The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined,Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant, And, happening to fallAgainst his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl:"God bless me! but the elephant Is nothing but a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried: "Ho! what have we here. So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear. This wonder of an elephant Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal, And, happening to takeThe squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: "I see," quoth he, "The elephant Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand, And felt about the knee: "What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain," quoth he; "'Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an elephant Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope,Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, "I see," quoth he, "The elephant Is very like a rope!" And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding swift and strong,Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong! So, oft in theologic wars The disputants, I ween Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an elephant Not one of them has seen!

Obtaining or following ideas from only one Past Master, or other source, limits and narrows your focus, and leaves you lacking the broad perspective that the position of Worshipful Master demands. Obtain counsel from as many Past Masters, both in your Lodge and other Lodges, as you can. You won't like all of their ideas; and, not all of their ideas will work for you. But, your progress through the Officers' Line should have given you some insights and instincts for the position of Worshipful Master.

You should have no trouble separating the wheat from the chaff in evaluating the advice and counsel of those who have gone before you In the East--especially in your Lodge. No such list or group of suggestions as this can be complete or all-encompassing, and no list or group will help you deal with all that you may confront as Worshipful Master of your Lodge. But, I hope that the materials you will find below will provide you a good foundation, on which you can build a successful year In the East

For starters, here is one PM's description of the position:

"To become the model Master of a Lodge should be the ambition of every brother; and to discharge with efficiency and zeal the duties of that office should be his most anxious desire. "These duties are not confined to the mere repetition of a few phrases learned by rote, but he should be able to instruct the Craft, not only as to the meaning and origin of our ceremonies, but also to explain to them the philosophy which is veiled in its allegories and illustrated by its symbols.

"He should be able, also, to convince his brethren, that all science and all art, legitimately directed, are but lines that radiate toward the great 'I AM'; that the sciences are the media by which we are led to contemplate the goodness, greatness, wisdom and power of the Great Architect of the Universe; and that the arts are the modes we have developed of expressing our sense and admiration of the wondrous glories of an Almighty Father which are scattered around us.

"The Master of a Lodge should also, in his life and in his conversation, be a model for his brethren to admire and imitate, and should himself practice, out of the Lodge, those great moral doctrines and virtues which he inculcates within its walls. He should be punctual and methodical in all things and, both by his character and conduct, command the respect, the esteem and the good-will of all men; for as the Master is supreme in his Lodge and distinguished by his position in the Craft, so should he also be distinguished as the possessor of an irreproachable character, a dignified demeanor, an expanded intellect, and a liberal education.

"...The Worshipful Master who presides over his Lodge with ability, firmness and decision whose manner is courteous yet dignified; whose decisions are consonant with reason and Masonic law; and who dispenses light and information among the Craft, will ever be regarded by his brethren as one who is entitled to their highest respect and most fraternal regard."

1. Study the books of ancient lore and modern proceedings in order to qualify for the high and important office of Worshipful Master.

2. Get to know, really know, all the members of the Lodge.

3. While serving as Senior Warden, learn all the Master's Ritual and so have time when Master to plan the program and prepare the speeches.

4. Before assuming office settle with ye Little Woman, ye Boss of ye Household, that Great Question of going out nights.

5. Stow away in the Grey Matter of the Cranium a set of five minute speeches for various occasions, and thus be ready whenever called upon to do justice to the Lodge and Office.

6. Consult the Chairman of Committees before appointment of members, and afterwards keep them active by calling for regular reports of progress.

7. Many members working means much enthusiasm in the Lodge.

8. Have all the Officers and the Chairmen of Committees meet together on convenient occasions.

9. Plan the program of the Lodge meeting and harmonize its details with the Great Masonic Design, then go over the Agenda with the Secretary before Lodge and thus avoid those irritating delays, whispered consultations and mutterings in the East.

10. Keep a timepiece always at hand and let not procrastination become the thief who robs the Brethren of their beauty sleep.

11. The visitors are honored guests of the Lodge, therefore proclaim a welcome to them with happy words and smooth phrases, and never call upon a visitor to speak in Lodge or at the Festive Board without previous notice and due enquiry as to his ability and willingness to do so.

12. Preserve the Dignity, Courtesy and Privilege of the East at all times. Let no matter of personal modesty affect those Ancient Rights and Prerogatives of the Oriental Chair which must be handed on untarnished to those who follow.

