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A is for Apathy

By Bro. R. John Hayes

"Neither can it be concealed that, among the thousands who range themselves under [Freemasonry's] banners, there are those who are daily sinking into the sere and yellow leaf of old age," is a phrase from the North-East Angle lecture in the Canadian Rite. I thought of this the other day when I happened to run into the Old Tyler. Not the one from Carl Claudy's Masonic fables, but the actual old tyler who had served my lodge for many years, and who acted in that capacity when I was initiated into Freemasonry. I have not seen him at the lodge for several years.

It turns out that he can no longer get to lodge on his own. It also turns out that he would like to attend. And it turns out that he lives only a few blocks from me. So I will call him and pick him up before the next meeting. But that's not the point, here.

We sometimes hear how the older members of lodges do not support the younger, preferring to do something else with their evenings, once every few weeks. And yet . . . my experience has been quite the opposite. It is the younger members who do not seem to care enough to support the older. And in doing so, I suggest, they are missing the point of one part of the North-East Angle lecture. They are also succumbing to something I believe is at the root of most of the problems with Freemasonry today: apathy.

For if they truly cared, they would know that the old tyler wants to come to lodge and needs only a ride. They would know of the past master from decades ago who has a broken hip and can't get around. And so on.

The fact is that they, as a general rule, do not know about them. And they don't know about them because they did not care to find out.

"Apathy" is from the Greek apatheia, from apath s, without feeling (that's from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition). "A-, without; see a-1 + pathos, feeling." That dictionary offers us two definitions, the first of which is: "Lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference." The second is shorter: "Lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness."

The younger members are often indifferent about the fate of the older members. It is a learned indifference, to be sure, but it is apathy.

I had an online discussion on the reasons behind the lack of recognition afforded to Prince Hall Grand Lodges in the American South recently. I will quote the brother on three points he made:

1 - "I believe that this problem (for lack of a better word) will work itself out."

2 - "We have 5 Grand Lodges in South Carolina who claim to be Prince Hall."

3 - "A brother under their jurisdiction, told me that that his GL considers us clandestine."

You may think that the first of these is apathetic, but the other two, well, not so much. But as with almost everything, lack of change, lack of effort, lack of success, almost always comes back to a "lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal," or apathy. I can think of no better one-line description of his arguments above.

As I said to him, the fact that there are five Prince Hall claimants in South Carolina is simply an opportunity to find out which one is generally recognized, not a reason not to recognize any of them. But that would take effort.

Somebody said one of them has the nerve to consider the mainstream Grand Lodge of South Carolina "clandestine," which is one of those words that is much more used than understood. Again, this is an opportunity to find out if one of them does consider South Carolina "clandestine," whatever that may mean in that context, but it was used as an opportunity to stop the discussion, to end the debate, as a reason to close consideration of recognition.

Now I believe that we can agree that this is a "matter of general importance," and in a world in which the younger generations are less and less accepting of racial and sexual stereotyping, not to mention overt discrimination, one of "appeal." And this matter is not being addressed because the "lack of interest or concern" is enough to enable the man who wrote those words to step aside from the issue. Apathy.

And so we have seen that small issues of finding out what old brothers are doing are a matter of apathy. And we see that the largest issues facing Grand Lodges, including recognition of other Grand Lodges, are also matters of apathy. It is my contention that apathy is the stake through the heart of progressive Masonry. It is the stake through the heart of Masonry, in general.

We look on an issue. We talk about it. But it never gets solved.

This happens all too often in lodges and Grand Lodges, not to mention in other walks of life. Inevitably, it is a matter of apathy.

"Some issues are just too complicated, too difficult in some other way," you may say, "to be solved with just effort." Let me refer you to one of the most prolonged and deeply felt conflicts in history - The Troubles in Ireland.

The violence in Northern Ireland and the politico-ethnic-religious background from which it stemmed would cause any Masonic issue to pale in both significance and in difficulty, we ought to be able to agree. Yet it was significantly stopped within a year by action, and this action took place only when apathy enforced by fear was overcome by loathing. I will remind you of a few details.

Northern Ireland was a place of sectarian violence on a scale to rival East LA from the 1960s until the late 1990s, but has since been a place of both negative peace (the absence of violence) and sometimes a more positive peace. This was brought about in large part by the frustrations of women from both sides of the conflict, women who were tired of living in danger and surrounded by evil and the regular loss of friends, family, loved ones. The Northern Ireland Women's Coalition was "founded in 1996 as a result of frustration with the sterility of local politics" and this led to "substantive negotiations [being] launched on 7 October 1997." (Kate Fearon: Women's Work, 1999.)

"On the day the talks reconvened, Rita Restorick, the mother of the last British soldier shot in Northern Ireland - in a sniper attack in Bessbrook, south Armagh, in early 1997 - visited the talks building. She placed her son's photograph on the NIWC's table, spoke about his life, and how much she missed him. Meeting her moved NIWC talks delegates to tears, and strengthened their resolve to pursue an accommodation." (Fearon.)

This is not to belabour that issue, but to point out that it was a strengthening of resolve to get things done, the opposite of apathy, that actually began to accomplish things in this supremely difficult conflict.

If resolve can accomplish this much, how is it that we cannot manage to find the impetus amongst us to make simple changes in our lodges or Grand Lodges?

To my mind, the answer is apathy.

Here is a self-exercise that may clarify some of the things that concern you. Write down the problems facing your lodge today. Make a pointed list of the things that would make Masonry a better place for you.

Some of these will be matters which we cannot change - the character of certain men, for example. Mark these items on your list and move them to the bottom. Nevertheless, even in these cases, while change cannot be effected at the root cause of the problems, perhaps by thinking about the solutions, then acting upon them, the effect of the problem in your life and in the life of your lodge, that could be improved. Don't cross them out completely.

But there are dozens of things that can simply be changed, with an energetic approach to bringing that change about. Take a look at your list. The items at the top can be changed. Now, all you have to do is do them, one at a time. As long as you can overcome apathy, the great damager of the Craft and any other organization.

One final word on the subject. The by-product of apathy is complaint, about the problems facing your lodge, about those who should be solving the problems and about those who aren't good enough to solve them. We see them in every lodge, and yet . . .

To complain accomplishes nothing, and it may actually depress someone who is working for change so much that improvements that would have been made are not. Work within the system if you can, work outside the system if you must, but the call to improve our lodges, to revitalize Masonry, is clarion to a progressive Mason.

Listen to it. Do something. And hey, as soon as you've done that, you've overcome the biggest hurdle to solving the problem. Was that hurdle the "that's not the way it was done in my year" crowd? Was it the "we've never done it that way" group? Was it intransigence, lack of vision, lack of resources, lack of time? Probably not. In almost every case, the biggest hurdle was just in getting started. It was dealing with inertia. It was overcoming apathy.

- Source: Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary

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