It started innocently enough. In order to promote our latest episode of the “Meet, Act and Part” podcast (shameless plug). Bill Hosler, Greg Knott, Todd Creason and I host the podcast. In addition to hosting the podcast, I do the production work, and Bill does all of the social media promotion. This episode, our 30th, was about Lodge Culture. Bill selected an image showing men of different ethnicities wearing Masonic rings touching the standard blue Masonic Bible that most candidates receive upon the completion of their third degree. It appears to be resting on an altar, as there is a white cloth under the bible. Bill posted the picture on one of the most populous Freemason groups on Facebook (The Winding Stairs) in order to garner some new listeners. Then the comments started.
Not all of the comments were negative. In fact, very few of them were. However, instead of them being about the episode, they were about the picture. Most of the comments could be separated into one of the below three categories:
A majority of the comments, because the men were wearing Masonic Rings, the “points in” versus “points out” debate.
A few comments mistook the picture for someone being obligated (or they were just being facetious).
A few comments were regarding the title of the podcast, because it “revealed ritual”.
While I read the comments and shook my head in disbelief at them, I chuckled to myself, Sartre was right, “Hell is other people.” I then chastised myself for saying that about my brothers. I opened my heart and filled it with brotherly love. Yet at this moment, I realized that maybe Sartre could explain why it is so difficult for us to practice the tenet of brotherly love while on social media, or even in the lodge room.
Who is Sartre? For those of you who don’t know, Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French philosopher, author, playwright, and literary critic who is best known for his opus: “Being and Nothingness”, which was published in 1943. Sartre also wrote a play in 1943 entitled “No Exit”. No Exit (Huis Clos), is about three characters – Garcin, Estelle, and Inez who have died and gone to hell, which happens to be a drawing-room.
As the characters struggle to understand how they have ended up in hell, and what their punishment for all eternity will be, they come to an understanding that there is no torturer, no flames, or punishment. It’s just the three of them, trapped in a room forever. The other characters in the room are the punishment. Towards the end of the play, Garcin states:
“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”
What Sartre’s philosophy illustrates is that it is difficult to co-exist with other people. According to Sartre, Other people, and their perception of me (what Sartre called the gaze), disturbs me on a subconscious level. This feeling is disturbing because it locks me into a particular kind of object, which deprives me of my freedom. The other defines me as a being having attributes (attractive, smart, proud, shy, crazy, etc.); even if I am not any of these things. The only defense left for me is to try to transform others into an object having traits that I assign to it. My subconscious projects my own perception of how I view them back onto them. I am so disturbed subconsciously by their projection of me, that I have to rid myself of them by doing the same to them. This activity continues ad infinitum.
Freedom is being defined here as the freedom to exist. Sartre writes “no limits to my freedom can be found except freedom itself or if you prefer, that we are not free to cease being free”. Unfortunately, we are born into the world or into a ‘situation’ which Sartre calls facticity. The facticity of our human condition is the limits imposed upon the individual by the world. I can make any choice I want to make, but I will have to deal with the consequences of my actions. Sartre writes that freedom means “by oneself to determine oneself to wish. In other words, success is not important to freedom.” Sartre would say it is important to note the difference between choice, wish and dream.
For example, I can wish that I can fly, but that brings me no closer to flight as I know that flight isn’t something that I’m physically capable of because I do not have wings nor a pilot’s license. I can also dream that I can fly, but once again it’s futile due to the above limitations. However, Sartre would say that an individual is always free to choose to fly. I can run off the top of a building and believe that I will fly and deal with the consequences of gravity, or I can go to school to learn how to become a pilot. I am free to choose.
In essence, what social media facilitates is a perfect distillation of Satre’s observations about the other, and how we react to the other. Sure, I might have someone not agree with what I express and they can argue back and forth ad infinitum about why their position is correct and mine is incorrect. In essence, it is me trying to project my “truth” upon someone else. However, my “truth” may not really be true. We often shape our own opinions on information that we have not taken the time to research, given to us by other individuals on social media, or in the media. Many of us accept this information to be true even if it isn’t. Worse yet, social media gives me the freedom to choose to express myself without consequence. At the very worst, I might end up banned from the social media platform and I can create a new profile under a pseudonym or end up in “Facebook” jail for some time. Many Grand Lodges have Social Media policies, but have you ever seen them enforced? I have not.