You cannot start too soon preparing for the position of Worshipful Master! Hopefully, if you are reading this article with a view toward structuring your year In the East, you are progressing through the Officers' Line, and are not facing imminent election to or installation in the position of Worshipful Master. Begin thinking NOW about what it is that you want to do as Worshipful Master-- If you wait until you are elected or installed, you have simply waited too long, and will spend your year In the East reacting to situations that you might have anticipated, and playing "catch-up."

My sense is that far more WMs who do their Lodges disservice by inaction rather than by poor action; by simply trying to "get through their year," rather than by trying to "do something" In the East.

Ask yourself, for starters: What ideas do you have for the Lodge? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want your year as Worshipful Master to be remembered?

And, do not wait for the position of Worshipful Master to come to you-- It won't. TAKE the position. Within some fairly broad parameters, in most jurisdictions, you can largely define the position of Worshipful Master during your year In the East. Those who have gone before you In the East have in fact defined the position during their respective years. It has been defined in different ways by different Worshipful Masters. With each succeeding Master having additional years of service performed by other Past Masters, and additional ideas used by other Past Masters, to review and draw on, the performance of each succeeding Master, in each Lodge, should be better and better in the position. Note that I said "should be." In fact, we all know it does not happen that way. Look back on the years of those who have served previously as WM of your Lodge. Some had good years; some had bad years; some had indifferent years.

What makes a WM's year good, bad, or indifferent?

That is the big question, I think. If I had a perfect answer to that question, I'd turn cartwheels. But, I don't. However, some general factors HEAVILY influence the answer to this question:

1. The WM's ability and willingness to assess his own human strengths and weaknesses candidly.

2. The WM's ability to "play to his strengths."

3. The WM's willingness to seek help to cover or minimize his weaknesses.

4. The WM's ability to determine who to seek out for that help.

5. The WM's ability and willingness to set goals and determine what he wants to do during his year In the East.

6. The WM's ability and willingness to craft a plan for his year In the East.

7. The WM's ability and willingness to seek help from constructive Brothers and PMs to aid in the crafting and execution of that plan.

8. The WM's ability and willingness to master the Degree work and ritual work of the Lodge.

9. The WM's ability to inspire the Brothers.

10. The WM's ability to lead by example.

11. The WM's ability to anticipate problems and events, and to plan for contingent ways to respond to them.

12. The WM's ability to make decisions.

13. The WM's ability to be flexible and accommodating.

14. The WM's level of interest in the position.

15. The WM's ability to evidence enthusiasm for the position.

16. The WM's willingness to listen to suggestions and comments made by others.

17. The WM's ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, in receiving advice and counsel.

I'm sure there are others--these are the ones that occur to several of the Past Masters who provided input, and to me.

What does it mean to be Worshipful Master? What can the Worshipful Master do? What programs or projects can the Worshipful Master advocate or sponsor? How far can he lead his Lodge? In what direction? To what end?

The answers to these questions, and others, are largely up to each Worshipful Master during his year In the East. For your year In the East, the answers to these questions are largely up to YOU.

Why is that? Why isn't the position more clearly defined? Why isn't there something, somewhere, that tells a Worshipful Master what he needs to do to have a good year In the East?

The answer to these questions is something alluded to above, and which will not be obvious to you, AND which you MAY need to "be there to know."

What didn't immediately dawn on me--and it took about a month of being In the East to realize this--is that the WM has tremendous powers in a Masonic Lodge. Unless the WM does something so outrageous that it prompts an appeal to Grand Lodge by a disgruntled Brother or group of Brothers, nothing the WM does can be effectively challenged. And, those appeals are very rare.

That doesn't mean, of course, that you should let the powers of the position go to your head. That wouldn't be healthy or constructive. But, when I began to realize the scope of my powers as WM, I began to take initiatives that I thought would be in the best interests of the Lodge. While I sought, and listened to, advice from PMs, and others, I made my own decisions.

You should, too. The Brothers of your Lodge will elect you to the position of Worshipful Master with the expectation that you will lead the Lodge during your year In the East. They will not expect--and almost certainly will not appreciate--your deferring critical decisions to others, be it a Lodge Secretary, or a Past Master, or a group of Past Masters.

Making those decisions is no small task! While your instincts will be of some help to you, gained through progress through the Officers' Line, you doubtless will benefit from some more "formalized" insight into the decision process. Several written resources are available to you, both as to making these decisions, and with respect to ideas for your term as Worshipful Master. They are discussed in the next section.

