten people who would also need the toilets or showers which are shared. They rarely do the dishes, and almost never look around for what work might need to be done. They don’t even ask if they can help – they just disappear for their “personal” time. After all, they’re on vacation, aren’t they?

They expect the “locals” to help the with rides, directions, or general questions and to provide assistance at a moment’s notice with little regard for what that person might actually be doing at that moment. They see other people’s time as their own, not something for which to be grateful. In short, they do not think about the other person before making their requests. They do not see the other person as valuable as they are. They may be the gentlest soul in the world, used to working hard at home; however, at these conferences, there’s a “sense of entitlement” that seems to permeate their actions.

The proper thing to do is to point this out to them and help them understand how their behavior impacts others. As a member of the community during this time, it’s my job to do that. I believe it’s all our jobs to do that. I fail. Others fail. The person continues to see their behavior as acceptable and others continue to see their behavior as intrusive and rude. This breeds resentment, gossip, and ill will. I’ve felt that resentment grow, and ask myself silently, “Don’t they see what they are doing? They are wrecking this for everyone!”

That might be a little dramatic, but the resentment does grow. I make assumptions that they are lazy, acting entitled, or just clueless. When it finally erupts, it comes off as condescending, belittling, and not very respectful of the other person. Conversely, it does no good to “ignore it.” I do not want to be that person who says “people are people” and they “will always be that way.” That’s condescending in another way; by not offering the person the person the information necessary to learn and grow, you’re saying they are not capable, intelligent human beings. You are demeaning them by dismissing the behavior. In fact, you are enabling the entitlement.

Obviously, as I stated above, the right thing to do is to point out the behavior and talk about its impact. My general way of doing this is pointing out the behavior, listening to them expectation1and their responses, showing how it impacts others, and providing a few possible ways to approach the issue. I try to approach it as a discussion rather than an admonishment – at least the first time. Maybe even the second time. Yet, I always have that fear of bringing something up to someone and having them be upset; indeed, this is the reason most of us don’t do it in the first place. We think we are one of three things: we are not responsible, we’re acting beyond our authority, or we’re going to upset people.


At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s bravado and I stumble. But I have to just do it. Practice makes perfect.

The first steps are always the hardest. For me, approaching entitlement as a discussion rather than corrective behavior seems to be the right answer. I have to frame the words that come out of my mouth in such a way to help correct the situation, not inflame passions. I know that everyone doesn’t work that way; my hope is to have understanding about impact rather than to just blindly correct a behavior. If someone is chastised, they tend to only associate the behavior with that specific environment. If a discussion ensues, they see their actions in the broader context – their lives – and thus may make the leap of approaching all activities with a mindset that steers away from entitlement.

What I think is true for this conference might also be true for the wider society and our day to day lives. While we’re not living in dormitories and sharing food at every meal, I think the path of discussion rather than accusations feels more correct, more productive. Perhaps more human. I personally tend to get mad when someone expects me to jump at their call without even a “hello” or they infringe on shared space with their demands and wants. If I can take a breath and think for a moment before engaging, I might be able to leverage that “pivotal” moment and create something positive. It doesn’t always work – traffic is a great example – but I hope that I’m making progress. Thinking before speaking is always a challenge but one worth jumping into.

Not everyone will “get it.” Some of those I call out will be embarrassed enough by their actions to be mad with me for pointing it out. Some will cry and think I’m calling them awful people. Some will ignore the guidance, or hate me for being arrogant enough to think I’m better than them, or just plain shrug their shoulders and walk way. It shouldn’t stop any of us from trying to address these things that would hold us all back from being better people and better citizens. The community we strive to improve is the one with which we are actively involved; that is our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

helpinghandAs Freemasons, our behavior away from our Lodge is equally as important as our time within the Lodge. We’re taught how to behave with one another, including the ability to address concerns with a fellow Brother directly and with virtue. Shouldn’t we afford the rest of our community the benefit of our lessons learned? That is part of helping humanity improve, I think. It doesn’t make it easy when the rest of the world doesn’t play by the same rules. It also doesn’t exempt us from facing the challenges and the hard work ahead. If we dislike entitlement so much, and we resent the people who fall into that mode of being, what are we doing to combat it? What are we doing to improve it, whether it is a head-to-head conversation or immersion in supporting an organization like Habitat for Humanity or mentoring for job-training programs? It behooves us to be the examples of working hard to show the meaning of real service, gratitude, and entitlement. How can we help people help themselves, instead of being victims? How does being a victim benefit anyone, personally or societally?

Maybe we can take back the word “entitlement” to mean what it initially or originally meant: “the amount to which a person has a right; the fact of having a right to something.” What is a “right,” and to what do we each have a “right?” What are your thoughts on entitlements and rights? Is a study of “the human right” in order? Or Rights in general? What do you think?

As always, I am grateful for your views and opinions.


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” [] 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.” []

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” [], author Robert Burton states that “certainty is a mental sensation rather than the evidence of fact…” From the 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 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.