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Robert J. Watson
Past Master, Los Altos Lodge No. 712, CA

A Paper Submitted and Read to:

The Britannia Council No. 303
Allied Masonic Degrees
Los Altos, California

Presented in: June 1996 *

"To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Masons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections. . . . On this theme, we join in promoting each other's welfare and rejoicing in each others prosperity."

The above, is from the first degree lecture on the three principal tenets of Freemasonry: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

I wish to interpret these words in terms of charity that we demonstrate to each other in our daily lives. This paper will attempt to expand and interpret my thoughts on this subject. My approach is to examine from our ritual some of the references to personal charity and relate it to my years of experiences and the profound influence these words have on me.

From earliest time God and man have spoken in symbolic ways. Symbolism survives the variations and changes in languages over time. It provides the same meaning in today's life as it did centuries ago. Masonry teaches charity in many symbolic ways. Consider, for example, the form of the Lodge. It symbolically extends from east to west, and north to south, and denotes the universality of Masonry. It teaches us that a Mason's charity should be equally extensive. It discusses the covering of the Lodge as a clouded canopy or star decked heaven where all good Masons hope to arrive by aid of that theological ladder which Jacob in his vision, saw reaching from Earth to Heaven, the three principle rungs of which are denominated Faith, Hope, and Charity. The greatest of these is charity, for our faith may be lost in sight, hope ends in fruition, but charity extends beyond the grave through the boundless realm of eternity.

These words have made a profound influence on me. I believe it is fundamental to the teachings of Freemasonry and listening to the words so eloquently and meaningfully expressed: " and nowabideth faith, hope, and charity - these three, but the greatest of these is charity." for this reason I feel compelled to express my personal thoughts on this subject.

Charity is a very broad subject. Most of us think of it as contributing our financial support to many of the multitude of Masonic charities. Each of our concordant bodies promotes at least two very worthwhile causes. It is tax deductible, quick to do, and they are easily measurable gifts which we can budget and plan on an annual basis. However, our Masonic charities are suffering through inflation, a declining number of contributors, and the increased competition for funds from generally the same people. A detailed listing of all the Masonic charities is very lengthy and most impressive. Below is a summary of Masonic philanthropy for 1990 (reference 3) in the United States:

1.  Public Hospitals, etc.          $257,425,036      49 %
2. Masonic Homes, Hospitals, etc. 221,829,354 42 %
3. Medical Research 21,605,377 4 %
4. Community Support 13,426,386 3 %
5 Scholarships and Youth 5,881,120 1 %
6. Museums and Public Buildings 3,784,286 1 %

Totals $524,951 562 100 %

This amounts to $14 million a day of which over 58 % went to the American public. Every bit was raised by the Masonic Fraternity and freely contributed on a voluntary basis to these very worthwhile charities. It meets a need that otherwise would never be met in this country. We have much to be proud of when we see the extent of our Masonic charity and the tireless work performed by so many volunteers. That make it all possible. I have recently been informed that Masonic giving is currently amounting to over $ 2 million a day, which adds up to about 3/4-ths of a billion dollars a year being managed today. This represents a major contribution from an army of Masonic affiliated members that contribute their services to achieve these results. In addition to the committees that perform the voluntary administration of the charities, there is the collection of money for funds, working on fund raising social events, the distribution of funds, and the investments of the funds in perpetual endowments. There are Masonic brothers with professional qualifications who volunteer their services for legal, tax, investment, and real estate management, etc.

The history of California Freemasonry really started with the invasion of English speaking people after January 19, 1848, when gold was discovered. The population of San Francisco surged from 900 to 20,000 people. Thousands more were on their way. The founders of our Grand Lodge were motivated not only by their affection to the fraternity but by the suffering caused by the epidemics which had swept through the towns and camps, and the poverty of those inadequately equipped. These early Masons banded together; they understood the needs and practiced brotherly love and charity. They turned to feed the hungry, and care for the widow, and orphans. It became a prime purpose to those early Masons.

I have listed a number of references that report how extensive Masonic charity is today. included also is reference 5, a directory of philanthropically supported institutions of California from 1986 to 1988. This extensive listing of other charities that compete for our charitable dollars also excludes our tithes to our churches and so many other charities to which we contribute.

The expression of charity starts in the heart and mind. It is a personal perception of how we may respond to another person's needs in a positive, friendly, and supportive manner. We learn that:

"..we are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion; and causes true friendship to exist among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance." "..hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among us; sincerity and plain dealing distinguish us; and with heart and tongue we join in promoting each other's welfare and rejoicing in each other's prosperity."

I suggest that we review and reflect also on the words describing temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. When I restudy those words from our ritual, I reflect how they also describe a form of charity we should practice in our interpersonal relations.

