True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Friday, January 4, 2008

What is Whispering Good Counsel

In the third degree, the candidate is taught that: might whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonishing of his errors, and in a most friendly manner, seek to bring about a reformation.

What does that mean to us as masons? It seems to mean that if you see a brother failing to live up to the moral standards, rules, regulations, traditions, constitution and edicts of Freemasonry that you should whisper good counsel to the brother.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? What then is a brother to do when his whispered counsel is not well received. What do you do with a brother, that instead, chastises a brother for daring to correct what he sees as an error, when he is raked over the coals and held up to public ridicule?

As brothers, we are called to correct, aid and assist our brethren. Before we do so, we should ask ourselves four things:
  1. Is the counsel correct, and more, is it going to be useful? In some Grand Jurisdictions, it is against the masonic code to sell alcohol, or be a part of a business that distributes alcohol. Would it be useful to tell a brother in another jurisdiction where it is NOT against the code that it is unmasonic to do so?
  2. What is the purpose of the counsel? Are you trying to truly help a brother by pointing out something he may have missed, or are you trying to show moral superiority by doing so. Masonic charity is not just giving money and time to the lodge and the brethren, it is about an attitude of BEING charitable. If the purpose of whispering good counsel is to aggrandize yourself, remain silent. Whispering good counsel is supposed to be a friendly act, not an assault.
  3. Will the counsel be received? If you know that whispering good counsel will not be received by the brother, if you recognize from his past deportment that he not only KNOWS his actions are not in keeping with masonic law and custom and that he is deliberately carrying out the act, prudence dictates you follow the lesson of the first degree and maintain silence with that brother.
  4. Last, will the counsel be helpful? This seems pretty straightforward, but it can be a serious consideration. In California, the obligation specifically requires a brother to give due and timely notice of approaching danger, but if the approaching danger is something the brother cannot avoid, then whispering counsel to him would be a waste of time. Only the brother can make that judgment, and it should be seriously reviewed.
  5. The counsel should be private, just between the two brothers, otherwise it is not whispering.

There was a situation years ago that a Junior Warden faced. He had been given information "on the square" to be held in the faithful repository of a faithful breast. It did not concern murder or treason, or even at that time, felonious conduct, but he was given this information as due and timely notice of approaching danger. In California, the Junior Warden of a lodge is the one that receives masonic complaints/charges and then investigates and if necessary, prefers the charges through the lodge.

Was he obligated to warn the brother who was the subject of the information or keep the information as a secret given to him in trust? Was he required to whisper good counsel to the brother in question? Did he have an obligation to the lodge that superseded his obligation to the brother?

These were serious questions. The Junior Warden kept the secrets that had been entrusted to him, and did not warn the brother at the center of the issue, for in doing so, he would have violated the trust. The Junior Warden did not warn the lodge, since that too would have violated his obligation to keep the secrets entrusted to him.

Events unfolded over the fullness of time, and it all worked out it should according to masonic tradition and rules.

The internet is an interesting animal all on its own, and present challenges to our obligations as well. For some reason, people on the internet like to try to hide behind online aliases, some just like them but sign their real names and affiliations along with the nicknames. This is mentioned not as a criticism, implied or explicit, but as a manner of noting that because of the nicknames, some brothers say and do things on the internet they would never do in person.

How does this apply to whispering good counsel? A PhD brother recently noted, correctly, that 93% of communication is non verbal, that is, intonation, body language, facial expressions and so on. As a result, we are reduced to the medium of simple words here, the remaining 7%. Due to this, the opportunities for miscommunication abound. As an example, remove 93 out of every 100 letters in this article, and you will see that you are left with little.

Couple the opportunity for miscommunication endemic in written only communication with the relative anonymity of the internet, and it becomes very difficult to "read" a brother, to understand him. Internet interactions therefore, are very challenging, and if you couple THAT problem with personal issues that some brothers may carry with them, and the tenets of freemasonry can become pretty darn tenuous.

No one single tenet of freemasonry informs our lives as masons, it is the totality of the craft. We cannot be prudent if we do not temper our words with justice and fortitude. We cannot aid and assist a brother unless we properly understand the meaning of faith, hope and charity. We cannot keep the secrets of a brother as our own unless we have fortitude and prudence, the ability to maintain and prudential silence while reprehending with justice and a faith in the divine in all men.

Moreover, before whispering good counsel, we should practice charity, to give our brother the benefit of the doubt, to always consider that there is more than one side to any story, and that your opponent is rarely a villain in his own eyes. Not that any brother is a villain, but as a means of considering that the way you see it is not always the way it is... there are always facts, interpretations, and viewpoints other than our own.

We ARE called to whisper good counsel. It is our duty, but we must temper that obligation with the rest of what Freemasonry teaches us. Moreover, whispered counsel should be... well, whispered. On the internet, that means using private email, not posting on blogs, forums, or other public areas. In person, it means just between the two brothers. If a third brother is needed, then the advice, which is really what whispered counsel is, may not be well received.

I personally learned these lessons recently. I thought I was whispering good counsel, and posted a comment on a comments section of a blog. Of course it blew up into MUCH more than it was, and the situation cycled WAAAY out of proportion to the actual and real situation at hand. Darn near every one of the five rules posted above were violated in the two sentence note: It was not well received, it was not private, and it's offer was more seen as bullying than whispered counsel.

Yhe point was not made in private, the receiver was embarrassed, which resulted in the normal, human reaction of striking back, which lead to me being embarrassed which lead to a whole series of incredibly stupid, inconsiderate, and conduct unbecoming masons on both sides. Really stupid because one brother did not stop and consider before acting... and that is another problem created by the internet... it creates an instant method of acting that, in normal situations, would be put off until a "better more appropos" time.

The good news is this lesson (unfortunately in retrospect) has been learned. The bad news is there is no way to repair the damage... perhaps a tincture of time and a hefty dose of freemasonry will allow the situation to be repaired. Either way, the lesson can be shared...

Here is another thought though, and related to the first: Every coin has two sides.

The OTHER side of whispering good counsel is receiving it! Implicit in our obligation to OFFER good counsel is our obligation to a brother to hear him out and carefully consider his words when offered good counsel. Charity means that we apply the most charitable ear possible to the words being offered, that the brothering offering it to us has taken time to think about it, has wrestled with his conscience, has carefully considered, and is offering you a precious gift.

Especially if you do not agree, it is our obligation to hear him out, to carefully examine what he is saying, to thank him for taking the time and effort to offer it. Even if you do not agree with him, masonic charity all but demands that you at least thank the brother for coming to you. Masonic Justice also all but demands that you give him the courtesy of thinking about what he brought to you. We are all blind to some things.

Its all about Freemasonry.

May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


Seeker of Light said...

The whispering of good council, especially on the internet, should be done in private, not as is often the case in public replies to messages on forums, in replies to blogs, or in articles written for a blog. How the council is presented will often determine the outcome. To me, the key is to ensure that your doing it for the right reason (to help or to prevent the brother from harm) and with brotherly love and concern as the motive.

Theron Dunn said...

good point. please note I have incorporated your thought in the article. Especially see Rule #5.

Metatron said...

Bro. Dunn,

Thank you for this posting. It was enlightening.


METATRON (aka E. Rodriguez)

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