“Working on my rough ashlar” is a phrase used by Freemasons to mean they are trying to apply the lessons of the fraternity to improve themselves in some way, perhaps morally or spiritually or, hopefully, and most importantly, behaviorally. Freemasons using this phrase are indicating that they are trying to change something about themselves, trying to change how they behave. You have probably heard this or even used said it yourself. But what does it really mean? Do we ever really change ourselves, especially our behavior, or do we just pat ourselves on the back for the “good” men—the perfect ashlars-- we already are?
Let’s look at the ritual. The rough ashlar in the first degree is that “stone taken from the quarry in its rude and natural state” to remind us of our own rude and natural state. The rough ashlar is “made ready” or perfected to be of use to the builder in constructing his temple. How does this happen? For operative masons, the rough ashlar is perfected by subtraction. The common gavel is used to break off the rough and superfluous or unnecessary parts leaving only the beautiful and useful behind. The symbolism is clear, but do we see ourselves in it? Do we see that we are the rude and imperfect rough ashlar that needs to be perfected to fortify and support the building of our own temples? Do we see the rough and superfluous parts that we need to break off and get rid of? Do we see that we have behavior that needs to change? I think an honest look in the mirror will tell us that we don’t.
When you look in the mirror, do you see a man who is full of pride or a Mason who has humility? Do you see a man who clings to and defends his every opinion or a Mason who keeps an open mind? Do you see a man who regularly provokes others to anger or despair or a Mason who is more circumspect? Do you see a man who would fight every fight no matter how petty or a Mason who walks away? Do you see a man who sees things only from his own point of view or a Mason who seeks to understand and easily empathizes with another? Do you see a man who demonizes those with whom he disagrees or a Mason who recognizes that the Divine which lives within him lives within them as well?
So look in the mirror. Do you see the Mason you want to be or the man you don’t? Better yet, look at your Facebook, Twitter, and social media—your post and your comments—do you see there the man that you want people to think of when they think of Freemasonry? If not, get to work with your gavel. Breakoff and subtract those superfluous parts-- your passions and prejudices. Change your behavior and change your heart. Get rid of the rubbish that you need to remove so that the man that you are can become the Mason you want to be.
My Brother, now more than ever, your country needs you to do this. Your fraternity and your lodge need you to do this. Most importantly, YOU need you to do this. If you think that you don’t, what are you doing here?