How do we as Freemasons combat this? In the Fellowcraft degree, we are taught that the jewels of a Fellowcraft are an attentive ear, an instructive tongue, and a faithful breast. I would ask that we start using them as a tool to help us subdue our passions, to help guide our actions despite our inherent desire to express ourselves freely, to help us act with civility towards each other.
The attentive ear reminds us of the need to listen carefully and with attention to detail. I would argue that having an attentive ear also means that we must have a keen eye. For many of us, the internet as our primary source of information, we must not only listen in order for the work to be properly received and the instruction understood, we also must make sure to read attentively as well. Without a keen eye, how can we as Freemasons read the designs on the trestle board? The ear can only listen. It is important for us to be able to use our eyes in unison with our ears.
An instructive tongue allows knowledge to be conveyed accurately. The tongue does more than communicate, it also teaches. Not only does it teach, but it informs us of the truth, meaning and the application of the lessons of not only Freemasonry but of life itself. With most of our information coming from the internet, we are also using communication tools like e-mail, text messages, or messengers built into social media to relay information. It is important then to use your fingers as much as it is your tongue. When you use the instructive tongue either by speaking or by typing, the intention is to impart knowledge or information to others. With the instructive tongue/fingers, we give others the tools and the information on how to use them in order to grow themselves so they may pass that knowledge onto more people. It is important to let our instructive tongues work in unison with our fingers to pass this knowledge onto others.
The faithful breast is the place where we keep the lessons and secrets that are entrusted to us as we progress through the degrees of Freemasonry. The faithful breast is called such because as we first become Freemasons in our hearts, it is within our hearts where we keep and treasure these lessons and secrets. Because our hearts reside within our breast, the idea of the faithful breast came to pass. It is of course impossible for our hearts within our breasts to retain these lessons and secrets. The faithful breast resides in our brain. It is in our brain, where we keep the ideals of Freemasonry. It is here where we need to think about the application of these jewels.
Our brain is where we ultimately decide how to act in life. It is here where we process the information obtained by the attentive ear/keen eye, and we ultimately need to think about whether that information is true. Freemasons should think about truth in context to it being a tenet of Freemasonry. Truth “is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue. To be a good man and true is the first lesson taught in Masonry. On this theme we contemplate, and by its dictates endeavor to regulate our conduct; hence, while influenced by this principle, hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among us, sincerity and plain-dealing distinguish us, and heart and tongue join in promoting each other’s welfare and rejoicing in each other’s prosperity.”
It is in our brain, where we decide how we should relay truth using our instructive tongue. It is here where we decide whether to subdue our passions or to let them guide us to be true in our actions. It is here where we struggle with our innate desire to express ourselves against the influence of the subconscious perceptions of others. If we listen with an attentive ear and live by our lessons, we remember that we need to exercise caution and restraint and that we need to be guided by wisdom and prudence in our endeavors with each other.
Whether or not you agree with Sartre, it is clear to me that he realizes that humanity is its own worst enemy. Freemasons are not exempt from that. However, we are an organization that promotes “Brotherly Love” as one of its key tenets. We are told in the Entered Apprentice degree that: “By the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family; the high and low, the rich and poor, who, as created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.” Yet, we have let the divisiveness of the profane world divide us online, and it has infiltrated our lodge rooms. Luckily, we have the tools to fight the divisiveness that is creeping into the Craft, and we need to use them. By practicing the use of the attentive ear, the instructive tongue, and the faithful breast, along with the application of our definition of Truth, and spreading the cement of Brotherly Love with the trowel, we can combat this divisiveness. It just requires us to apply our lessons to everyday life.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our co-managing Editor. He is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at email@example.com