This paper will address the non-monetary gifts that are only recorded in the minds of the recipients and our almighty God. They are the gifts that extend beyond the grave to our children, friends, acquaintances, and casual encounters with strangers. They are the gifts given and received in our daily lives.

California Masonry welcomes men that are true, honest, and moral who demonstrate they wish to follow a virtuous life and grow. Symbolically we see them as the rough ashlar, properly prepared, and who offer themselves to the Fraternity of their own free will and accord. They are ready to learn how to square their actions and break off the rough and superfluous parts by divesting their heart and conscience of all the vices and superfluities of life; thereby fitting the mind as a living stone, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands (or money), eternal in the heavens. For a Mason must define the characteristics of the perfect ashlar in accordance with the religion of his choice. This is given to him by the holy writings that he has chosen to follow; i.e. the Bible, Koran, or the Torah. With the high standards required to shape our minds and actions to the rules and guide of our faiths, we observe a number of problems that directly relate to how we respond during our interpersonal relationships.

I assert that one reason for our decline in membership can be traced to uncharitable remarks from one brother to another brother. These remarks turn off many who were ready to contribute. Words are often sharply spoken in a very insensitive manner. I experienced this and am guilty of dropping out of Lodge along with two other brothers because of such harsh remarks and autocratic demands by the then current master of the Lodge. I felt that my time was better spent focused on my family, church, and my extensive travel for work.

During this time I visited many Lodges in my cross country travels and came to realize that Masonry was too important a way of life to permit any of the above individuals to detract me. Its basic truths were so fundamental that I not only went back to my Lodge, but I brought my other two friends back with me. one of them immediately became the Secretary because of the urgent need. What a gift he was to the Lodge. I also observe that many of our members are induced to join several concordant Masonic bodies soon after becoming a Master Mason and neglected the teachings of their Blue Lodge. They have chosen not to work at the understanding of the very fundamental lessons we are given to become Master Masons. Are these brethren duly and truly prepared to go forward into the workplace and their personal lives to exemplify the great teachings available to us?

I have discovered that if a member writes a note to the Secretary asking for a dimit, it is readily and freely given. I have contacted Masons who dimited and learned that no one ever tried to contact them to see if there was a problem, either personal or financial. I have learned from these conversations that we are not sensitive to our brother's needs, we don't try to listen to them, and we miss the opportunity to ..."whisper good council in his ear and in a friendly manner endeavor to bring about a reformation." This admonition that we have all received is truly Masonic charity. It is a gift of true brotherly love and affection. This is charity through interpersonal relationships which has broken down through the Lodge administration.

From my research into this subject, I will try to summarize comments I have received from the disenchanted, some of those who just pay dues and even some who dimit. I feel these are a breakdown in charitable communications from the leadership.

1. "I quit the Lodge as a Junior Warden after my wife and I had to prepare the February clam bake without any help in the kitchen. My wife simply told me she couldn't be responsible for this work for the rest of the year."

2 "I quit the Lodge because they don't seem to like me they never come over to talk with me. Lodge is for the Officers. They have their own things to do."

3. "No one ever calls me up to see what I am doing, and why I am not attending Lodge meetings. I have lost my job, I am to embarrassed etc."

4. "The Past Masters try to run the Lodge and I can't function properly under that kind of environment, so I transferred to this other Lodge."

5. "I haven't been to Lodge in so long a time I wouldn't know anyone or how to get in."

This research is based on my Masonic relationships which began in 1946 and spread to two jurisdictions. I have received many inputs from brothers who have come from other Lodges. So I hope that no one takes these comments personally.

So we next ask "where is the leadership?" I don't believe that the $500 each Lodge spends every year to send our Junior and Senior Wardens to the Grand Lodge retreat contributes to or creates the positive and favorable interpersonal relationships necessary. Phone committees must do more than find out who is coming to a dinner. Frequently if a member says he can not attend a function on several occasions, he is then dropped from the calling committee list. I suggest that the top officers of the Lodge take out their roster and mark the members they have met and can remember and who they are. They should then start a program to contact each and every one of the others, by phone to say: "How are you doing? Are you getting the Trestleboards, and How is the family etc.? " Ask yourself how many people you know well enough that you could stand up and give a good introduction or even a eulogy for? It has been my experience, after conducting a funeral service, to hear remarks to the effect, "I never knew or realized that our brother led such a wonderful and charitable life. A son can tell of the non-material gifts he received from his father which he will pass on to his children. He may even tell you that his father never talked about Masonry. It was all a secret. I have even brought one of these sons into Lodge and raised him with his father, a witness in heaven. How sad it is that we didn't learn about these men when they were alive and active? There is a personal comfort in developing these interpersonal relations amongst us at every opportunity we can find. We should all get to know our Lodge brethren better.

