There's a common meme going around saying, "I'm glad school taught me the Pythagorean theorem instead of how to do my taxes. It's come in really handy this Pythagorean theorem season." It's the ultimate extension of many a child's (and adult's) lamentation for being forced to learn anything other than survival or trade skills. Putting aside the fact that the physical structures of civilization are based on such formulae, it is a fair question to ask what personal value a thing can have if we do not believe we will personally use it.
Plato suggests that the only way to properly learn philosophy (the art of life) is to first become proficient in Mathematics, or as it was meant in the true sense of that time and place, Geometry. But who aspires to be a philosopher? Let's look at it another way: you can exist and survive without much knowledge or understanding, but how well can you really live without some level of contemplation and understanding of that existence?
We all start out with a square placed under our hands — a tool that anyone can use to measure the physical world right in front of us. It reveals nothing about the object's nature or place in the world. Someone else will have us prepare the stone according to a greater plan we don't need to know anything about. In fact, the tool used to draft such plans is hidden from your view. Imagination and intellect are waiting to be revealed only upon seeking more Light.
As we wind our way up the staircase of our Masonic progression, we are expected to at least touch upon the broad range of arts and sciences known to man. And if we deny the literal expectation of such learning in our Speculative state, we must at least admit that a Fellow of the Craft in Operative times was no longer a mere beast of burden – an Apprentice – by his learning more than just how to use his hands. He could not even rightfully ask for his wages unless he first advanced through such knowledge. He may be a material point or two shy of Mastery, but the guarded doors to a higher life have been opened unto him. He is no longer on the ground floor, working on stones. He is building his Temple with conscious effort — a deliberate design that can only be done using both Strength and Beauty moderated by Wisdom.
But is Plato right? Is the learning of the language of Creation required to truly have an educated opinion on the things of Creation, including the realm of Man and the World? Does plying the art of Geometry train one's mind to do more than add or subtract his hours and paychecks for the purpose of not getting audited by the IRS? Never mind being "good", if one can even know what that means. Can one become "better" by having a mind opened to the abstract world of pure shapes and forms? Can the ability to form and use models and modes of thinking translate to everyday tasks?
How many have never passed to a place where they can conceive Divine purpose instead of repetitiously take on the labor of a slave? Do we let the lessons of Masonry inspire us to see the bigger picture? And do we expect to receive the wages of that without expanding our life to include the skills of Mind and Spirit? Experience will provide an answer. Such a promise has been made to us. Ask, seek, knock ...
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.