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A Plea for Understanding


This Short Talk Bulletin has been adapted from a talk given to Walton

Lodge No. 559, Walton, New York, by a Past Master of that Lodge who

served as Director of Ceremonies (1974) in the Grand Lodge of New

York, R. W. Brother Fordham D. Tabor. We thank R. W. Brother Tabor

for his permission to use this material as a Short Talk Bulletin.

A young college student visited one of his former high school

teachers asking that he participate in a survey that the college was

conducting. His former teacher was flattered and readily agreed. The

first question, "What do you consider the most serious problem facing

our society today", started the wheels of the teacher's mind in

motion. Just for a fleeting moment, he recalled the story of the

young man who had asked a sage, "What can I do to make this a better

world?" To which the sage replied,

"Reform yourself, and there will then be one less scoundrel in the

world." But, no, this young fellow doesn't deserve a flippant


"The most serious problem" ....! There are a number of problems that

readily come to mind. The fuel crisis, inflation, the abusive use of

drugs, the racial struggle going on all over the land, the battle

against pollution of our environment, the rebellion of so many of our

people, both young and old, against established rules and morals, the

trend toward violence in our streets, the hippie and yippie

movements, the growing lack of respect for our flag and for the

rights of others, the economic crisis these were some which came

immediately to mind. To choose the most serious was another matter

entirely. As he thought about these and other problems, attempting to

classify them by degree as to seriousness and importance, one element

was the lack of mutual understanding of the problems of others. The

problems are readily apparent to us, for we are confronted with them

daily in the newspapers, on radio and television, in our own

communities, perhaps in our own families. But how well do we

understand the people involved, their backgrounds, their ideas, the

thoughts that make them do as they do? This lack of mutual

understanding between peoples with differing ideas seems to be the

most serious problem facing our society today, not only in the United

States, but all over the


The years-long and on-going struggle between Democracy and Communism

is engendered by basic differences in political ideology. Even in

times of apparent peace the struggle goes on under the surface,

erupting periodically in "Koreas" and "Vietnams." The long-standing

attempts of racial, ethnic and religious minority groups to attain

full recognition of their ideals, to gain equality of treatment and

to end discrimination against themselves, has reached full-blown

proportions today. Tragically, the trend is toward all kinds of

violence to attract attention to their causes and to force

acceptance of their goals.

The dissatisfaction of young people with our society as they find it,

and their search for some way to change it, for some way out of the

commonplace, has caused increasing numbers to experiment with all

kinds of drugs, often casually at first, then with increasing

frequency until the user is completely dependent upon his daily

doses. New York City, with over 100,000 drug addicts, is a startling

illustration of the depth and the scope of the problem. Many other

cities and even rural communities, both in America and elsewhere in

the world, present a similar picture, if not in numbers, at least in

the percentage of the population using drugs, with an attendant rise

in violence. In spite of the

publicity about contamination and pollution of our environment and

natural resources, we see

people casually throwing all kinds of trash and garbage in the

streets and on our highways, we

see the chimneys of industrial plants spewing their noxious fumes

into the air, and we see raw

sewage and other wastes dumped into our streams.

Today all over the world there is a moral decay through the common

acceptance of pornography, licentiousness and sexual freedom as a way

of life, almost to the point that we are reminded of the moral decay

which preceded the fall of the great Roman Empire. We can read daily

in almost any newspaper in the world of the violation of someone's

rights through murder, rape, robbery, mugging, or through

discrimination in employment and housing, or through betrayal of

trust, both in private industry and in the public domain.

As we examine those and other problems facing us, one common fact

stands out people generally, are all for themselves first. What

any man wants, he strives to attain by any means available, without

regard for anyone else. There is little, if any, thought for the

ideas, wants and needs of another. While we call this selfishness, it

is really caused by a lack of understanding.

There are exceptions, of course, to this picture. Americans working

under the banner of the Peace Corps in many countries trying to help

people better their way of life. Members of the Salvation Army who

are dedicated to lives of service in helping others. Nameless

volunteers in many countries working for better communities.

Outstanding individuals such as Dr. Billy Graham who is constantly

seeking to awaken people to the need for understanding each other

through preaching the lessons of

tolerance and brotherly love. The list of these people is long, too

long, for enumeration here. When we hear of these people we are

reminded of a ray of brilliant sunshine peering through dark clouds,

that there is hope for a way to solve our problems.

As Masons, we, too, have our part to play. Freemasonry teaches us

many great and glorious lessons. We have all learned the precepts of

brotherly love and of finding our way through life by the light we

find in that Great Light we place on our Altars. As we participate in

the several degrees of our Order, we experience great truths, we

learn lessons in many areas. So many lessons, in fact, that many of

us become confused by their very multitude. Yet, if we will only

search our memories and experiences, we will recall one great thought

appearing in every lesson, weaving through the entire Masonic

ritual like a golden thread in a tapestry, shining forth like a

blazing beacon over the stormy waters of the sea. That great thought

is Brother-hood, with all that the name implies.

To be a brother to a man means, among other things, basically to

understand him. We cannot accept a man as our brother unless we are

willing to understand him. Oh, we can call him "Brother," but to be a

brother in truth we must understand him, we must be willing to see

and overlook his transgressions, to applaud his successes as our own,

to enfold him in our arms and make him a part of ourselves. And we

must want him to do the same to us, for Brotherhood is not a one-way

street. No man is willing to

give of himself forever without receiving something in return. And

yet, if we will make the initial move, perhaps some little action,

perhaps only a cheery word of greeting, which will show him that we

do care about him, that we respect his rights as an individual, and

that we understand his needs, he will usually respond and we can both

walk that greatest of roads, that highway of Brotherhood, which is

paved with mutual understanding and respect.

As Masons, we recognize that with every right, whether it be human,

civil or moral, there are also certain obligations and duties to

which we are basically bound. Duties we owe to our country, to our

families, to our fellowman and to the Supreme Architect of the

Universe. In our pursuit of rights, we must circumscribe our desires

within the bounds of propriety, good taste and a sincere

understanding of the common good.

Masons alone cannot solve all the world's problems, nor can

Christians, Jews, Hindus, Moslems, or Buddhists. Nor can Americans,

Filipinos, Russians, nor can the people of any country do it all.

Neither whites nor blacks, browns, reds or yellows can find all the

answers. But each, as individuals, can do his part, and the efforts

of countless individuals, each imbued with the desire for mutual


standing of each other, can amount to a relentless, driving force

strong enough to overcome any problem. We, especially, as Masons,

have the tools at hand in the teachings of our Order. We must learn

these lessons and we must study them until they become second nature

to us. Most of all, we must not leave them at the doors to our

lodges, but carry them with us into the outside world, where we must

practice them with precept and example in our daily lives, in

business, at recreation, in our family relationships, in our every

contact with others. Then, and only then, can we truly say we are

doing our part in striving for understanding of others.

This, then, is how he answered the young man's question. The most

serious problem facing our society today is the lack of mutual

understanding between people of all races, religions, and social and

ethnic backgrounds. In solving this problem we will have taken a

major step toward solving all of the other tremendous problems which

beset us. No one man or one group of men can do it all, but each

can do his part and make his impact on the total problem. We must

achieve understanding if our

world is to survive.

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