There is a time for good ritual, but the ritual is only a vehicle. We are taught to divide our day so there is a time for refreshment and repose, a time for true brotherly love and affection, and a time to exchange compliments and a true interest in each and every brother. This includes sojourners we meet (or seek out). We need to extend a sincere and friendly hand, get to know them a little better, and most important of all listen to them.

I have found that high twelve clubs that meet for luncheons provide an excellent forum to develop the fellowships and interpersonal relationships. As President of one club I would often ask a member to speak to us for 10 or 15 minutes on the highlights of his life. The brethren really love to do this when the other brothers find out how much they have in common, they start sitting at different tables with different brothers. It breaks up the small cliques we see. Do your officers always seem to sit and talk to each other?

Leadership is the key to improving our brotherly interpersonal relationships and the charity it provides to all. We do not elect the Officers because they have an MBA, or an executive position in the work force. We really take highly motivated individuals that work hard, are dedicated, and willing to learn the ritual and become "qualified". The Grand Lodge then keeps a checklist on their compliance with Grand Lodge activities such as public schools, donations to the Masonic Homes, etc. Inspectors and coaches are primarily concerned with the ritual. So where do our Line Officers look to to obtain tailored minicourses directed to improve interpersonal relations? When these communications are enhanced it becomes infectious and we find still more want to participate. It leads to greater attendance and more enthusiasm. Our members have unique and diversified skills that if called upon they would be most willing to provide their services. There is a Biblical saying that when you give, you are receiving the pleasure from what you have brought to others, and when you receive a gift graciously and freely you have brought pleasure and satisfaction to the giver. It always seems easier to give to others than to receive a gift from others graciously. We must remember that we are also giving when we can accept the gifts of others who desire to please us. Both parties benefit by these interpersonal gifts.

To give an excellent example of the results of implementing greater interpersonal leadership, I refer to what has happened in my own church after bringing in a new minister about 12 years ago. By all measures of growth of membership, attendance, number of supporting activities, number of services (5 on Christmas evenings), and contributions to missions and other outreach programs, this church is known as the flagship church in the northern California and Nevada conference. This success was achieved in a declining church environment and can be directly credited to the minister and his leadership. He has the charisma and the ability to quote biblical stories and parables and relate them to everyday current experiences we witness. He has a positive attitude that finds a way to do things. He ministers to the needs of every age, ethnic, social, and economic status of persons who come through the doors. He established the very first program to house the homeless for one month, and then went out and got the other local churches to take on the program for another month on a rotational basis. With his charisma and desire to personally know each of us, he then takes the time to send personal notes. It was at midnight when he finally had the time to visit my wife at the hospital. At committee meetings his question is always "How can we serve the congregation, our community, and world wide programs better?" He keeps the focus on this spectrum. He has a great memory for names and what you've said. He knows how to learn your most innermost feelings while being very sensitive and confidential with your responses. He is comfortable with both the young and elderly. He never talks down to you or gives speeches or one way communications. He grew up in a Masonic family, never joined, but practices and teaches the very philosophy of Masonry. That is love, relief of the distressed, truth, and charity. He not only gives of himself but one year he gave the church back his complete salary for the new building fund.

Our officers must grow, as they proceed through the chairs and develop the type of qualities, illustrated above, of good leadership. They must learn and be come teachers themselves, and develop the fine art of communications. The leadership qualities for successful interpersonal relationships are so different from the industrial environment in which a large number of our active members are required to work in and from which they have learned to become survivors. I have learned from my experiences at the corporate level, working directly with Presidents and their staffs that the advanced management courses taught today are at odds with the practices found in industry and government. Current leadership, in those jobs, is more obsessed with the external qualities of man (status, wealth, power, appearance, etc.) and what they can deliver within 3 months (the quarterly report increments and it must be within the laws) and not the internal qualities (ethical, moral, etc.). Ethics has been redefined as what is legal or avoiding being caught. Human relations have been divested of its role as caretakers of the people. Immoral cut backs are rampant. I recently learned that eight out of twelve disabled employees were laid off without any regard to retraining or comparing their skills with other people from other departments. What an invitation to a lawsuit under the new American disabilities act? The ethics, moral, and human relations have been redefined and have impacted a great percentage of our society, and our membership. The lack of honest personal relations does carry over into our private lives. Examples are the divorces, single parents, child abuse, living alone, dropping out, drugs, crime, etc. I have seen men laid off, give up, and literally get very sick and die. One was a brother to whom we couldn't or we didn't reach out.

