Since becoming a Freemason, I have worked at my rough ashlar implementing those tools provided to me and internalizing those lessons inculcated to me in the degrees of Freemasonry. Although I still have a long way to go before I even come close to any semblance of perfection, I know that I have discovered the importance of Freemasonry (at least for me). I do not presume it will be the same for all Freemasons. However, I would hope that they too would see this as something of vast importance.
We live in a world populated by vast amounts of people with various beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Those with similar beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors to each other tend to group around one another, as those characteristics tend to be culturally-driven rather than innate. That is, people come into this world as a blank slate (John Locke’s Tabula Rasa) and they learn through the experience of those around them. Inherently, people are empiricists or even scientists, constantly testing and examining through curiosity the space around them. In his Personal Construct Theory (1955), psychologist George Kelly called them naive scientists, who examine the world around them through a lens of their own particular creation based on their individual experiences, which unfortunately may or may not provide good characterizations of reality or predictions of future events.
In contrast, the evolutionary psychologists see humans as having some innate psychological adaptive mechanisms that might be the cause for such beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. They contest that humans are creatures who are designed to categorize. This ability to lump things into groups of good or bad allowed our ancestors to survive. It also explains why we see so much Us versus Them mentality among humans. This debate is truly one of nature versus nurture in regard to the development of identity, at least distinct identity. Whether humans have innate mechanisms that lead them to categorize things or they are born into groups and socialized to categorize others is of little importance here. What is important is that we recognize that this is something humans do.
The groups one lives in or belongs to (by birth or by choice) are those that define identity.
Not only is one’s identity defined by these groups, but the groups also influence the lens in which the individual sees the world. One might belong to a particular cultural group, ethnic group, racial group, religious group, political group, or even a work group. Each of these groups have particular rules and ways to view reality, which frames the individual’s perception. The individual may prioritize these rules, such that one’s religious group’s rules are most important, followed by ethnic group, and political last. There are also subordinate groups one might belong to within these groups, which tend to be a minority viewpoint of that greater group. Sometimes these minorities might become more vocal and influential in the group, and sometimes they might be considered black sheep of the group-at-large.
Regardless, any of these disparate groups to which an individual identifies may at some point be the primary means to which that individual views the world. When one is engaged in a political discussion, no matter how far up or down that identity is on the priority list of groups, it may just be tapped into to address the discussion. The funny thing is, the way one participates in discussion may differ depending on what identity was primed. If their cultural identity was primed, they just might be supportive of something they wouldn’t be if their political identity was primed. There is another kind of group though, and this is where I believe Freemasonry comes in.
A very interesting series of psychological studies performed in 1954 and reminiscent of the Lord of the Flies were performed by psychologist Muzafer Sherif. In his studies, he placed boys into competitive camps. Unsurprisingly, the competition bred negative feelings and hostility toward the opposing group. Mind you, these boys could have easily been randomly drawn to be in one group or the other. Nothing made either group special, except for the virtue of that was the group they belonged. These groups, however, worked together successfully when working toward a superordinate goal, successfully creating a superordinate group consisting of the two pre-existing groups. Further, friendships across group boundaries were formed.
Freemasonry is this kind of superordinate group. It consists of men from all walks of life and does not stipulate or even endorse any particular philosophical, political, cultural, or religious beliefs. It provides a set of principles to uphold being Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
We see in Brotherly Love that commandment in which we must love one another, respect one another, and tolerate one another for we see that we are the same regardless of our differences. Freemasonry espouses the importance of focusing on the similar, not the dissimilar. We do not discuss those things in lodge that cause disharmony, as they are divisive, and they create distrust, dislike, and disinterest. They create negativity and isolation in ourselves, as we seek to push out those individuals who differ. That is not Masonic. Freemasonry is by nature universal and inclusive. To be sure, there are certain qualifications for a man to be made a Mason, but these are to insure that the man is of quality and character, and likely already living as a Mason would be living.
Hopefully at this point, you will see why I began with the banner on Islamophobia and discussed it not. I wanted to prime your thinking through this piece with a focus on that topic. I wanted you to read the psychological theories with it in mind and see how it leads to Freemasonry. The reason for this post is the fact that I have seen many brothers who are Freemasons, yet they seem to not have yet internalized that all-important principle inculcated throughout our degrees, religious tolerance. When I see brothers posting anti-Islamic images on their Facebook walls, it hurts my heart. But, I do not think they are bad Masons or that brotherly love has not prevailed. As a psychologist, I understand that they are not accessing their Masonic identity at that point in time. For some reason, another one of their identities has taken priority.
I challenge the brethren to make the Masonic lens their primary lens in which to view the world. I believe that through that lens we will find peace and harmony among all of humanity. As we choose to belong to that superordinate group with the superordinate goal of living through brotherly love, relief, and truth, we find that we will have internalized those principles and express them in all our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.