I want to make Syria Lodge a better place to be associated with (to be a member of); a better place for its Brothers and families to spend time (attending meetings and special events and banquets); and, a better Community asset; and, I want to try to showcase these achievements in a Trestle Board that will be the best one published

Once you have formulated a mission statement for your year In the East with which you are comfortable, it will make the remainder of your task in defining your year MUCH easier! Indeed, the mission statement for your year In the East is arguably the most important Working Tool you will have as a Worshipful Master-- because it will tell you, to a very large extent, how to use the other Working Tools that are available to you

Some of the other Working Tools that you will have available to you as Worshipful Master will be obvious to you--the written resources set out above; and, the Past Masters of your Lodge, for example. Let me go next, though, to one that may not be obvious to you: your Lodge newsletter, or TrestleBoard.

You probably haven't thought about your Lodge TrestleBoard in the least. Let me tell you why I think that is a mistake. For starters, try thinking of each issue of the TrestleBoard during your year as WM an opportunity to get your program across to the Brothers of the Lodge. From there, try thinking of each issue of the TrestleBoard as an opportunity to advance the stature of the Lodge, the Fraternity, and even the Community, during your year as WM. Next, try imagining the appreciation the Brothers, the ladies, and the widows of the Lodge for the insights and entertainment items you can include in the TrestleBoard.

The TrestleBoard is the "public face" of the Lodge. It will be seen in the homes of every Brother by his non-Masonic friends; and, if it is picked up by them, and glanced at, will make a significant impression on them--positive or negative--and likely will influence their views of the Lodge and what it's about.

USE the TrestleBoard. Express your opinions; stimulate discussion among the Brothers; educate the Brothers; set out your mission statement; state your goals and aims as WM; encourage the Brothers to get active or stay active in Lodge affairs. The TrestleBoard is a tremendously powerful tool for you, as Worshipful Master, to make almost any constructive use of that you see fit. Most of the time, and with most Worshipful Masters, that tool is wasted. There is almost no limit to what you, as Worshipful Master, can do with the TrestleBoard of your Lodge! And, a bonus: Unlike some of the other Working Tools of a Worshipful Master (those Past Masters, again, for example), the TrestleBoard is completely flexible--it will not resist your use of it at all; and, it will not try to use you!

Written materials from others constitute another Working Tool for the Worshipful Master. I found Carl Claudy's "The Master's Book," especially helpful, although it is a bit dated. Other helpful works would include PGM Dwight L. Smith's collections, "Whither Are We Traveling?," "Why This Confusion in the Temple?;" and, "Look Well"

Kernels of Wisdom & Insight

What specific insights and suggestions can those who have occupied the position of Worshipful Master give you? Here are some of the succinct points made by the contributors, in no particular order:

1. Seek advice from the Past Masters and other learned Brothers--you'll know which ones to go to.

2. Put your heart, soul, and toenails into your Lodge TrestleBoard.

3. Have a term plan, in addition to your mission statement, that includes Masonic education, Lodge visitations, and social events, and be sure your Line Officers, including the Secretary, have copies well in advance of your installation.

4. Know your ritual work before being installed, and ask for help if you don't.

5. Read, and re-read, your Lodge by-laws and the Book of Constitutions, your Grand Lodge Constitution, and Book of Regulations.

6. Use common sense.

7. Communicate with your officers and candidates.

8. Be organized and efficient at meetings.

9. Be prepared for emergencies--expect Brother Murphy (Murphy's Laws) to be a regular visitor to your Lodge.

10. Be patient with the Past Masters who think they know it all.

11. Find at least three Past Masters and ask them to help you put together a program that will make the Lodge much better by your term's end.

12. Concentrate on what the Lodge needs, not just what interests you.

13. Take your wife, if you have one, on a mini-honeymoon before your installation, and promise her another after your successor is installed.

14. Direct and lead with the gavel, but avoid dictating with it.

15. Have a solid handle on your Lodge's financial condition.

16. Try to get on the same page as your two next likely successors, your SW and JW.

17. Listen to everyone, even the jerks.

18. If it's important, it needs to be done. Now. Waiting for consensus is procrastination. You were elected to lead, so lead!

19. Think marathon, not sprint.

20. Try asking people to do specific, achievable things--"Would you write to these three Brothers (addresses attached) whom we haven't seen for several meetings?," not "Would you contact some of the guys who haven't been coming to Lodge?"

21. Have fun with your year In the East!

22. Use the phone, in addition to putting Lodge events in the TrestleBoard. Use a phone committee, with specific Lodge members for each committee member to call.

