A Masonic Answer to Incivility
by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
Following the uproar caused by a certain incident that occurred during the telecast of the Academy Awards ceremony, Bro. Alex G. Powers asked the Kansas Freemasonry Facebook Group, the following: "If there is a Masonic conversation to come from the actions observed at the Oscars last night, it makes me think about subduing one’s passions. We are all human and sometimes things make us see red in the moment that may be debatable in all directions by everyone else. As a Mason, is it appropriate to sometimes give in and act out of passion?"
The responses were varied, including my own answer: "Is it appropriate to sometimes give in and act out of passion as a Freemason? According to our teachings, no. In practice, Man, I see that happen every day on social media. We're human right? We've all been guilty of "losing our cool" at one time or another. So we can in retrospect look at this incident and say: "Oh, I'd never do that!" or "He should have whispered wise counsel", yet I see far worse exchanges on social media among brothers every day. Where's the outcry or wise counsel when that happens?"
In my mind, what happened on Sunday evening was borne out of incivility and both parties are at fault. Many people are choosing sides and defending one party while deriding the other. What is troubling to me is that violence has become an accepted response to dealing with incivility.
The more I examined this thought, the more I contemplated a recent presentation I had given at Homer Lodge No. 199's last stated meeting, entitled: A Loss of Civility in America: A Masonic Reaction. The presentation was borne out of a few things:
1. The wonderful work the MWB Russ Charvonia has done with his Masonic Family Civility Project(https://www.masoniccivility.org/).
2. The goal of my Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 to develop a presentation that could be used by other members of the Chapter to help promote Civility to the members of their home Masonic Lodges.
3. The overall continued lack of civility in today's society and the need for us to set the example as Freemasons.
The question remains, How can we as Freemasons respond to incivility? In my mind, there are a few major things we can do. First and foremost, we should not be the cause of incivility ourselves. As I mentioned above, I see far worse uncivil exchanges on social media between brethren than what occurred this past Sunday evening. While our obligations may discuss specific things we should not do to another Master Mason; namely striking except in defense of his person, family, or property, cheating, wronging, defrauding, and supplanting him in his laudable undertakings; we're not really enforcing the penalties of the obligation against those that violate them. So in this case, when we are witnessing incivility, either online or in the real world, what should we do?
I think first and foremost, as Freemasons, we need to be self-aware. This means that we need to make a personal commitment to be more civil. To practice this, we need to be aware of our own actions and how we communicate with others. We also need to be patient. A good way to visualize this would be to think about the circumpunct or the point within the circle. Imagine we are that point, and the circle is our sphere of influence. If we go outside of the sphere, our influence is going to be small or non-existent. However, within the sphere, our actions and our words will be taken seriously or at face value. We also need to remember to breathe and subdue our passions before reacting in all situations. Square ourselves, circumscribe ourselves to stay within due bounds and use the trowel to apply the cement of brotherly love even if we are the ones that are being treated uncivilly.
Secondly, we need to think the best of others. While there may be many people that get off by being an online troll, there's a pretty good chance that if we encounter incivility, it is due to a misunderstanding or lack of awareness of the situation. Many people become uncivil when they feel they have been disrespected, marginalized, or wronged. However, we need to try to remind both parties involved in the incivility that they most likely have more in common than they realize.
All of this depends on the situation. If you witness something online, your response will be different than it might be in public. You might also be able to gain more insight online by reading the exchange back to where the incivility began. In public, it will depend on if you were there at the beginning of it or if you just happened upon it. Gather as much information as you can about the cause of the incivility.
The best thing you can do is to calmly engage the parties in civil discourse and remind them of their commonality. If you think it's possible, then you can say something like, "I remember when my kids got into a similar argument..do you have kids?", getting them to focus on what they have in common will most likely de-escalate the situation. This should be easy if you encounter some Masonic brothers being uncivil towards each other. Remind them about Brotherly Love, their obligations, and ask them to remember that they should be meeting on the level, acting by the plumb and parting upon the square. You can tell them it's okay if they disagree, but that it's not okay to be uncivil towards each other. However, take action!
What else can you do? Educate yourself, especially on viewpoints that are opposite to yours. What this will do is it will allow you to be better prepared to find those commonalities that exist in times of incivility. Also, you can encourage others within your sphere of influence to practice civility by asking them to follow the below 31-day civility challenge.
Remember, most people do not make a conscious decision to be uncivil. Being uncivil takes no conscious effort at all. It just happens because one is unable to subdue their passions. Civility, especially in the heat of the moment, takes effort. But if we apply our working tools, it can become part of who we are. Guess what? Because civility doesn't seem to happen as much as it should, it will get noticed. If we can serve as an example in our communities, then we can be a force for change and hopefully an example for others to follow.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past 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 a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.