By Junior Grand Warden David R. Ritchie
It has been said that “Being male is a matter of birth. Being a man is a matter of age. Being a gentleman is a matter of choice.” Being a gentleman is as much a matter of choice as being uncivil is a matter of choice. The choice often centers around choosing self-centeredness or choosing empathy with others. Civilization is the idea of a group of people living and working together, within a common set of rules, to accomplish things for the greater good. For civilization to work we must be aware and work for something greater than ourselves. Two things that boost incivility are the ego and self -centeredness. A classic example is a neighbor who plays his music at full volume at two in the morning. When asked to turn it down responds with, “It’s my house, I have a right to listen to music as loud as I want.” Granted we all have the same right to listen to music in our homes but the gentleman understands that he also has a responsibility to be a good neighbor. The neighbor chooses a self-centered response benefiting only himself. The gentleman chooses to impose upon himself, for the benefit and comfort of his neighbors, limits on volume and time of day.
Ego is one of the other banes of civility and goes hand in hand with self-centeredness. If my ego is such that I see myself as more important than others then I will surely fail to treat others with the respect and dignity they deserve. Ego is also where so many good discussions turn to fruitless arguments. If I go into the discussion with the belief that I am better, smarter, more well-informed than the other person then my ego will keep me from listening to the other side or conceding a point, or even admitting that I was wrong. In Masonry, we have many “mysteries” that do not have definitive answers. As an example, “Do you wear your ring with the points in or the points out?” This question has led to some great discussions because there is no established correct way. Each man chooses for himself. The personal reasons given for their personal choice are often informative, insightful, and many times entertaining. Yet, all it takes is one man whose ego won’t allow him to accept other men’s ideas. When a man makes the choice to allow his ego to rule his thoughts and actions, he by default makes a choice to move away from gentlemanly behavior. He also gains nothing from the conversation. His opinion and ideas are the same going in as coming out of the discussion. When he circumscribes the passions of the ego and keeps them within due bounds, he probably won’t have his mind changed, but he will be enriched by the other ideas, both pro, and con, presented.
To a Mason meeting on the level is so important. If the gentle-man chooses to view everyone in the room as his equal, his ego will be kept in due bounds as well as his sense of self. The ego tells us that to meet on the level we should talk down to others or lower ourselves to be where they are. In Masonry meeting on the level means bringing a Brother and ourselves up to a common level. A gentleman seeks to raise others’ abilities and self-esteem, things not found when the ego is in charge. Simply put, do I engage others in discussion to enlighten them with my ideas and beliefs or do I engage others that their ideas and beliefs may enlighten me? In a world where, “Look out for number one”, “nice guys finish last”, “cancel culture”, and “make ourselves big” are the norm, ego and self-centeredness flourish. Isn’t it nice that we as individuals make the choice to come to the lodge, to meet on the level, to share each other’s ideas and company and then carry them out into the world?