In this world of life hacks and shortcuts, ‘how to’ articles are a dime a dozen. “How to hack your finances”, “How to increase your popularity”, “How to buy a suit”, “How to be the most amazing person anyone has ever met”. What is most lacking from these ‘how to’ articles is the ‘why’. Why are you concerned about these facets of your life? Why do you want to improve them? Why does it matter to you? The ‘why’ is as equally important, if not more important, than the ‘how’. The ‘why’ is what drives someone. The ‘why’ is where we find our purpose. Without the ‘why’, our goals can often seem pointless and, eventually, become quickly irrelevant or out of reach.
We see this a lot in our lodges. The ‘how’ becomes more important than the ‘why’. The mechanics of performing a duty become more important than the purpose. Anyone and everyone could write a ‘how to’ book on Freemasonry. “How to proceed through the three degrees of Freemasonry”, “How to travel to another lodge”, “How to perform the duties of an appointed officer of the lodge”, “How to pay your lodge dues”, etc.
In Episode #259 of The Art of Manliness, one of my favorite podcasts to listen to – I would highly suggest The Art of Manliness to anyone looking for inspiration on becoming a better person and a better man, Tim Ferriss is interviewed, author of Tools of Titans, and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. Tim makes a brief remark that has stuck with me for a while now.
“You need a ‘why to’, not just a ‘how to’. This is one of the biggest flaws of books like this [referencing ‘how to books’], is they don’t give you any ‘why to’. They don’t tell you how to implement it in anyway. They just give you the information and off to the races you go, and 99 out of 100 people fail.”
“They give you the information and off to the races you go.” I feel like that is a statement that resonates with many Master Mason’s the world over, especially those who have found themselves in officer or leadership roles quickly. Information seems to be force fed to the man travelling through the initiation process of Freemasonry. While the standard of a month between degrees may seem like a lot of time, there is a lifetime worth of knowledge espoused in each degree. Years could be, and perhaps should be, spent on honing the skills taught to us in each degree, delving deeper into the moral lessons afforded to us via this great fraternity, focusing on the ‘why’ instead of the ‘how’. I have spent countless hours dissecting every word of the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft Mason Degrees. I personally used this as a learning mechanism in order to be able to confer each of these degrees. The ‘how’, and more especially the ‘what’, comes infinitely easier when the ‘why’ is discovered. The message of each degree can be delivered with much more power when the ‘why’ is completely understood by the conferring Worshipful Master. More especially when the conferring Worshipful Master, moreover the lodge itself, realizes that the ‘why’ differs from Brother to Brother a constructive dialogue can be created that benefits everyone involved.
The ‘why’ may even seem of less importance after you achieve the esteemed title of Master Mason. We too often take a newly raised Master Mason and sit him down in an Appointed Officer’s chair at his first Stated Meeting night and say, “stand up when everyone else does, sit down when everyone else does, say this, do this, and don’t be nervous – it’s not a big deal.” All ‘how’ and no ‘why’. Sometimes the ‘why’ is never explained. It has now become the duty of the newly made Brother to take it upon himself to acquire the knowledge he so desperately needs and, hopefully, craves. While you could rightly place onus on the Brother, be it an Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, or Master Mason, to ask the ‘why’ questions, I believe there is an equal amount of responsibility, if not more so, on the Lodge as a whole to initiate the ‘why’ questions, or, at the very least, be able to answer the ‘why’ questions when asked. It’s no wonder we never see some of these Brethren again!
We often hear of the retention rate of members in Freemasonry. Grand Lodge Communications report the number of newly made Brethren and the suspensions from the previous year, among other things. Even if you omit the death statistic, the number of Freemasons seems to be dropping precipitously every year. While we cannot evade death, we can do something about the number of suspensions. Suspensions, at a basic, level, occur because a member does not place a high enough value on the Fraternity in comparison with his yearly dues. I believe these suspensions can be attributed to a habit of Freemasonry, or rather the lack of.
Another topic discussed in the aforementioned podcast episode is the skill of making goals laughably achievable to make them a habit. Want to start hitting the gym? If you decide to go 6 times a week for a hour and a half, you are most certainly doomed to failure. But if you can make your goal so achievable that it becomes almost impossible to fail, then build on that, it can quickly become a habit. Tim Ferriss mentions the seemingly benign activity of flossing. It’s an easy goal that, admittedly, we should all be doing, but most of us don’t. Why? Because we usually make it all or nothing right from the get go. Every tooth or no tooth. His suggestion is to start by flossing two teeth each night for a week. While this may seem absurd, it creates a time block for you to dedicate to flossing that you previously didn’t have. Every tooth on top of the two tooth goal becomes extra credit. Once you make it through that week, you can add the rest of your top teeth, then after that you can add the bottom. Before you know it, you’ve created a habit of flossing for a month and you’re hitting each tooth before bed.
The same could be said for initiates into Freemasonry, and especially of newly raised Brethren. For newly raised Brethren, we want, and often expect, them to be fully capable Freemasons as soon as their first Stated Meeting rolls around after they’ve obtained their Master Mason degree. Sit there, do this, don’t do that, and try to look like you’re enjoying yourself. Be the best Freemason you can be, even if you don’t actually know what that means. We’ve immediately demanded of them to begin flossing all of their teeth before we’ve taught them the importance of flossing one tooth.
If we can take every opportunity to explain why something is important to the fraternity and the Brother, instead of just shouting what to do from our raised platforms, we may find that our new initiates and new Brothers find an interest in Freemasonry instead of a job that must be performed. The man who knocked on the outer door of the lodge to be admitted to this fraternity seeks purpose. The Brother who is attending his first Stated Meeting is desperately craving to know why he is there. The fifty year member seeks reassurance that the longevity of his masonic career was for a purpose, not just a set of duties. The ‘how’ is useless if there is no ‘why’ associated with it. The ‘why’ builds the habit, the ‘why’ builds the man, and the ‘why’ builds the Freemason.
Bro. R. J. Hughes is the Worshipful Master of Armstrong Lodge #239 in Freeport, PA. He is King of Orient Holy Royal Arch Chapter #247, Principle Conductor of Work of Kittanning Council #52 and a member of Holyrood Commandery #100, all in Kittanning, PA. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Lodge of Research and the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Masonic Knowledge where he is a Level 1 Master Masonic Scholar. Bro. R. J. can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org