Be Cautious Whom You Recommend

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(Ed. Note: The following article first appeared in the New York Grand Chapter Section. Judge Eysman, our author, has published a number of Masonic articles, including a study of Hiram Abiff.)

It is popular to contemplate our Lodges and our Chapters filled with Brethren and Companions, over-flowing with large memberships, bustling with the frenzy of boundless activity. it is an image of success: it is an image of prosperity; it is an ideal towards which we aspire. But in so doing, do we not, perhaps, risk beguiling ourselves with a perception that lacks actuality? It may be that our reliance upon this spectre, in the ultimate resolution of time, may do a disservice to our ancient Craft.

We have spoken in the past of the conflict between “numbers” and “quality.” In truth, large numbers do not necessarily equate to poor quality, but the peril of magnitude exists if it is incautiously pursued. The problem is not new. In England, even as early as the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the issue was broached by no less a Mason than Bro. and Rev. George Oliver, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Lincolnshire, a well-known Masonic scholar and clergyman, and one reputed to have had a well-tempered eye to the future. His admonition to the Craft endures as the foundation upon which a Masonic Introduction is based in many jurisdictions:

Be cautious whom you recommend as a candidate; one false step on this point may be fatal. if you introduce a disputatious person, confusion will be produced, which may end in the dissolution of the Lodge. If you have a good Lodge, keep it select. Great numbers are not always beneficial.

We recognize that the interests of the several Grand Bodies may differ somewhat from those of the subordinate Lodges and Chapters. Large memberships are necessary to accomplish the programs associated with public service, charity, and the promotion of our general reputation. Large memberships lend an odour of legitimacy to our Grand Bodies, and give impetus to our social undertakings. And financially, they generate the affluence that must exist if we are to continue the pursuits that have become associated without public activities in New York State.

But large memberships can also denigrate the character of the Craft. We appear to have a fear of “elitism,” and it creates a terrible dichotomy with our ranks; we hesitate to cast the icy countenance of snobbishness, yet we claim for ourselves a special place in society. Our Institution can not endure in the aura of deception that we have now begun to ignite: to express our equalitarianism, we accept the flawed, the unworthy, the unexceptional and we expect them to rise to greatness; to express our democracy, we shun the select, the distinctive, the elite.

An organization that seeks the low will never attract the high. The unique complexion that drew so many men of stature in other ages was cultivated upon the privilege of belonging to a Society of men that was unavailable to the “masses.” It was a sub-culture of the creative, he noble, the forward thinkers who built greatness in our world and who enjoyed the society of others of a similar bent. And the subtle change in direction can lead only to a change in the nature of the Craft.

It is our duty to Masonry to maintain that original direction. We owe it to our philosophy, and we owe it to our ultimate aim to take good men and to make them better, and by their influence upon the world, by the example they set, to improve the world. We do not need larger goals. And to accomplish this simple goal, we do not need a larger fraternity. What we need is a better fraternity that retains its own greatness by the preservation of ideals.

Financial problems can be resolved. Grand Bodies could, perhaps, pursue more modest programs, and Lodges and Chapters can survive without massive buildings they might even meet, once again, in “taverns” as they did in earlier times. And the loss of funds will compensate itself with a growth in character; the good name of Masonry, despite the denigrations of our detractors whomever they may be, will prevail.

Men of quality will again seek us out. The mystery of an organization, not secret, but quiet, will draw interest. The distinctiveness of our Craft and of its membership will solicit the differentiating. And once again, Masonry will reflect the fragrance, which for almost seven hundreds years has drawn the attention of men throughout the world.

Be cautious whom you recommend ... If you have a good Lodge, keep it select. Great numbers are not always beneficial.

Harvey A. Eysman (New York)