Updated: Sep 3
“Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other — that my liberty depends on you being free too.”
~ Barack Obama
In my closing remarks at our annual meeting last December, I challenged our lodge to think about the Cardinal Principle of Justice; what that means within our fraternity and what role our fraternity has in our society. In this quarter’s message I want to revisit that challenge with an edited version of the script from an episode I recorded for the Further Light Podcast detailing some thoughts on this ideal.
The ancient Athenian philosopher, Plato is best known for his ideas regarding proper governance (as published in The Republic), as well as his further dialogues on numerous other social science topics. In those dialogues, Plato explores the concept of justice, he states that it is one of the most useful and indispensable qualities that any individual can develop and that in order for a person to be elevated to any position of respect they must be diligent in the development and practice of the principle.
It can be argued that Plato’s views serve as a direct reflection of his community. In the 400’s BCE, the Athenian government was plagued with rampant nepotism. As an influential Athenian, Plato would have had a front row seat to the parade of ignorance as it strutted itself about under the guise of knowledge. In response to this, Plato argues that the virtue of justice must be so celebrated that the respect carried with it acts as a tool to relegate ignorance into its proper place, as a symbol of one whose character is not worthy of respect. He furthers this by forwarding the idea that a person must not only strive to be just but also acknowledge their own imperfection so they can continue to work to be better.
Masonry has its own standard definition of Justice. Duncan’s Ritual states, in part, that Justice is “that standard or boundary which enables us to render every man without distinction his just due.” It reminds us of our duty to respect others and fulfill any obligations we have to each other. It further dictates that we must strive to treat others with fairness, honesty and morality. Masonic belief would further argue that in order to have a prosperous and well-ordered society, as well as a well-governed and successful fraternity, we must understand and apply this principle both within and outside of lodge. If our fraternity works to promote justice both within and outside of the lodge we will, in essence, become the example of change that we hope to see in the rest of society.
These are all big ideas so, what does it all mean?
A Mason who strives to become more just will, by the very nature of this virtue, develop an extreme sense of self-reflection where he will analyze his actions using his own understanding of justice. He will work to examine whether he has developed biases or prejudices against individuals or groups, especially against Brother Masons. When he finds these things, he will try to figure out how they developed and work to eliminate them. He will further ask himself if he has found the balance needed for his own happiness and success and whether that happiness and success comes at the expense of others and, likewise, in the event that he finds that he is working in a way that takes advantage of others he will work to find better ways to operate so as to allow for more equity and fairness.
In looking beyond the individual we ask what does a Mason who practices Justice in society look like? Perhaps one of the best definitions we find comes from the writings of Worshipful Brother Prince Hall, in an address to his lodge, in June of 1792, Hall stated that one of the most significant duties of a Mason is to “help and assist all his fellow-men in distress, let them be of what color or nation they may, even if they even be our very enemies, much more a brother Mason.” In modern times, we may use the call to action of Brother John Lewis who coined the phrase “good trouble” in describing how people need to constantly strive for the achievement of justice for all, no matter who they are, and if this work gets them into trouble with authorities, this is good trouble.
Ultimately the principle of justice calls on us to deeply examine the world we live in and work to eliminate the institutional and systemic inequalities and injustices that we encounter. Since there is no perfect person or society, there is always work to be done and that work is, often, not easy. It is much easier to simply walk away when we see injustice. It is tempting to join in when we hear derogatory jokes because it is much easier to go along with the crowd.
We must remember that when we walk away or join in we are part of the problem as opposed to the solution to inequality. We must remember that people who are marginalized and the targets of injustice are those, in many cases, who do not have the power to stand up for themselves and that the reasons behind their marginalization are often outside of their own control.
When they encounter these situations, we must take heed that as an individual who took an oath to the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth we cannot, with a clear conscience, participate in any action or organization that promotes hatred of others or supremacy of one person over another for any reason be it race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or any of the other myriad of reasons why our society separates people. We must also take to heart the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who famously said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Finally, my brothers, don’t forget to join us on September 9, 2023 at 9am at Waukesha Lodge #37 in downtown Waukesha for our Fall Quarterly Communication. Also, please note that our Winter Quarterly Communication has been moved from our traditional 2nd weekend in December to November 18th at Lake Country Freemasons Lodge in Oconomowoc.
Yours in Brotherhood,
Silas Shepherd Lodge #1843