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Remembering that much of the language in Masonry originates long ago, we need to look at where the word comes from to get at what the charge is really saying.


Etymology of condescension


Social Rank


Masons may speak about staying “on the level” but this does not automatically erase social rank. In the real world there are bosses & subordinates; CEOs and janitors. There are masters of the lodge and Entered Apprentices. We may all be equal in value as people, and still not be equal in our abilities & responsibilities.  To think about the principle of the level without acknowledging reality would put us into fantasy land instead of mature understanding.


But how then, should you stay on the level while at the same time being a realist, and acknowledging that social rank is real?  Well, you do it by putting into the craft the cultural requirement & expectation that the superior must condescend to the inferior, as in, “voluntarily incline himself to equality”.


And this actually does happen. I bet you’ve seen it. Let’s look at some examples from the life of our lodge, that I have direct knowledge of.

  • One master mason in our lodge, during his prospect phase, came to breakfast on many occasions and met Charles Hundley, who was introduced to him as a senior past master.  The prospect was surprised when Bro. Hundley offered to pick up his plate and bus the dirty dishes after the meal. This was an important cultural signal that stuck.

  • During my own catechism learning phase, I asked Bill Heltzel about the right masonic titles to use for various roles, “Right Worshipful” for District Deputy Grand Masters, “Most Worshipful” for present and former Grand Masters, and so on.  He told me at the time (paraphrasing), “Do your best, but guys are not likely to get mad if you make a mistake, some guys I know, when you call them by their correct and earned title, will tell you that just ‘Brother’ is sufficient.”

  • Frequently I’ve seen officers of the lodge stay behind to wash dishes and clean up after a stated meeting.


The opposite of condescension then would be to lord one’s position or experience over a brother, or to remind him of his lowly station. This would be failure to condescend, and clearly in that situation the two brothers would not be on the level.  I have an example of this as well, once overhearing a past master say to a new master mason:  “Listen here, there’s a pecking order to this thing, and you aren’t at the top of it”. 


This latter comment is intended to reinforce one brother’s lower station. Let’s be adults about this; yes, new Master Masons have less experience & standing in the craft than senior guys with positions at Grand Lodge, but to point this out to them not only skirts the principle of the level, but may even reek of insecurity.

Servant Leadership


Freemasonry is a volunteer organization; anyone can leave whenever they want, or stop engaging with the lodge and no grand high title can stop it. Power to compel people to do things does not really exist in Freemasonry outside of narrow power on issues of ritual & tradition. You certainly cannot order a brother to mop the floor, or come to a stated meeting.


This in turn means that the best masonic leaders will tend to be those who behave like servants to their lodges. Doing so sets an example and a cultural norm for the rest of the brethren. When you cannot compel people to do things, you set a positive example and encourage them to follow it.


Imagine if masonic officers weren’t willing to wash dishes or clean up the lodge room.  “We have stewards and prospects for that”. This would reinforce the social hierarchy that already exists outside of the lodge, and leave volunteers feeling used.  Why would anyone use their precious free time that way? Why would you do that to your friends?


Final Thoughts


As written in the charge, Master Masons are charged to recommend kindness and condescension to their superiors. The purpose of this article is to share the same message with all masonic leadership. If you’re not part of masonic leadership, you can recommend the same to masonic leaders.  Of course it is two-sided: we are all recommended obedience and submission to things like the laws of Masonry & ritual guidelines; kindness and condescension is the flip side: it is the thing that enables that obedience and submission without creating enmity or resentment.

And that is the importance of “Masonic Condescension”.

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