Psychology Today defines EMPATHY as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial or helping behaviors that comes from within, —internal, rather than external, as we are taught in Lodge—not forced or contrived. Freemasonry is inherently empathetic, by virtue of our very teachings, which foster Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth—the “Golden Rule”, and the conciliation of true friendship among those who might otherwise remain at a perpetual distance—empathy helps us cooperate with others, build lifelong friendships, make moral decisions, and intervene when we see others being bullied or mistreated. In The Voice of Freemasonry, Issue 2, 2019, MW Charbel T. Fahad, of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, speaks of Empathy in his Message with several allusions of profound Masonic significance to all of us, as he says:
Trees are used to symbolize empathy for multiple reasons. First, they provide shade from the oppressive summer heat. In Sonnet 73, for instance, Shakespeare speaks of how in summer “lofty trees… from heat did canopy the herd,” or in other words, providing protection with shade. There is also George Pope Morris’ 1837 poem (and later popular song) “Woodman Spare That Tree,” in which the poet writes of how “in youth it sheltered me… that old familiar tree.” The aged oak of this latter poem furnishes a vehicle for empathy both by way of the shade it provides, as well as the comfort of familiarity— for trees also can serve as living landmarks, both personal and public. Finally, in his Handbook for German Freemasons, Hermann H. Gerdes explores the meaning of the Yggdrasil tree found throughout Scandinavian lore. This sacred and holy tree’s branches “rise to the highest heavens and its roots reach down to the nether-most regions of the eternal darkness of earth. Its branches grow from generation to generation, bestowing blessings, life, and beauty to Humanity.” Gerdes suggests that, like the Yggdrasil, empathy and moral conviction come from knowing Freemasonry has been passed down through the ages, rooted in the stability and continuity of eternal truths revealed by the Grand Architect of the Universe…from “time immemorial.”
Recent local and global events have devastated our sense of normalcy, of how good and decent people “should” act in the face of tragedy, hate, and indifference. Of course it is easy to simply allocate to our consciousness to a term known as psychic numbing, a concept created by University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic….it describes how tragedies turn into abstractions in our minds, and how abstractions are easily attenuated and even ignored. We all begin to sense a feeling of helplessness; we feel more and more powerless to help, so we consequently shut down those feelings of EMPATHY that we KNOW darned well we should inculcate!
As Masons, we must unfailingly strive daily to “walk in someone else’s shoes”, to “see how it feels”, and to realize that WE, as members of the world’s greatest Fraternal society, have within us, if we so choose—and are “Obligated to”—to promote EMPATHY in our daily transactions with mankind!
At our upcoming Stated Meeting, commencing at 6 p.m. with dinner, we will be awarding the coveted Community Builders Award from the Grand Lodge of Virginia, to an amazing gentleman whose good deeds are numerous, yet mostly-unrecognized. Mr. Richard Gordon Harless, whose resume’ you will hear from our own Treasurer, Brother Bill Smith, a fellow Marine and Vietnam Veteran, along with Mr. Harless. Due to his busy schedule, volunteering, mentoring, and teaching, Mr. Harless was unable to be here last month during our Scholarship Presentations. His accomplishments, though in his eyes modest…are the “stuff of heroes”…don’t miss this annual Presentation, as ‘unsung heroes’ from all walks of life, in this case, a non-Mason, exemplifies Freemasonry in its finest colors—as you’ll see on the 18th!
We will also hear what transpired from our “Jackson Challenge”, issued by yours truly from Brother Willie Woodson, and how we should all make “a difference in the lives of strangers”. I will be “paying it forward” to another JAL Brother Monday evening! We will have our usual apropos passage from the Constitutions of Freemasonry by Brother Morgan Tolliver, our Junior Warden.
And, of course, if YOU have been “MIA” from JAL No. 350 for a while, for whatever reason, PLEASE come back and see us—see what’s happening—witness our ‘good works’….You are missed!
Sincerely and Fraternally,
It is not he who has a parrot-like perfection in ritual as his sole qualification, but rather the
one who, so far as time and means and talent will allow, devotes study to the deeper esotery
of the fraternity.
—Joseph E. Morcombe, Chairman, Grand Lodge of Iowa Masonic Library, 1901