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The Master Key
THE MASTER KEY
by Lawrence C. Helms
This Short Talk Bulletin is adapted from the
Grand Oration given by Worshipful Brother
Lawrence C. Helms, Grand Orator, at the 1983 An-
nual Communication of the Grand Lodge of
We belong to the great Fraternity of An-
cient, Free and Accepted Masons. The working
tools of our Craft, however, are no longer for
operative toil. We do not now, as part of our
covenant with our ancient Brethren, set fast the
Doric pillar, nor shape the marble into Corin-
thian columns. We no longer sketch the
geometry of Gothic piles, and cement the but-
tresses of lofty towers. The tools of the Craft
are representative now of speculative truth, and
speak to moral laws and duties that make life
noble and character strong. Yet, though we
erect no buildings as our ancient Brethren
reared and though the temples in which we meet
are not the monuments of our own proficiency,
we are builders and preservers in a richer sense,
for our Craft itself grows more precious with
years, and its uses more varied and beautiful
with the lapse of time.
The course of history has changed our Gen-
tle Craft from operative to speculative, but the
change has not dimmed the light of the truths
passed from generation to generation, nor has
that change diminished the need for such a
There are many in contemporary American
society that would venture that the day for
Freemasonry has passed. They hypothesize that
the changes of the twentieth century family life,
social structure and moral environment has
made Freemasonry a relic of the past, an object
of historical note, but of no value to the future.
The view of the Craft, by the non-Mason, is
understandable, but lamentable. By viewing the
Fraternity only from the outside they obviously
cannot be expected to know and understand the
deeper truths and common bonds that bind
But, of much more lasting damage to the
Craft are those among us who have also heard
this Siren's song of self-deception and have
fallen prey to the illogical conclusions that
follow. They have grasped only the superficial
evidence at hand and erroneously deduced a
demise for Freemasonry. They forget to place
contemporary Freemasonry in an historical
context, but instead treat the present situation
as if Freemasonry was some type of fledgling
order whose initial membership has waned and
now approaches an imminent death.
The internal doomsayers affect the Craft in
a decidedly negative manner. The image they
create for themselves and for all who will listen
falsely indicate a Freemasonry that is dying
from the inside. nothing could be further from
the truth. But the danger in such thinking is il-
lustrated by the Irish poet, George Russell, who
stated that we do indeed become what we con-
template. This idea, of course, was not new to
Russell as the Bible teaches. "For whatever a
man soweth, that shall he also reap. " Even
Shakespeare counseled, "There is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
There is a real and apparent danger of a
negative self-image being projected to non-
members. This negative self-image is most cer-
tain to be interpreted by the non-Mason as a
sign of internal stagnation and impending
doom. Such an image is decidedly incorrect and
does not accurately portray Freemasonry's
In ancient Greek mythology the Phoenix
was a bird that lived for 500 years. The Phoenix
was reputed to be a magnificent creature whose
beauty and graceful flight defied description. In
addition to its beauty and grace, the Phoenix
had one other exceptionally outstanding
characteristic at the end of 500 years, it would
immolate itself on a pyre. From its own funeral
ashes, however, it would reappear as a reborn
youthful bird, destined to live another 500 years
before the fiery death and rebirthing sequence
would then recur. The Phoenix was symbolic of
beauty and goodness that never dies, but in-
stead rose from its own ashes to live again and
As the world rushes blindly toward the 21st
century, it becomes apparent that mankind
studiously examines its ashes, but we tend to ig-
nore the Phoenix that brought us to today. We
tend to dwell on our failings, the sensational
and the morbid, but we shrug off our ac-
complishments as if such actions were to be ex-
pected and not worthy of notice or comment.
This is a dangerous trait for it can cause us to
overemphasize the negativeness that forever
hounds man. And like Sisyphus, be forever
doomed to an exercise in futility. Psychologists
have examined a phenomenon they label the
"self-fulfilling prophecy,' that is, a tendency
toward the eventual realization of something
once people believe a result is inevitable. Child
psychologists have long known that a youngster
who is constantly told that he is bad, incompe-
tent, clumsy or dumb, will soon develop
characteristics paralleling the image others pro-
ject of him. The reverse is also true, as the
Broadway show, My Fair Lady so aptly
described. Such a phenomenon has long been
known and was the focus of the historical tale
A very serious question arises. Do American
Freemasons tend to study our ashes and forget
the Phoenix that brought us here today? Do we
tend to dwell excessively on the problems con-
fronting the Craft and deny the strengths of the
qualities that permeate the Fraternity? Let us
examine the following passage from the
magazine, The Michigan Freemason.