23. Hold officer rehearsals at least monthly.

24. Keep the business part of the meetings as short as possible.

25. Analyze what programs have worked for Past Masters, and what programs didn't work.

26. Be prepared to be in control of your Lodge during your year as Worshipful Master.

27. Learn the ritual work, and (unfortunately, given the aging Masonic population) the Funeral Service.

28. Have your committee appointments lined up before you are installed.

29. If you desire to make significant changes, do so in a way that avoids alienating the Brothers who have brought your Lodge as far as it has come.

30. Try to respond to the desires of the majority, but do not sell yourself or your program down the river to do so.

31. Seek input from others to define the needs of the Lodge, and formulate a program responding to those needs.

32. The key to success is planning, planning, planning.

33. Involve your Line Officers in your planning.

34. Sponsor and plan for interesting Masonic education programs, with outside speakers if possible, as well as Past Masters and other Brothers interested in specific Masonic topics. Avoid non-Masonic topics; leave those to the service clubs.

35. Have education programs for topics of interest, including non-Masonic topics such as heart disease.

36. Keep in touch with all Brothers if possible, paying particular attention to shut-in or infirm Brothers, and to those who have been regular in attendance but who suddenly stop coming. This could be a sign of health problems of which you may not be aware.

37. Utilize a transportation committee to provide transportation to those Brothers who may be unable to drive to meetings or events.

38. Be practical in your planning for your year In the East.

39. Hit the ground running! You can't afford to spend two or three months figuring out the position of Worshipful Master.

40. Utilize a calling list for your officers, passing calls down the Officers' Line to the Tyler, and have the Tyler report back to you.

41. Take a humble pill immediately after your installation, and remember that Masonry is a volunteer undertaking. Don't make it a drudge, and make it interesting for the Brothers.

42. When conflict arises, be prepared to deal with it quickly, before it becomes a problem for the Lodge.

43. Don't try to turn a failed program into a success. Admit the failure, learn from it, and move on to something else.

44. Vow to love all of the Brothers--the good, the bad, and the ugly. This will get harder as your year goes on!

45. Deal with all Brothers out of love, fairness, and honesty, and don't play politics with them.

46. Let the Brothers know when you are pleased with them, and let them know (constructively) when you are displeased. Don't expect them to read your mind.

47. Pay attention when a Brother wants to tell you something, even if you're occupied. It may be important to you; it's definitely important to him.

48. Don't let anyone rush you into snap decisions. But, when a decision has to be made, make it. Get to know the Secretary. Be mindful of the Secretary's many responsibilities, and use him sparingly and efficiently. Every request you make of the Secretary causes him extra work. Any Master or Brother, in about fifteen seconds, can think of projects that will require several hours of the Secretary's time. He is busy enough!

49. Any request by a Brother for something extra from the Secretary should come through you as Worshipful Master. The Secretary can make or break your year as Worshipful Master, not only by what he does, but by what he does not do, or does not inform you about.

50. Be flexible in your planning. Changes are inevitable, and will need to be made.

51. Include the Lodge Widows in your plans, with several-more than one-- events for them during the year.

52. Spread the work around. Asking that marginally-active Brother to participate in a project may be just the thing that will cement his relationship to the Lodge, and will spark his interest to the point of becoming an active regular.

53. Spend time getting to know the new candidates and Brothers. They are the future of your Lodge.

54. Masonic Lodges are not ruled by the membership but by the Master. The members expect the Master to rule and lead, and the Lodge suffers when he does not.

55. Try a community activity with some other organization, such as Knights of Columbus, Elks, etc.

56. Remember the "back bones," who do all the work, and the "jaw bones," who gripe about the work that the back bones do.

57. Remember the story about Anybody, Somebody, Everybody, and Nobody; and, remember that there are really only two: Somebody and Everybody.

58. Plan your work, and then work your plan.

59. Remember the concepts of courtesy, Masonic etiquette, and protocol, and know what they are for each situation that you know you will confront as Master.

60. Be prepared for your meetings, with a definite program and agenda.

61. Avoid trying to be "one of the boys" to curry favor with the Brothers or to get them to like you. It is more important that they respect you in the position of Worshipful Master, and you need to earn that respect by the example you set. If they respect you, be assured, they will like you.

62. Be sure visitors are made to feel welcome.

63. If you have a Festive Board, be sure it is done properly, with all required protocol and ceremony.

64. Be mentally prepared for the position of Worshipful Master. Care for the Brethren. Care for the Lodge and its work. Care for your candidates, and be sure your Degree work is done properly and with the necessary decorum.

