by R.W.Bro. J.R. (Jim) Crawford Senior Grand Warden, Grand Lodge of Alberta, A.F. & A.M. (Canada)
“Character”, the topic of my address, is really the fabric of which our whole Masonic Fraternity is built. We are all aware that our Masonic Philosophy calls upon us to take good men, one at a time, and make them better – not better than everyone else but better than themselves. The building of Character is one of the greatest designs we have on our Masonic Trestle-board.
It, of course, is a personal and an individual thing that we have to work at ourselves. We must continually chip away the rough corners and smooth the finished stone so that our individual integrity may be preserved and maintained.
Freemasonry is described as an organized Society of Men, symbolically applying the principles of Operative Masonry and Architecture to the science and art of character building. In Masonry we learn from our ritualistic teachings, and from other Masonic sources, that there is but one standard of measurement of a man and that is the standard of ‘Character‘. A man is what he is because of the character he bears, not because of the side of the railroad tracks on which he happens to have been born; not because of his race or color or creed, but because of what he is.
Robert Ingersol – a U.S. lawyer and lecturer – wrote these words,
“I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample under foot”.
A man is superior not by mere accident of his race and color.
He is superior who has the best heart, the best brains. The superior man is the providence of the inferior.
He is the eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenceless.
He stands erect by bending over the fallen.
He rises by lifting others. These words paint a picture of greatness according to the Masonic standard of greatness. Although character development begins in the home, it must be promoted through our schools and churches. Furthermore, character is essential in every stratum of society. Because of that it is not merely accidental or incidental objective.
First, let us consider the home as our foundation. Early guidance is of paramount importance. It has been said that a parent should not make a child like himself, because one like him is enough!!
There is, however, a challenging parental responsibility to provide intelligent guidance, since character development in children is a process of self-discovery. The home is the place ‘par excellence’ for stimulating this self-discovery since contacts are so intimate, and there is freedom to reveal one’s real self.
Next, the school is considered a continuation of the process of building character. Success in this second phase in life requires sensitive and well-trained teachers.
Children are so amenable to suggestion and imitation that adults, especially teachers, whether in schools or churches, should be leaders of integrity. Through integrity they win the confidence of children and bring about a better understanding of the individual child.
One of the most vital principles of character building is teaching by example.
Often it is ‘caught‘ more that ‘taught‘.
The greatest teacher of all times, our Heavenly Father, taught by example, precept, faith and by love. Through His faith and understanding, he taught us to become individuals with character enough so that worldly cares could not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which he implanted in our souls.
The seeds of all cardinal virtues, if they are to grow to maturity, must be implanted early in the minds of children. They are nurtured through the medium of the home, the school, and the church, and in them we see the gradual development of good character through patient, intelligent and devoted cultivation and training.
Masonic teachings, when even partly utilized, improve the character of the individual. Character is not formed in a day or a lifetime, for it is continually developing, expanding, maturing and blossoming. The business of Masonry is the business of character building.
It has been said that the character of a community depends upon the character of its citizens. So it is that the good name, which Masonry has enjoyed for many centuries, depends upon the character of its members. The voluntary time and effort which certain members devote to Masonry attests, in some degree, to the worthiness of their desire to improve the ‘Character of Men’. Truth is the light of Masonry.
Character is the quality of Masonry. Let us be honest! In weakness we offend the voice of Conscience, and feel on our faces the hot, accusing glare of the All-Seeing-Eye of Masonry. Let us not prevaricate like the child detected in wrong-doing, and ascribe to forgetfulness what is only a disregard of the precepts of the character we profess.
Indeed, character is not a mere conforming to the minimal requirements of a conventional society.
As Macauly puts it:- “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out”.
Another writer says it this way:- “Character is in living and performing like a champion when there is no one left in the stadium”
It’s in doing your best when there are no spectators and when the crowd has gone home. It’s really, in giving your humble best when only you and your God can judge your performance. Such should be the Character of a Mason, for these are the precepts which, when practised in faith and fortitude, become the soul of Freemasonry.
