Do you understand just how challenging it can be to put what you really mean into words? There are, after all, over 170,000 words that are considered to be current English.
It was late on a Monday evening when I was Initiated into Freemasonry. As so many who had gone before me, I was trying desperately to retain everything I had experienced, yet finding myself lacking. I just knew I was missing something, perhaps several things, and I was worried I might not have the opportunity to learn them again. Thankfully, before the evening was over, I was informed of the numerous ways I could experience the Initiation again, even if I was not the candidate any longer.
There seemed to be so many expectations. There were things I should be learning about, things I should be doing, things I should be saying, ways I should be acting – and, naturally, those which I should not. While I found myself recalling those instructions, one thing I never once heard was that I had to abolish all passion from my life. I think of that now because, interestingly, this topic of passion seemed to keep reappearing throughout my progression through the degrees – it was inculcated to me.
What did I hear? I recall the word “subdue” being used frequently. The recited prayer to open Lodge requests for Deity to help us “subdue every discordant passion within us.” In fact, in our Fellow Craft degree it explicitly says, in plain English, “By Speculative Masonry we may learn to subdue the passions…” I was even given a symbolic representation and told that the Compasses teach all Freemasons to “circumscribe their desires and keep their passions and prejudices in due bounds with all mankind…” I was even warned that if I failed to understand and respect this teaching, my passions or prejudices could betray me.
Hold on… We… “may learn…”? That is not a very committed phrase. Does that make it… optional? Certainly not. What it refers to is our own capabilities to actually subdue our passions.
Too often men expect Freemasonry to “teach the test”. The concept being that a test is coming and there are 10 questions on it, yet the source material on those 10 questions is 10 books long… but if I just teach you the answers, then you learn nothing. Freemasonry does this with a hearty helping of terms like “may”, “should”, “recommended”, “consideration”, and other seemingly non-commital phrases. However, that is a mis-representation. Instead, I believe it to be a recognition that I, as another man, cannot force you into any of these items. You must want it, you must seek it.
Accordingly, I know of no place where Freemasonry explicitly says: “Step 1 on Subduing your Passions:…” What I do know is that I have been informed of where to look – what books to read, if you will – that will help me prepare for the ultimate test – that time when my passions flare and it falls on me, and me alone, to subdue it. Now, I say “me alone”, but let me remind you of that opening prayer for Lodge, the true “Step 1”. What I mean to suggest is a situation where there is not another Brother there to whisper good counsel.
Freemasonry recommends to our consideration what I later learned was called the Trivium. Rather than just some archaic yet elementary sounding education, it turns out that the Trivium – Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric – are the basis of classical education; skills deemed necessary for taking part in society at large. Necessary: as how breathing and consuming food and water are necessary for life. An understanding of Grammar gives you the ability to form sentences which clearly portray your intent. Logic lets you analyze the Grammar of others, and yourself, to find facts and truth. Rhetoric naturally follows as a combination of Grammar and Logic, which results in instruction or persuasion. By way of example, this entire article is an exercise in Rhetoric.
These three tools, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, require both study and use in order to hone and perfect them. As with any craft, trade, or profession, you will produce better work the longer you have performed such tasks. You cannot show up on day 1 and expect to produce the same quality work you will produce in year 5. You certainly should not expect that by year 5 you will still be producing the same quality work as you did on day 1!
Then, without warning, comes our test. Something flares my passions and every cell in my body cries out to either express my passion to others, or to respond with passion to the passions of others. Freemasonry never told me to abolish passion. It is not only natural to have passions, but also my right to have them, and for them to be different from yours. However, I was given instruction on how to leverage my passions in the most effective and useful way.
Step one… do you remember?
Following that, I have to process my statement, comment, reply, or rebuttal, through the Trivium. Am I forming my language with proper grammar, where the word groupings make sense and are clearly defined? Have I checked the logic of my arguments? Did I then use this knowledge and understanding to wisely convey my intended message?
I sincerely believe that as it relates to what we say, this is how we are to subdue our passions.
Freemasonry does not want you to remove passion from your life. Moreover, Freemasonry does not even want you to become less passionate, or to water-down your passion. Freemasonry wants you to structure your passion, validate it, and convey it in a manner that strives to produce positive results.
Have I accomplished that here? Perhaps not. But I am willing to try, as it helps me become better, just as Freemasonry said it would, and perhaps, next time, I will have improved.
Here is one thought I would like to leave you with. Remember those 170,000 words? I do not know them all, and perhaps you do not either. I find that when I read or hear something that stokes my passions in a negative way, a very useful way to temper them is to ask for clarification. It may sound unusual, but rephrasing what another person has said into your own words and asking if that is what the person meant can be extremely helpful in our efforts to subdue our passions. In asking, you clearly inform the other party that you wish to understand them fully before you offer your rebuttal. In fully understanding them, you can reply in an effective, rather than emotional way. Does this communication take longer? Typically, yes. Will it produce better results?
RW Jared Stanley, Grand Secretary
The Grand Lodge of Mississippi, F. & A. M.