Review of Freemasonry

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A look at the importance of practicing tolerance in the Lodge
by Wor. Bro. Clive Herron
Marine Lodge 627 IC, Durban, South Africa.
Grand Lodge of Ireland.

In 1969 there was a song released by the Hollies. “HE AIN’T HEAVY HE’S MY BROTHER”. Wikipedia gives an explanation for the title of the song as coming from a Vietnam War photo. Supposedly, the image depicts a wounded Vietnamese man being carried on the back of a GI. The photo journalist asked if he had been carrying the wounded man far, the soldier smiled at the camera and said, "He ain't heavy, he's my brother. Try and picture the scene. And read some of the words.


If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness


It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.


The words of the song draw a picture of compassion and love amongst the mayhem of war. Picture a scene similar to what you have recently seen on your television screen of Gaza City. Love demonstrated by one man on a mission to kill and another from the enemy side cannot exist without a great deal of love and tolerance.


One of the fundamentals of Freemasonry is tolerance. We don’t speak of it much in lodge, but it is inherent in the very way our lodges operate. We teach prudence, justice and temperance and advocate brotherly love and good neighbourliness in Freemasonry. But for one reason or another there is no mention of tolerance as a Masonic virtue or tenet. The closest we come is to teach “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

True Brotherly love is when a brother can show tolerance to another human in spite of the others conflicting opinions and failings, even if this means a case of applying the old maxim in practice: Hate the sin but love the sinner.

Tolerance is the unwritten law of Freemasonry. There can be no Brotherly Love without it. Many a Mason will articulate Masonic tolerance firstly in terms of religious tolerance or political tolerance. That is only part of the pie. As we begin to fully appreciate the customs and traditions of Freemasonry, we realise how much deeper the meaning of tolerance goes.

Taking our instruction from the VSL we are told to “Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us” (Luke 6:27-28)

The Old Testament tells us that we should conduct ourselves: …with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love”, (Ephesians 4:2)

The conclusion we can draw from VSL is that there is a direct link between tolerance and love.


Tolerance is defined in the dictionary as: being patient and indulgent toward those whose opinions or practices differ from one’s own. It also means being free from bigotry, or severity in judging the opinions or conduct of others. Being tolerant also means we show forbearance.


John F Kennedy summed it up as “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns oppression or persecution of others”


A Mason should be one who tolerates opinions or practices differing from his own. He should also be prepared to defend another’s right to have a differing opinion. Tolerance can be said to be a Mason’s recognition of the right of private judgment including his own. The story behind the song “HE AIN’T HEAVY” illustrates the soldiers tolerance without surrendering his own belief


“He doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother”.


We need to be tolerant of others, but we also need to be tolerant of ourselves too. Tolerance is not about surrendering our own beliefs or compromising our own values. It is more about respecting another’s right to hold differing views.


In the Thesaurus we find that Tolerance has the following synonyms Broad Mindedness, Open Mindedness, Lenience, Acceptance, Forbearance, Charity, Patience, and Easiness.


The opposite of Tolerance is Intolerance, Bigotry, Prejudice, narrow mindedness, Fanaticism, Small mindedness.


As masons we should ALL fall into the first category. We must ask ourselves. Is it possible in a world of free and independent thinkers, to establish a relationship of friendliness and tolerance with another whose views are diametrically opposed to mine?

The answer is YES it may be difficult at times, and it will take a determined effort. It’s easy to be positive and tolerant when everything is going your way, but not so easy when they don’t. That’s when we need become alert and try to figure out where the other party is coming from.

If there is an irritation what is the source? Review the situation.

Are you expecting things to go your own way? Remember, always remember to practice understanding.


If you are inflexible and your values and your beliefs are neither rational nor negotiable then any confrontation involving them will only result in a heated and fruitless exchange. Understanding what is really behind the irritation will go a long way suggesting a way forward. The best way to assess a situation is to reverse it. There will be times when tolerance may seem an impossible exercise, being tolerant nonetheless remains the key to easing hostile tensions between individuals or groups.