65. Read your Lodge's minutes book, especially during periods of growth, to get a feel of what True Masonic Charity is all about. This will give you a feeling of appreciation for the efforts you are being allowed to follow--along with a sense of humility.

66. Be sure each Brother receives recognition during the month of his Masonic Birthday. If a Brother cannot attend, ask him for a written greeting to the Lodge that can be read at the recognition portion of the program.

67. Do not try to do everything yourself.

68. Solicit ideas from others, including your Line Officers. Give them a feel for what you are going through in the decision-making process as Worshipful Master.

69. Be sure to visit the Lodge's youth groups. You will receive special recognition as the Lodge's representative, and your interest and support by your presence will be appreciated.

70. The most important part of the Worshipful Master's position is having a sense of vision, a sense of direction, and a sense of purpose. The Worshipful Master must know where he wants to take the Lodge, how he is going to accomplish that task, and who he can go to for help. Having a sense of vision, direction, and purpose will be appreciated, and will draw support from the Brothers, even if they do not necessarily agree with all the points of the Worshipful Master's program.

71. Avoid taking on too many responsibilities in other Appendant bodies.

72. Try to build continuity into your programs, to the extent possible, without leaving your successor lacking in flexibility.

73. Have contingency plans for the unexpected collapses of events or programs.

74. Don't try to do too much--concentrate on a few core items and goals.

75. Your purpose as Master is to motivate, stimulate, and coordinate the Education and Leadership activities of your Lodge.

76. To get help--Seek, Ask, and Knock.

77. Invite the Brothers to "Dream Along with Me," in imagining a better course for the Lodge.

78. Bring the bare words in your ritual and Degree work to life; this will reveal a wealth of deeper meaning for the Brethren, and for you.

79. Try to find constructive things for the Past Masters to do, so that they will not wind up having finished their years as Master, and then vanishing from the Lodge.

80. Remember that you are in charge of a management team, and that other members of the team will eventually lead the Lodge. Do what you can to help them develop their respective styles of leadership, and to encourage them to accept the responsibilities that go with the position of Worshipful Master

I am the I[mmediate] A M[aster] of Syrian Lodge. I had a very good, very helpful, group of PMs from which to draw talent, help, and (when needed and asked for) advice. At no time did I feel that any PM was trying to 'run the show' from the sideline. At no time did I feel that my toes were being 'stepped on' in the East. This was my feeling in spite of the fact that we have some pretty opinionated PMs who, I am sure, would have done things quite differently from the way I did them.

I set out to ambitiously expand our TrestleBoard; I set out to initiate a series of banquets and special events to try to draw Brothers and their families back to Lodge functions; I set out, as much as anything, to try to show the Brothers at Syrian Lodge that there was more than one way to fill the East in a Masonic Lodge.

The problem, though, that I think ambitious and progressive Masters will encounter in almost any Lodge is that there is no way to ensure continuity of direction. Perhaps this is as it should be; no Master should try to tie the hands of those who come after him. The best he can hope for, as I see it, looking back at the East, is that, by his example and direction, he can show those following him a path that worked for him.

The man who sits in the East in any Lodge, in any year, will bring his own strengths and weaknesses to that position. It is up to him to 'play to his strengths;' the PMs are there to help him deal with and overcome his weaknesses--or, at least, to see to it that those weaknesses do not interfere with his year as Master, or cause lasting problems for the Lodge.

But, the Master needs to run the Lodge. I found that, with a definite sense of direction and purpose, and with a mission statement set out

The Master of a Masonic Lodge has tremendous powers. Used for the benefit of the Lodge, and with a definite purpose and program, those powers enhance the Lodge and the sense of belonging that all Brothers should feel. Misused, or not used, those powers are simply wasted--and the Brothers are left feeling that they are being dictated to, or are without a sense of direction. Either way, the Brothers, and the Lodge, lose.

3. The Greek philosopher Aristotle tells us that there are three kinds of friendship:

A We have friends who make us laugh, whose company we enjoy.

A We have friends who are useful to us, who lend things to us, who do things for us that we cannot do well for ourselves.

A Finally, we have "friends in the good." This friendship occurs when we are united with others in a common undertaking, which lifts us to another level, giving us a desire to strive for something beyond our own lives. This is the highest form of friendship, and we seek it, says Aristotle, because we quite simply become better people for having "friends in the good."

If you will take care that the Masonry practiced in your Lodge, during your year In the East, is reflective of Aristotle's third kind of friendship, a lot of things that could go wrong will take care of themselves!

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