Masonic Paper: Masonry and the Road to a Satisfying Life

(A paper presented to the Bahamas Installed Masters Lodge No. 8164 on June 18th 2003 by W Bro Joseph B Alfred)

I begin with the notion that man is a social being and that, as a consequence, there must be, as a matter of survival, constant interaction, not only between individuals on a one-on-one basis, but also between social groups. Co-existence has, therefore, been one of the ideals towards which the majority of us have been cultured to aspire, despite the Adolph Hitlers, the Osama bin Ladens, the Sadam Husseins, the Ariel Sharons, the George Bushs, the Tony Blairs, and others too many to mention here.

We have, in the course of our history, developed certain attributes which we call virtues and which we consider to be qualities, if acquired, that can mould our characters and facilitate minimum friction in our relationships with each other and so lead us in the direction of a Utopia. High on the list of those attributes are the virtues Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage, which are reputed to establish the foundation for a successful or satisfying life. Indeed, no matter what your level is in society, no matter the trade in which you are engaged, no matter the profession you practice, or what business you operate, your success or satisfaction in life depends largely on your ability to deal with other human beings. But note that a successful life is not always or necessarily synonymous with a satisfying life.

What then is success? The answer certainly depends largely upon one’s concept of success. For some, success is wealth. For others, it is celebrity, adulation from fawning fans, instant recognition in public, or being frequently mentioned in the press. For still others, it means power. These concepts, however, I would suggest, are some of the rewards bestowed on successful persons. Success ought really be reaching the goal you have set for yourself. Successful people are in reality driven by something less tangible and more personal: the excitement of achievement or self-satisfaction. Wealth, Celebrity and Power accrue as a consequence of success but do not necessarily bring with them inner peace and self-satisfaction. Horace Greely, an American journalist and politician, placed the popularly accepted symbols in perspective when he said, “ Fame is vapour; popularity an accident; riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is- character”. Therein lies the nuance of difference between the notions of Success and Self-satisfaction.

There is and has ever been an ongoing search for Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage, virtues which are said to form the foundation for a satisfying life, (as I have mentioned before). These attributes have been espoused throughout the ages by philosophers, theologians, personality theorists, and even writers of fairy tales.

For example, Plato said, “The virtues of an ideal State are Wisdom, Courage and Temperance. Justice is also found there. The same virtues appear in the life of a well-ordered individual.” Aristotle said, “Wisdom is the result of training and habit; between callousness and flattery is Benevolence, and between Cowardice and Rashness is Courage.” In Christianity we find in Proverbs Chap. (ii) v 1-9 Chap (iii) v 13-20 “Yea if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding ;If thou seekest her as silver and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, Part II, “….ignorance is the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to Heaven.” Sir Francis Bacon – writing in The New Atlantis about a utopian society in which the King had a memory above all others (wisdom), a heart wholly bent to make his kingdom happy (benevolence), and the courage to build his concept into reality. And in the fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, we find characters obsessed with the same search.

Over 2500 years ago, Confucius pointed out that the three Virtues of a successful person are Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage. Confucius was concerned with the development of virtue and the formation of character as the basis of familial, social, and political order. He shared with modern Christianity a belief in the moral force of ideals. For example, the Golden Rule of doing to others what you would have them to do to you; honouring one’s parents; and a high moral standard in human affairs. Confucius focused his attention on making people better in this life and with his exceptional love of learning, self-improvement and moral principles, he became the most renowned teacher in Chinese history.

In his Analects he said,
He that is really wise can never be perplexed.
He that is really benevolent can never be unhappy.
He that is really courageous can never be afraid.

As Freemasons, we are wont to proclaim publicly that Freemasonry makes a good man better. Our Temples are adorned with the names of Virtues, (among them, Wisdom, Benevolence and Fortitude or Courage) which we are taught to admire. Our Rituals are replete with examples of legendary characters whose lives, we are told, exemplify those Virtues; but do we really do anything more than admire Virtues? In my humble view, we have not been sufficiently pro-active with respect to the everyday application of these virtues in our lives. I doubt whether we ever attempt to focus on the effect of combinations of these very attributes as a recipe for success or self-satisfaction in life.

