Greatness in Small Things

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley

In Illinois the office of Grand Orator, in the days before short attention spans, was one of great moment. Charged with speaking to the Brethren assembled for the annual Grand Communication, the Grand Orator’s address was usually quite long. I’m not sure that today’s Masons would sit still for something that would last an hour or more, and any applause in response to such an oration would likely be of relief that it was over, rather than appreciation for the ideas it contained. 

That’s a pity, for the ideas contained in the grand orations were usually excellent, and often eloquently expressed. Brother Oscar A Kropf’s Grand Oration in 1916, for example, spoke of each individual’s worth in phrases that inspire:

We are wont to lull ourselves into a state of mental ease by the idea that the great things of this world have fallen to the lot of others; that our efforts are of no particular consequence. Let us explode that fallacy. That there is a giant for every occasion, and the rest of us are mere pigmies, is a mistaken notion. To subscribe to that sentiment, is to minimize individual worth. It is to characterize God's handiwork, created in his own image, as so much mere chaff. Why were we given the power of thought and the capacity to translate that thought into action, but to leave some trace, some impression of our individuality upon this earth? To do less is a disgrace. To accomplish this requires no spectacular achievement which the world applauds. The opportunity for that may never come, and the performance of it may be of doubtful value. But it means the doing well, the common things of every day life. Sanctify and glorify the things which we are inclined to look upon as the ordinary things of every day existence by the thoroughness and splendor of their performance. Be the task however humble, the character of the performer lends it dignity. Be the lists where they may, a character within them will exert an influence which will continue in ever widening circles until their circumference touches the shores of eternity. Usefulness in life's lowliest stations is greatness. 

He calls for approaching everything we do according to Masonic principles: with a care for excellence, thoroughness, and dignity. The Brother who sits on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to volunteer because he is not himself a great man, is ignoring the essence of Masonry. We are to be useful, whether in great or small things, and we never know which seemingly insignificant act will have great effects, perhaps years later. 

I doubt Brother Kropf thought his words would be read and meditated upon a century after he delivered them, but he would likely appreciate the proof that he was right. The boundary line of our duty is illustrated in every regular and well furnished lodge, but, as Brother Kropf reminds us, if we perform our duty well, with humility and dignity, that circle’s spreading influence will touch the shores of eternity.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He is Past Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix in the Valley of Danville, IL; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.The author of several article on British and American history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at:

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