In Freemasonry and its related bodies we tell a lot of stories with a purpose. Ask any copy of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces and it’ll tell you that stories are how humanity learns character. Good character, ideally, but we also learn from those who have bad character.
One particular story features an antagonist with a particularly bad character. And in what I suppose would be the complicating incident of the tale he utters something to the effect of “that which I say, I will do.”
You can probably imagine that what he did wasn’t very angelic, but as I was flipping through my copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People this week, which suggests, among many other wise morsels, that we should not criticize, but should focus on a person’s positive traits, finding something to compliment about every man.
It got me to ask myself “what would I say about this particularly rough character?” Because there’s honestly not much to like. But one thing I could honestly say: “at least he was a man of his word.”
Whether or not any of you masons out there agree or disagree with this sentiment is beside the point, which is that one of the things, maybe the biggest thing, this story has to say is that what separates us from the antagonist is the ability to look for, and spotlight the good, in every one of our fellow man.
The tragedy that ultimately befell the characters of this story, the details of which I must necessarily dance around, was not caused by an absence of hard truths or confrontation. It was caused by an absence of charitable thought by the antagonist toward his victim, who he refused to look at as a human being, but as someone that was hiding something for selfish reasons.
How many times do we sit among brothers and talk about the failings of others? And worse, so often we walk away thinking we’ve done God’s work. We tell ourselves we discussed an important issue that can’t be rightly ignored. We gave a grieved party our firm support and commiseration. That what we discuss, which we would never discuss in a more public venue, is in the interests of the brethren.
But that’s not true. Maybe events and actions are up for grabs, but when we speak ill of others, more especially a brother, all we’re doing is giving each others justifications to strip that brother of his humanity. And that only has one purpose, which is to make it easier to hurt him.
We live, hopefully, in a just world, either here on Earth or in Heaven. And some people do wrong, and they will reap what they sow. Even if we’re the ones who have to do the reaping. And that’s fine because actions have consequences.
But he is a man. A human being. And if he needs to be cut down, let him be cut down while standing on his own two feet, and without gloating from the peanut gallery. After all, his good character was partly your responsibility because it is universally true, more especially of a mason. You truly are your brothers keeper.
And if you aren’t in any position, or brave enough to swing that sword, then what do you have to add to the situation anyway?
Except for charity.
We can all inject kindness, charity, and ultimately humanity into any conversation about those who fail to meet our standards of conduct. And the result may just end up being harmony.
For more light on the topic of how we should meet, act, and part with our fellow man, read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.