Some time ago, I came across a publication entitled, “From Confucius to Oz.” by one Vernon Crawford, which I believe was intended as a manual to success in business and life generally. I found this book quite interesting and I have adapted and cited some of its passages as they relate to the subject matter of this address, which is an attempt to move us Masons from the status of mere admirers of the Virtues to one of persons who develop our character by actively inculcating those Virtues which we so admire. You may ask, “How can this be achieved?” Vernon Crawford advocates, following Confucius, who said,
“Wisdom ,benevolence and courage: these are the three universal virtues. Some practise them with the ease of nature ; some for the sake of their own advantage ; and some by dint of great effort.”, that “Alone, neither great wisdom, sincere benevolence nor unlimited courage will help you reach your goals and attain success”.

Let us then try to understand the meaning, nature and role of each of these virtues and see how we can incorporate them in our task of character building, for as Confucius said; “If you have faults, do not fear self-improvement.” Let us then go forward in that quest.

First is the virtue – Wisdom.

Wisdom cannot be acquired hastily. Patience, planning and practice are essential components of Wisdom. The capacity for wisdom lies within all of us and can be developed if we are willing to climb the wisdom ladder repeatedly, the rungs of which are ; goal setting, learning, study, implementation, experience and judgment.
Confucius said, “Do not be desirous to have things done quickly; do not look at small advantages. Desire to have things done quickly prevents them from being done thoroughly. Looking at small advantages prevents great efforts from being accomplished. When the mind was disciplined and expanded by study, the remarkable harmonies of Nature would become plain. One has to fill oneself with knowledge like the vessel. Upon knowledge gained, the indwelling truth would act as a yeast, forcing the mind to assume its original perfect shape.”

These, then, are the rungs of the Wisdom ladder:

GOAL-SETTING. If we do not know where we want to go, we become apathetic—any place will do. Going through life with no goals in mind, is like going through life without vision. Goals create a vision of our future achievements.

LEARNING. Learning what is already known about a subject forms the foundation for Wisdom.
STUDY. Without study, goals will not be achieved. The path to success must be paved with knowledge. Confucius said, “ Study as if you were never to master it; as if in fear of losing it. To be fond of learning is near to wisdom, and the wise is never of two minds. If one learns but does not think, one will be bewildered. If one thinks but does not learn from others, one will be imperilled.”
Studying is using data to make decisions. Knowledge is power; ambiguities abate and decisions are made easier when you have the appropriate information.

IMPLEMENTATION. Unused knowledge represents a waste of the most precious human commodity – creativity. An idea not acted upon is like a crop not harvested. Ask yourself the question, What separates people who apply their knowledge from dreamers who fantasize and procrastinate ? The answer must be –COURAGE.

EXPERIENCE. Experience evolves from learning, studying and implementing. There is no substitute for experience. Doctors gain experience by treating patients, Lawyers by trying cases, businessmen by conducting transactions. Although it takes time to gain experience, it is not the exclusive domain of the aged. Diligence and careful attention, more than age, bring experience. Anyone who applies knowledge consistently acquires experience.

JUDGMENT. Acting wisely requires judgment, often referred to as “ common sense”. Common sense is the ability to make sound decisions and is developed by making numerous trips up the wisdom ladder. Good judgment cannot be learned from books alone nor can it be passed from one person to another. Good judgment is acquired through our individual experience. Confucius said, “ All men are alike in their nature, but become more different through practice”

The second Virtue is – Benevolence.

Benevolence is a behaviour which anyone can acquire and develop. Confucius admitted that Benevolence is difficult to achieve, but he said, “Whether we accede to benevolence depends solely on ourselves and not on others.” Benevolence implies morality: cultivating a sense of right and wrong. Benevolent people always proceed from the belief that if one does what is right, worries and fears disappear, and ventures will end successfully. But Benevolence must always be integrated with Wisdom and Courage. The clichés, “What you sow you will reap” or “What goes around comes around”, are exactly accurate when we practise Benevolence. The benevolent deeds you do will be reciprocated. When you smile at people, they will, most times, smile back at you. The glorious feeling of Benevolence comes closest to a feeling of spirituality and goodness. The truly benevolent person can see the beauty of the world, feel the warmth of friendship, and understand the complexities of emotions. The goodness of our very souls is expressed through our benevolent thoughts and deeds.

