Originally Published in the June 2014 Edition of Living Stones Magazine
We came here to learn to subdue our earthly passions, to increase our intellect and spiritual awareness, to find Light, or better yet, our spiritual reality. Going one step further, we search for the true understanding of life, our place and purpose in it through the ability to reason. The realization of the true ability to find reason within the mental and emotional processes of life is the fulcrum between the choices of good and evil, and between right and wrong. This is what we are truly saying when we recite the beginning of our catechism. Sure, the words may differ from one masonic jurisdiction to another, but we all came here to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry. This process is accomplished through different practices.
We learn the definitions of the Masonic symbols and from our mentors, we are explained the philosophies. The transformative process of Masonry, the change of one state of conscious and subconscious conviction to a more improved state through the application of spiritual exploration and the understanding of various philosophies, communicated through various symbols within the construct of Masonic ritual to our inner most convictions, start to make themselves realized by the epiphanies we come to have and the changes in our perception of life and those circulating in it. These changes are only possible through study and discussion with those others who have themselves solid understandings of such, and who can provide credible explanations that contributes to self-reflection without bias to the conclusions. How do we measure through self-reflection of how far we have come though? One of the identifiable measures of how far our passions have been subdued is to pay attention to the depth of our tolerance. In this article we will search to understand specifically what tolerance is, whence it derived its meaning, and the difference between possessing tolerance and simply being tolerant. It is that understanding that allows us to measure the tolerance one may possess to calculate how they have identified their vices and superfluities to illustrate to them the direction of education that may need to pursue in the improvement of self.
Tolerance is defined as the “willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own” by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[i] In regards to religious tolerance, Daniel Taylor of Christianity Today writes that intolerance became a sin and was developed as a result of the Christian wars of the 16th and 17th century that resulted in mass slaughtering in the name of Christ. He states the answer to the problem was tolerance and that historically then, “was the liberal, secular answer to the inability of conservative religionists to compromise with those who differed from them.”[ii] Voltaire, who lived from 1694 until 1778 and who was a Freemason actively involved with the Enlightenment stated that, “Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”[iii] The word itself came into usage in the 14th century and by the 17th century in France, it meant the same as when it was first used as a “tendency to be free from bigotry or severity in judging others.”[iv] Not only is tolerance taught and espoused by Christianity, it is found in all religious dogma in one verse or another. What is interesting is that with examples of tolerance found in all religious texts, the practice of intolerance can be seen in our society by many professed religious leaders from the West for those of other religious faiths, ethnicities, or politics. In an effort to be politically correct, they ACT tolerant, but do not demonstrate a POSSESSION of tolerance. The possession of tolerance, and it having depth, is different from simply being tolerant.
One’s depth of tolerance is predicated on several aspects such as education, philosophical understandings, and the ability to evaluate without influencing the results with bias of self- conviction. Dialectical thinking, “a form of analytical reasoning that pursues knowledge and truth as long as there are questions and conflicts,” is a great asset to have when doing such evaluating of one’s measure of tolerance.[v] The absence of bias and attitude of dismissal is essential in the successful use of this method. An example of the use of this type of investigative academic procedure is the Socratic Method. But as Manzo notes, this method can be easily abused as one asking questions can easily begin their quest as educationally investigative, but without specific and moral direction of the questions, the quest can become misaligned and promote defensive mindsets then resulting in fruitless arguments rather than expanded understanding. The indifference that may result relieves us from gaining the possession of tolerance and may leave us with the resolve of simply tolerating an indifference as to not further spurn more arguing, instead of intellectually or spiritually increasing our understanding of foreign convictions that tends to expands tolerance.
“Let not interest, favour, or prejudice bias your integrity, or influence you to be guilty of a dishonourable action.”[vi]
Cultural Relativism, “a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another,” is another means to implement a progression in the depth of one’s tolerance.[vii] In the analysis of another person’s character, conviction, or cultural practices of varying natures, our experiences, education, dogma’s and so forth, our culture, undoubtedly coerces us to judge in relation to them. We must, in the interest of the exploration of cultural assimilation of moral improvement to be exemplified to mankind, resist this innate desire to judge with bias. This is not to say that all we objectively inspect will be of virtuous quality that is beneficial in a positive means of assimilation to our own moral betterment, but if we cannot without bias analyze those that are different from us in whatever respects that are presented, we will deny ourselves even the opportunity to explore if there were qualities that were beneficial to begin with.
The growth of tolerance and resistance to simply be tolerant is a necessity in the advancement of moral progression of humanity with Freemasons being the exemplars.
“The blind force of the people is a force that must be economized, and also managed, as the blind force of steam, lifting the ponderous iron arms and turning the large wheels, is made to bore and rifle the cannon and to weave the most delicate lace. It must be regulated by intellect. Intellect is to the people and the people’s force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship…”[viii]
As many athletic coaches have stated during practices for big games in whatever sport, it is what you do in practice that will ultimately determine your performance on the field. This is not so different than Lodge, which actually is not limited by the walls in which we tile as the Lodge symbolically extends from the East to West, between North and South, from the Earth to the heavens and from the surface to the center. What we exercise in demonstrating the possession of tolerance in Lodge with our brethren and their shared opinions or beliefs is what we intrinsically will demonstrate, and maybe with less awareness, in the public. I do not doubt that we have heard the sighs from the sideline when a Brother may be expressing a thought, even though he has repeated the same objection time and time again perhaps, as the Brethren have grown tired and desire to end lodge, but I ask, is that a demonstration of tolerance, or simply being tolerant because there are visible repercussions? We must search for why someone is speaking or acting from a particular mindset or with a certain ideology before we can began to rule out the validity of their position. It is this act, this being in “due bounds of mankind and more especially a Brother Mason,” that will ultimately vindicate the conviction of our members to be involved with lodge instead of feeling as if they are an outcast, will ultimately give them confidence in contributing to the betterment of the lodge. This act of compassion, this demonstration of tolerance exemplified by the Brethren within the lodge will be exemplified by the same members outside the lodge with an inherent confidence that will leave those of mankind one comes in contact with, inspired.
So, we must ask ourselves, “What came we here to do?” To that, we must add the question of how do we accomplish the answer we profess every time we sit in the West of the Lodge, or listen to the Senior Warden recite to the Master of the Lodge. How do we stem the rising of our blood pressure at the speaking of, or action, of another? How do we measure our growth of compassion? Tolerance. By understanding how we can develop our tolerance of others in a morally upright manner, we can better implement the tenets of our institution and inspire the world that merit is the title of our privileges and that on us, they have been deservingly bestowed. This will undoubtedly influence those we come into contact with to consider their own moral convictions as they see in us a mirror of their own conduct to be measured. I charge myself often with this large responsibility to improve so I may become a better human being. I encourage you to charge yourself with the same responsibility. Together, we can move forward parallel to one another, our differences and similarities working in harmony, expanding our positive effect on one another, and inspiring a better world for those that will endeavor to follow us into the future.
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[i] Tolerance. (n.d.) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tolerance
[ii] TAYLOR, D. (1999). Are you tolerant? (Should you be?). (Cover story). Christianity Today, 43(1), 42.
[iv] Barnhart, Robert K., (1998) Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co.
[v] Manzo, A. (1992) Dialectical Thinking: A Generative Approach to Critical/Creative Thinking, Institute of Education Services,