It is this inner quality which gives strength, influence and power to the individual, institution or nation.
One of the greatest intangibles of human life is Character!!!!!
Can anyone say what it is?
I cannot circumscribe it for you.
It is as varied as human beings themselves. It defies measurement and definition.
Yet it is capable of recognition. If I were to attempt to define it, I would say that it is the composite of all the intangible qualities of good with which man has been endowed.
It is exhibited most clearly in his moments of greatest inspiration.
Someone has aptly said:- “No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character”.
If that be true then we must see to it that the attainment of good character is a primary, and not a secondary, activity of men.
Yet is it?
Sometimes we stress all manner of things aside from the attainment of good character. How can sterling character be attained? No one can give you a complete formula. Yet if we refer to the great men of history, we are immediately reminded of the fact that in them have been displayed great qualities which served them in their hours of need and stress.
Sir Harry Lauder was a famous character and one who became more so through his Scottish songs. When he was Knighted by the late King George V, there was much dissent from many quarters. They asked why the King had so signally set him apart.
In a nutshell it was: His high standard of living. His sterling character.His observance of the Sabbath day.His faith in God. He was a shining example of one who was capable of building character.
The following quote was made by George Washington, the first president of the U.S.A. and a distinguished Mason:-
“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles – “The character of an honest man”
In an address before his death, the late Charles Lindbergh made the following statement:-
“Survival has time dimensions which say that power consists of more strength of arms. Short term survival depends on knowledge of nuclear physicists, and the performance of supersonic aircraft but long term survival depends alone on the “Character of Men.”
Yet, how many of us have given it much thought? How many people of the earth are willing enough and humble enough to admit that our inability to get along is due to our failure to develop the important and intangible forces that lie within the character of men?
Masonry has, in this 20th century, been accused of inactivity. It has been a century noted for great improvement in services to humanity.
Many of our members propose Service-Club type programs for the Craft.
They accuse their fellow Masons of being inactive.
They want to do something spectacular that the public can see and applaud.
Brethren, the Masonic design is the development of character and the improvement of life and conduct.
Freemasonry deals with principles rather than with projects; in the dissemination of ideals, rather than in programs or self-advertisement.
As we all know, beauty and harmony of the structure must be maintained at all costs. Freemasonry cannot deviate from the great design on its trestle board, the making of Masons, the making of better Men.
There is no more urgent work today and certainly no greater work than this, the building of character – it must be our prime goal!
Character is defined in the dictionary as an attribute or property, especially a distinguishing attribute. The word ‘character‘ is mentioned many times in our ritual, and this is what the great nurse,
Florence Nightingale, had to say about it:- “Live your life while you have it, life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small about it for the greatest things grow by God’s law out of the smallest.”
To live your life purposefully you must discipline it. You must not fritter it away in unfair purposes, erring acts, or in constant wilfulness. You must make your thoughts, your words, your acts, all work to the great end and that end is not self, but ‘God‘. That is what we call ‘Character‘.
Henry Frederic Amiel, (Swedish Professor of Moral Philosophy) makes the following statement about Character:- “It is not what he has, nor even what he does, which directly expresses the worth of a man, but what he is”.
Artemus Calloway has this to say:- “You can’t give character to another man, but you can encourage him to develop his own by possessing one yourself.”
Boardman puts it in verse this way:- “Sow an Act and reap a Habit. Sow a Habit and reap a Character. Sow a Character and you reap a Destiny.”
Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent American Anglican Clergyman, has this to say about Character:- “A man’s character is the reality of himself. His reputation is the opinion others have formed of him.”
The circumstances amid which you live determine your reputation; the truth you believe determines your character. Reputation comes over one from without; character grows up from within. Reputation is what you have when you come to a new community; character is what you have when you go away. Your reputation is learned in an hour; your character does not come to light for a year.
