Surfing through the World Wide Web recently, I came across this quote by the Stoic philosopher Seneca, “Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one. People learn as they teach.”
I immediately thought of my association with Masons and Masonry. I thought, isn’t this what seek to do? Isn’t this what we mean when we say, “Freemasonry takes good men and makes them better”? Isn’t it this association of men learning from and teaching each other how that improvement in Freemasonry happens— how we help each other to be better?
My thoughts hadn’t traveled very far down this track when I started thinking about the long and ongoing discussion among Masons about “guarding the west gate” or how Freemasonry evaluates those who would seek admission into the fraternity—how we decide with whom we will associate. The dominant themes of this discussion have been that Freemasonry has emphasized the quantity rather than the quality of candidates that have been admitted into the fraternity, that we have failed to properly vet those seeking admission, and that men that shouldn’t have gained admission have been allowed to become Freemasons to the detriment of the Fraternity as a whole.
As I considered Seneca’s simple statement it occurred to me that the problem with our evaluation system might be that we, as a Fraternity, have forgotten what we hope to give and what we hope to get from a candidate for Masonry. We often think of the transformational effect the Masonic experience can have on a man without considering whether the candidate in front of us is open to it. We think of the “help” the potential brother might offer by taking a chair or helping with a fundraiser without realizing this isn’t the help we really need. We haven’t thought about what we really have to offer a candidate, nor what we really need from him.
If Freemasonry is truly about men improving themselves by teaching and learning and understanding the lessons and values inculcated by our degrees, shouldn’t we assure ourselves that we are associating with those likely to improve us and welcoming those capable of improvement? Shouldn’t we explain to a prospective candidate that Freemasonry means many things to many people, but at its heart, it is an association of men who seek to improve themselves and each other by learning from and teaching one another? Shouldn’t we then ask him what improvement he seeks in himself and how he thinks he might help his potential brethren to improve? Freemasonry isn’t for everyone. If we can’t see how an association with a man will help improve the brethren and he doesn’t see that he needs to improve, then maybe the Fraternity is not the proper fit for him, nor he for the Fraternity.
Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others. He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites. He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had a chance to do. He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan. He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.