As one of our corporate officers and brother said to me on this subject, "We need to make more of the employees Masons." My thesis is that we need to communicate our teachings, philosophy, moral, and virtuous parts of our ritual in an open and meaningful way, outside the tiled Lodge room. It is hard to understand the true meaning of Masonry from the sidelines. I am still learning more from the ritual even after I have memorized it and have had a lot of discussions on it. We just aren't able to ask questions during the ritual as we might at an officers' practice meeting. We must diligently find the true spirit of Masonry in our hearts and minds and then become teachers and communicators with others.

It is necessary to understand where others are coming from and the art of modifying our own behavior somewhat to get closer to the various types of people we wish to communicate. We must be good listeners and responsive to the needs of others by adapting ourselves to a favorable wavelength that is in harmony with the other person and we must not blank out everything he wants to communicate.

We must first understand our own developed human behavior characteristics and then be able to "read" the characteristics of the person we wish to communicate with. I can recommend an excellent course on this complex subject. It is called "Managing Interpersonal Relationships" by the Wilson Learning Co. in Minnesota. It starts with a group analysis of ourselves. We receive a detailed description of our own characteristics. It also goes on to show our capability to adapt and modify our behavior to make others more comfortable, be willing to open up, negotiate, understand, and to what degree of empathy we have this course is comprehensive and group oriented. It has truly helped me. I find that I can evaluate a person that I am interviewing for his unique characteristics within 5 minutes or so, and be able to modify my own behavior accordingly. However you never disclose to them that you are evaluating or judging them. It would be a fast turn off. We don't like to be evaluated.

This study reviews the interpersonal characteristic relationships between a person that is very low assertive and another who is highly assertive. On a second plane, it examines a person who is highly emotional, and another who strives to be in complete control and dominate. There are many combinations of these extremes. This helps us to understand why there are so many individuals who can't establish meaningful personal relations. I must add that history has shown we have had some of the greatest leaders come from each extreme of this matrix. They have all displayed wisdom, courage and leadership and were chosen for their unique abilities to perform the job that was required at that particular time and place. The bottom line is, "Everyone can develop the characteristics of a good leader and not be a clone of his predecessor."

God made everyone of us unique and for a special purpose to serve him, through our fellow man in our interpersonal relationships. Each one of us is the product of millions who have gone before us and influenced and molded our lives. There are no two souls alike. There are no two whose talents are rivals, or whose gifts conflict or interfere. This thought ought to put to an end once and for all the envy of life - grieving at another's good! His good is not my good! What I can do my neighbor cannot. So why should we ever be jealous of the other? We should all say, "I am unique. There has never been any one like me, and in all time there shall never be again. I have no double. Only I have unique gifts to offer, as does everyone else. Are we doing all we can to recognize our special gifts and to practice and teach charity with our brothers, family, friends, and strangers?" We must not just follow the leader and walk in their path. We must evaluate how we can uniquely serve mankind in a charitable way with our hearts and the gifts we have already received.

I have heard some Sunday morning television preachers tell us that all we really need is a positive attitude and we can become anything we want to be, or do. I totally agree that a positive attitude is most important to our health and well being, but it won't make me a concert pianist. I have seen well educated technical men become very frustrated and hard to deal with because they changed careers to work with the public and then found out they were not prepared for public service. We must learn the lengths of our cabletows. When we see daily challenges, we must evaluate what we can do best, work with others because it is usually more complex then we know and discover the great rewards of working within the bounds that God gave us to work with. I have seen many disabled people more cheerful, more generous, more talented, more lovable, and charitable than most others. They make significant and influential contributions to our lives. Gifts from unsung heroes that we owe so much to and should try to repay to society there are unique non-monetary charitable contributions that we can all work at if we understand our own potential if we develop the ability to meet, act, and part on the level, in a friendly manner and be very sensitive to the feelings of others. In this way we provide a continuing flow of non-monetary gifts to others. In return we receive the wonderful gifts from others through these interpersonal charitable relationships.


1. Masonic Charities, published by the Supreme Council 33 Degree Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Northern Jurisdiction, USA, 1987.

2. Masonic Homes, Hospitals, and Charity Foundations, by the Masonic Service Association, 8th Edition, October 1988.

3. Masonic Philanthropies, by S. Brent Morris 33", published by the Supreme Councils 33 Degree of NMJ and SJ, 1991.

4. United Masonic Relief, published by the Masonic Service Association of the US, 1991.

5. The Guide To Gifts and Bequests, California, 1986 -1988. A Directory of Philanthropically Supported Institutions, by the Institutions Press, Inc., NY, NY.

6. The Greatest of These is Charity, A History of the Masonic Homes of California, prepared by Chester R. Mac Phee. PGM 1969 -1970, a Trustee of the Masonic Homes 1980 -1989, Revised Edition 1992.

7. The California Masonic Monitor.

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Minor text corrections added by Patrick Bailey and Dan McDaniel,
June 1997.

Return to the Britannia Council No. 303 Papers Page
Jun. 16, 1997.