A single newspaper report gives you your reputation; a life of toil gives you your character.
Reputation is what men say about you on your tombstones; character is what the Angels say about you before the throne of God.
People talk about building character on personality, but how is this accomplished?
Every impulse acted upon, every resolution carried out, every fine emotion that gets us somewhere weaves itself into the pattern of our character.
It is not the product of lectures or sermons but of well directed effort.
Character takes in the whole man. Big men become big by doing what they don’t want to do when they don’t want to do it. This wise saying explains why today we have so many great problems, yet so few great men.
Perhaps character is best summed up in the sentences which Plato says were inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi:- “Know Thyself ….nothing in excess”.
Shakespeare had this to say about it in Hamlet. You will recall old Polonius speaking to his son Laertes:-
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”.
This involves self-discipline and self-discipline means doing things we would rather not do. Great characters were built in days when men and women traveled in covered wagons. They drove back the frontiers and carved homes out of the wilderness when food and clothing were of the coarsest; when school children walked two and three miles to school and sat on benches hewn from logs; when a preacher traveled long distances in covering his circuit; when men and women provided their own entertainment and the Bible formed a major part of the family reading; when there was a greater belief in the power of prayer than in the power of self.
Great characters were built in overcoming trials; in surmounting great obstacles; in hurdling obstructions that others said could not be overcome; in achieving great ends against great odds.
We can build character by doing things that others have done, but we cannot build character by doing things merely because others have done them.
In the volume of the Sacred Law we oft find the concept of human life and conduct likened to a building; something that is raised and fashioned gradually, stone by stone. So it is with each individual Mason.
We are all builders in our thoughts, our emotions, our words and our actions; we are constantly working away at a house not made with hands, namely the
‘House of Character’.
When a man is determined for good, what can stop him? Cripple him and you have a Sir Walter Scott.
Put him in prison and you have a John Bunyan.
Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge and you have a George Washington.
Attack him with bitter racial prejudice and you have a Disraeli.
Afflict him with asthma until, as a boy, he lies choking in his father’s arms, and you have a Theodore Roosevelt.
Stab him with rheumatic fever until, for years, he cannot sleep without an opiate, you have a Steinmetz.
There can be no doubt that character determines destiny. The future of the world certainly depends far more on the development of character than on anything else. Without it no plans that Statesmen lay down for a better world can possibly succeed. We can build more and better houses, thus raising the level of citizenship, but the ‘creation of peoples’ does not come about that way. We do not build citizens from bricks, mortar and lumber, but from stones of:-
Honesty Truth Love and beauty Courage and industry
As Freemasons let us, in the years that lie ahead, apply ourselves to the task of building a Temple worthy of the Great Architect of the Universe; always keeping in mind that every man is the Architect of his own Temple in which he has to spend eternity.
Edwin Markham, the great Masonic poet, wrote:- “We are all blind until we see that, in the human plan, nothing is worth the making if it does not make the man. Why build these cities glorious if man unbuilded goes? In vain we build the work, unless the builder also grows.”
My Brethren, Freemasonry is founded upon the dignity of the individual, upon the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. Let us continue to dedicate and rededicate ourselves to the attributes of character, and standards of conduct, which enable us to live the way of life befitting a skilled Craftsman. A man can only reach as high as his ideals.
What a wonderful thought to be able to say before you travel heavenward,
“My life is my message”.
My Brothers, so long as you and I continue to strive for lofty ideals then indeed will Freemasonry have built its Temples in the hearts of Men.
Personally, I cannot recall a paper that has moved me so deeply as this and feel honoured & privileged to be able to share it with you. It contains a profound message, and a challenge to each and every one of us, that we make our best efforts to LIVE BY IT, to the very best of our ability. May I also suggest that each of us use every opportunity to share this paper with our fellow Brethren & those nearest & dearest to us.
Have a Wonderful day & God Bless Norm