"In our Jurisdiction we have many lodges
which do not seem to thrive as they
ought. The meetings are not attended by
the members as they should be, and while
all confess that they respect the institution
of Masonry, and believe its principles to
be very good, and well-calculated to
perfect and elevate mankind, yet they
wonder that so little interest is taken in
the Order by the membership in that
peculiar locality. The meetings of these
Lodges are neglected and the officers
grow disheartened, and all join in
wondering why it is so few are interested
in an institution which we are so free to
admit is a good one."
Our present situation sounds desperate and
undoubtedly we are doomed to certain extinc-
tion. Wait a minute! Let us examine the date of
The Michigan Freemason from which passage
just cited was taken. It is March, 1872. That is
correct. The passage that to many ears seems so
descriptive of today's situation, the passage
that forecast doom and gloom, was written
over 100 years ago!
We often forget that Freemasonry is not an
isolated social organization, but is composed of
men who live and work in a much larger socie-
ty. The composition of the Craft mirrors a
greater society. To be sure, the average age of
Freemasons in some locales is fast moving past
60, but let us not forget this merely reflects
demographic trends in all aspects of life. The
baby boom of the 1940's is now mid-
adulthood. Adult part-time students now out-
number traditional college-aged students across
the nation. Throughout the land universities are
adopting the attitude, "Smaller, but better."
Rote numbers have never indicated quality.
Freemasonry should be concerned with quality
The realization of dwindling membership is
not unique to Freemasonry, nor to this era of
Freemasons. We tend to forget that Masonry,
as it is organized and practiced in the western
world today, is simply not that old an institu-
tion with a history of a large percent of eligible
men holding membership. The first Grand
Lodge was not formed until 1717 and although
many Masonic zealots attempt to trace modern
ritual to King Solomon and beyond, prudent
research cannot extend modern history far
beyond the Regius Manuscripl. Every organiza-
tion over a period of time, will develop a
natural cyclical pattern of membership peaks
and valleys. Likewise, at various times the
average age in a Masonic Lodge will shift.
Those who predict a dire return for
Freemasonry based on the number of white-
haired heads on the sidelines at Blue Lodge or
at the Grand Lodge are, perhaps, too myopic.
Whereas all are entitled to their opinions, the
chance of developing a damaging self-fulfilling
prophecy is readily apparent. This is not to
assume a Pollyanna approach of closing one's
eyes to the obvious, or ignoring negative trends,
but rather to caution the doomsayers to take a
broader look at Freemasonry. To be sure, any
vibrant social organization must make changes
to adjust to constantly evolving social trends,
even the Constitution of the United States has
been amended dozens of times, but such growth
and change in Freemasonry can and will occur.
Those who gloomily examine the Masonic
ashes without realizing the Masonic Phoenix
serve the Craft no good function. Such
soothsayers, intentionally or not, create a form
of hypothetical anxiety that is not constructive
to the future of Freemasonry.
Those who see the potential adversity facing
Freemasonry as insurmountable, should heed
the words of such men as William Ward,
"Adversity causes some men to break, others to
break records," or William Shakespeare,
"Sweet are the uses of adversity." We should
not be afraid of change and adversity, they
should be welcomed with open arms. Adversity
and challenge force us to re-evaluate our tradi-
tional methods of conducting business.
Management studies have shown that suc-
cessful people have built strong positive views
of their capabilities. Organizations are mirror-
images of their memberships' abilities and at-
titudes. An organization that is filled with
negativities and forecasters of doom will surely
project that image to the outside world. This is
not a newly-discovered phenomenon, but is a
fact that has been recognized for decades. In
1917, for example, the hotel magnate, E.M.
