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  • Masonry and Courage
    David R. Sandy, PM
    Freemasonry teaches us to practice the four Cardinal Virtues which are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. While these virtues have been written about for thousands of years, they are as relevant today as when Plato taught them. This article zeroes in on fortitude which is another word for courage.
    An examination of courage is incomplete without also examining “fear”. Indeed these two are linked. Our Masonic lessons teach us that this virtue is “equally distant from rashness and cowardice.” This phrase tells us that courage is not fearlessness. Neither is being afraid the single mark of a coward. The fearless man is reckless and foolish, while the man who lets fear conquer him is a coward. It is the man who faces down his fears who is courageous and has fortitude.
    Courage is a virtue that is difficult to simply define. Dictionary definitions may couple courage with intrepid boldness and daring. If we look closely at courage, we find that, there are different types. Here are a few for us to consider and examples of what courage looks like in today’s world:
    The first that comes to mind is Physical Courage which we also call bravery or valor. This is personified by the soldier charging across the battlefield or the firefighter who enters the burning building. Those who perform heroic deeds are well known for their physical courage. Freemason Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Hollywood movies and best selling books shower us with examples of physical courage or the lack thereof. Consider the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, James Bond, Harry Potter and John Wayne. In the Holy Scriptures we read about David and Goliath. All are examples of physical courage. Yet possessing physical courage alone is no guarantee of a virtuous man. Didn’t, Jesse James. Al Capone, John Dillinger and Darth Vader have physical courage?
    Although many Freemasons are soldiers, policemen and firefighters, a large number are not called upon to guard the perimeter, risk their lives to save and protect others or defend liberty and property at home and overseas. To understand this virtue more deeply and appreciate its significance in our lives more thoroughly, we must make a closer examination of the other forms of courage.
    Perseverance is the courage to be determined or steadfast; to stick with a purpose and to be discontent with merely holding ground. It means continually striving to move forward, even in times of failure and setback. Our Brother, President Theodore Roosevelt speaks of this kind of courage in his Citizen in a Republic speech where he describes the man in the arena, The man ”whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, (the man) who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
    Every Mason faces obstacles in life. He has the choice to conquer the obstacle or to give up and quit. Undeniably, giving up on mastering a video game is not the same as giving up on fighting cancer. So what does perseverance look like? By considering this question, an answer emerges: Does it take perseverance to increase Lodge attendance, serve as care-giver to an aged or handicapped parent or spouse, provide food baskets to the needy, convince a Lodge membership to raise their dues, raise an autistic child or start up a business?
    Moral courage is the ability to face ethical challenges. This is the Mason who holds onto his convictions when his values are put to the test. When a Mason puts ethics into action, he is showing moral courage. Also, when he stands up for a moral principle, when others are standing aside. While others may choose an aloof detachment from the issues, the Mason with moral courage takes a stand. This is not merely whistle blowing, which is a relatively quick action. Moral courage involves ongoing integrity exercised with poise, and serving as a role model for others to emulate.
    Social Courage – This is the quality of being comfortable in our own skin, standing tall, being the first to offer a handshake and greeting. Not being a slave to conformance to the expectations of others. Being one’s self at the risk of social disapproval. The ability to express opinions without checking to see if they are in line with others’ preferences. Standing firm against destructive peer pressure. Being the man who steps up and stands out when it is so comfortable to sit back and blend in. Social courage is speaking one’s mind, even though their voice is quivering.
    Another element of this multi-faceted virtue is Spiritual Courage. The obvious example of its practice is a Mason’s welcoming of the Grim Tyrant, but there is more. Consider the spiritual courage needed when explaining death to a young child. How about the courage to have faith? Or the fortitude to let go of needing to control all things in our lives.
    What does spiritual courage look like in a fragmented world, divided by sectarianism, intolerance, hatred and greed? Imagine the Mason who has friends who practice a faith other than his own. Isn’t a Mason taught to practice sharing rather than hoarding? Consider the Mason who asks questions about other religions and is tolerant of other men’s beliefs.
    The final component of this subject is Intellectual Courage, which is the willingness to face new ideas and to solve problems. Also, the willingness to be curious, check facts, ask questions and even make mistakes. This is the courage it takes to do something, even if it might be incorrect. Said another way, it is risk-taking daring and decisiveness.
    The Mason with intellectual courage takes as long as necessary to gain a thorough understanding of a subject and is not satisfied with a superficial overview. He listens intently and considers other’s points of view. He seeks out opposing positions on issues. The Mason with intellectual courage is not afraid to say, “Can you please explain that to me again?”
    Facing new ideas is generally coupled with change. Throughout history, Freemasons have been at the forefront of political and social changes. Freemasonry provided an atmosphere for free thought, where intellectual courage could be exercised. Those earlier Brothers of ours tested their ideas in the safety of their Lodges, then took great personal risks by sharing their innovations with the world. They introduced new governments, new philosophies and new ways of living. What was accomplished by Masons then, can be accomplished by Masons today through intellectual courage.
    Indeed, our Masonic lesson on fortitude provides us with a lot to contemplate.
    In closing, consider this thoughtful truth , appropriate not only in this discussion of fortitude, but also to our human condition in general, as men and as Masons:
    Regardless of where in life we are challenged and despite all consequences for the risks we accept in following our convictions or overcoming life’s obstacles, we must each decide on the path we take. The courageous actions of others may inspire us, instruct us and offer examples for emulation, still the courage to act on our decisions comes from within and each of us must look into our soul and then apply it.

    David R. Sandy
    Past Master
    Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 116
    A. F. & A. M. of Maryland

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