Under difficult circumstances there are some who find it almost impossible to exercise tolerance and put the blame on personality clashes. Yes each of us has our own unique belief and opinions that make up our personalities. If we clashed with everyone who differed from us, we would be constantly at loggerheads. In fact, we tolerate, accommodate, and even enjoy certain differences. Indeed, our lives are richer and more exciting when we see the world from another perspective.

Clashes can occur when our deeply-held values or beliefs are being are challenged, or we challenge others. This can be viewed as a threat, and could result in a hard fight to prove who is “right” and who is “wrong.” What we are really doing is seeking confirmation that we have no reason to change our own belief. In our lives we have all witnessed this in one form or another.

Let us take another look - In its broadest sense tolerance can be described as …………… the appreciation of diversity and the ability to live and let others live. It is the ability to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, religion, nationality and so on differ from one's own. Tolerance is not just agreeing with one another rather it is a sense of respect for another’s values. Indifference or silence in the face of injustice cannot be deemed a tolerance.

In reality, tolerance is about how best to work together in harmony. It is about accepting each other for who they are and what they are, and learning to be a better man before God and our fellow beings. To build that temple not made with hands.

Silence and reluctance to confront an issue will not make the differences go away. On the contrary they will fester and destroy the peaceful harmony. We need to understand one another and work in harmony offering the hand of friendship given to each of us as an Entered Apprentice.

Intolerance is the failure to appreciate and respect the practices, opinions and beliefs of another group

Freemasons are men drawn from all walks of life. We possess differing characteristics and opinions. We are brought together, in an unusual relationship of friendship, harmony and goodwill. It is natural that differences may occur within our own ranks, as they do within the best-regulated families. We may disagree but should not be disagreeable. To bring about a faultless world is perhaps a very tall order.

As Masons we are reminded that when we were initiated as an EA we were charged to regulate our actions by the Divine precepts of the VSL, to our neighbour; by acting to him uprightly; by rendering him every kind office that justice or mercy may require and always doing to him as you would he should do to you.

There is no issue (other than perhaps a physical violation against one’s self or ones family) that cannot be dealt with by a handshake and in most cases without need to alter one’s personal views.  We cannot bring about peace and compassion without forgiveness and tolerance.

Remember we build our temples (our character) one brick at a time. Don’t cause the wall to tumble. EXERCISE TOLERANCE in all your dealings.


Masonry is not about one person winning over another; it's about everyone winning at the same time. This is what Freemasonry teaches; this is what it creates; this is what it holds fast to. If we truly love another person and if we really practice Brotherly Love with our fellow beings - we will be tolerant of them. Again I stress, tolerance does not mean endorsing the beliefs, or actions, of others. However, it does mean a tolerant person will be willing to pardon the offense of another, be willing to forgive another, and not feel resentment. No man truly obeys the Masonic law who merely tolerates those whose opinions are opposed to his own. We must be able communicate and sit together in Brotherly Love putting aside our differences. Every man's opinions are his own private property, and it is the right of all men to maintain their own opinion.


Finally, I wonder if we ever think about our level of tolerance in our everyday lives.


How tolerant are we of others in the workplace, in society, at home?

How tolerant are we with others when no one is looking?

When no one we know is present? Is there room for improvement?


I believe these questions are important and need to be answered by each one of us because what we do when nobody is looking is driven by our core beliefs and values.

PEACE, LOVE and HARMONY are the foundation stones of our Order and life. We have committed ourselves to always act in such a way as to keep that foundation sound.


We are all traveling a long, long road
From which there is no return, we know that we are accountable for all our actions. So while we're on the way to there. Why not share
and the load? Don't let it weigh you down

If you have an adversary – don’t make Him  heavy, he's your brother.


Think before you act and always exercise tolerance.


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