Statler, sent a memorandum to his subordinates
that said, in part:
"From this date you are instructed to
employ only good natured people, cheer-
ful and pleasant, who smile easily and
often.... If it is necessary to clean house,
do it! Don't protest. Get rid of grouches,
and the people who can't keep their
tempers, and the people who act as if they
were always under a burden of trouble
and feeling sorry for themselves.... Hire
Statler concluded: "I believe that a majority of
the complaints in a hotel are due more to
the guests' state of mind than to the im-
portance of a thing about which he
complains . "
Without the benefit of modern studies,
hotelier Statler seized upon a prime
psychological principle: Attitude precedes per-
formance! This is yet another variation of the
aforementioned self-fulfilling prophecy.
Constant recall of the good old days will not
make the past reappear instead the good old
days were seldom as good as they are
remembered. In 1982, the Grand Lodge of
California took a bold innovative step in
publicizing Freemasonry by inserting colorful
tabloids in newspapers throughout the state
that profiled the Craft, its history, purposes
and activities. This was a bold task taken after
careful consideration that transcended previous
efforts. In Oregon, a television show was pro-
duced that explained away the illcloaked half-
truths that have surrounded Freemasonry, and
gave a clear, logical exposure of the Fraternity.
Only time will tell the worth of such projects
but irrespective of the membership gains, such
projects are repudiations of the nay-sayers and
a commitment toward positive projective steps!
We cannot become so paralyzed by the fear of
failure to become inoperative and do nothing.
There is an oft told story of a very successful
executive who had this truism hand lettered,
framed and hung on his wall where he could see
it every day:
Q. "Tell me hou did you beeome so succcessful?"
A. "Two words.''
Q. "And what are they?''
A. "Right decisions. "
Q. "How did you make right decisions?''
A. "One word . . . experienee."
Q. "And how did you get experienee?''
A. "Two words."
Q. "And what are they?''
A. "Wrong decisions. ''
No social institution can permit itself to
become paralyzed by the fear of failure, the
fear of deviating from past practices because
the past is known and comfortable.
Freemasonry should be looking to the
future, not bogged down in acrimonious fact
find or finding warmth and security in a
glorious past. Too often Masons tend to revel
in the past without planning for tomorrow.
Contemporary society seems to believe that
change-induced problems are unique to this
era, but in the 1770's Adam Smith wrote:
"There is always a deal of ruin in the nation."
Generations of the past have been beset with as
much, if not more, disorder and confusion than
we are now. Our love of the past can be explain-
ed in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most
salient reason focuses on a natural uneasiness
that all people feel when confronting the
It is important to consider the Phoenix in its
entirety and not dwell on its funeral pyre. One
should not reject the potential negative effects
of a dwindling membership, but to dwell on
that single issue is exceedingly myopic. I'he
future should be regarded as an ally, not an
enemy, and plans for creating a smaller, but
better Craft, can develop. As Rudyard Kipling,
a Freemason, so accurately stated, "We have
forty million reasons for failure, but not a
The Royal Bank Of Canada recently
published a newsletter that capsulizes the thrust
of this presentation. The newsletter said:
"The best hope for society lies along the
same lines, in the systematic study of
future probabilities and the develop-
ment of contingency strategies in ad-
vance to deal with them. Change itself
has provided the tools for this in the
form of new technologies, techniques
and academic skills. 'By making the
imaginative use of change to channel
change, we can not only spare ourselves
the trauma of future shock,' wrote
Toffler (author of Future Shock), 'we can
reach out and humanize future tomor-
rows." We now have it in our power to
anticipate change, or to resist it. Which
shall we choose?"
We have a choice. We must choose the
future for as surely as we all shall draw another
breath, tomorrow will arrive, and then the next
year and then the next decade. To ignore the
future is to damn subsequent generations.
The Masterkey to success, for both
Freemasonry and Freemasons, is to understand
what we are and what we can become. We must
undergo a thorough self-examination so we
know our strengths as well as our weaknesses.
As Plato affirmed, "Before you can move the
world, you must move yourself."
If we, as Freemasons, are to be successful in
the twenty-first century, we must internalize
Emerson's sage counsel: "What lies behind us
and what lies before us are tiny matters com-
pared to what lies within us!"
Meaningful self-examination will not come
easily as people, as well as organizations,
follow a simple law of physics: when a body is
at rest, it tends to stay at rest, when a body is in
motion, it tends to stay in motion. We must
stay in motion.
Worshipful Brother Helms resides at 1021
Hiawatha Place, Ashland, Oregon 97520.
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