Wishing others well indicates concern for the welfare of others and is a very special aspect of human behaviour. In the self-centred world of today’s “Me Generation”, courtesy, politeness and respect for the rights of others are often forgotten or subordinated by self-interest. Truly benevolent people recognize the worth of others and are most willing to openly express warmth, friendliness, and consideration to others.

To develop Benevolence, you must be convinced that being kind and considerate is the best way to conduct yourself in life. Benevolent types listen more than they talk; they refrain from harsh words, and speak pleasantly. Benevolent people are empathetic and help others who are troubled. Generous, good-hearted, charitable, well-wishing and loving are adjectives that are most often used to describe a benevolent person. But Benevolence must be tempered with Wisdom, for as Confucius said, “ To love Benevolence without learning is bound to lead to foolishness.”

Benevolence is the most overlooked and ignored characteristic of success. Benevolence is not weakness or letting others trample you. A sense of right and wrong and a concern for others epitomize Benevolence. Benevolence pays off because it makes you and people around you feel good. It fosters self-respect and a feeling of self-worth, the absence of which makes the other fruits of success hollow and meaningless.

The third and final virtue for consideration in this address is, COURAGE.

Confucius said, “The man of courage pursues his objectives fearlessly. The man of courage is never afraid. Faced with what is right and to have it undone, indicates a lack of courage.”

Wisdom and Benevolence may make you self-satisfied, but without Courage you cannot be successful. The faint-hearted seldom succeed. Courage means assertiveness and the willingness to take risks. It also means self-reliance and inventiveness. But unconventional thinking and innovation invite criticism, and Courage is required, that is the Courage to withstand adverse comments and possible failure. Independent thought, self-confidence and other courageous characteristics separate the successful from the unsuccessful. Courage is an indispensable component in the character and behaviour of successful people. However, unbridled Courage begets recklessness.

Courage is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a quality of mind, or temperament that enables one to stand fast in the face of opposition, hardship or danger.” However, courageous action depends on the particular situation in which you may find yourself and in the context of this address, we are concerned with character building, it is the decision to choose the path which you believe within yourself is the right one and to distinguish right from wrong.

Courage lies between cowardice and recklessness. Courage not tempered with Wisdom and Benevolence often leads to over-zealous, reckless actions and a failure to reach goals. The courageous person never loses sight of his goal and marshals Wisdom and Benevolence in pursuit of his objectives. Blind courage, more often than not, misses the mark. Anxiety and fear, the companions of cowardice, inhibit Courage. Inappropriate fear lies at the core of cowardice. The most common fears are, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, and most of all, fear of failure.

Fearing rejection, a person hesitates to displease others. Similarly, one may not act if one is thin-skinned and greatly fears criticism.

Linked to the fear of criticism is the most deadly fear — the fear of failure. This fear inhibits Courage.

When a person gives in to these fears, he may be less anxious and may feel more comfortable; but he pays a terrible price.

Cowards do not reach their goals. They lose self-respect, and self-esteem, making it more difficult to be courageous in the future.

Courageous people are not necessarily people who have no fears. Anxiety and fear are emotions which everyone experiences occasionally. But courageous people realize that despite all their anxieties and fears, only a small percentage of negative consequences they envision actually come to pass. By acknowledging anxiety, and recognizing that it is unfounded in most cases, one can keep fears in perspective. By keeping your anxieties in perspective you can learn to take risks, stand up for yourself, and avoid having others taking unfair advantage of you.


People with a balanced, prudent, benevolent and courageous profile are confident, well-adjusted and self-reliant individuals. When things go wrong, rather than blame others for their failure, they look to themselves for solutions.

As men and Freemasons we have been inculcated with and immersed in a knowledge of and an appreciation for these most important virtues, as perhaps no other grouping of human beings have. Let us, therefore, recognize our weaknesses and faults. Let us follow the advice of Confucius, who says “If you have faults, do not fear self-improvement.”

We must now take our courage in our hands and import into our lives, in a very practical and empirical way, these attributes which we readily ascribe to our Creator, and thereby make ourselves really better human beings, so that when the time comes for “ the soul to take wing through the boundless and unexplored expanse” towards the very source of our being, we can truly say, each of us, “I have marked well.”

–Hon. Justice Bro. Joseph B. Alfred, P.A.G. Reg.
Deputy DGM Bahamas & Turks District, E.C.