Sunday, March 17, 2013

Singular v. Plural

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


That simple children’s tale has its origin as early as the seventeenth century, but its message is as timely for today’s adult is it was for yesterday’s child.  Its message is simple: what may seem like a little problem, if left unattended, can create dire consequences. 
I’m certain that the farrier, on finding nails in short supply, did not envision the loss of his master’s kingdom.  In fact, he probably thought that the shoe would hold just fine without the requisite number of nails.  The bucket of new nails was probably way across the village at the smith’s shop, and taking the time to make that journey would set him back in his work.  If he took that time, he wouldn’t get his work finished until after nightfall.  He would probably miss dinner and most certainly, his wife would be furious with him.  This shoe would hold just fine with three nails, he thought.
It is easy to see how this might apply to your Lodge.
On the back of every Lodge notice is a list of the Officers and Committees.  At the top of that list is the Worshipful Master.  Every other Officer and Committee member is a nail in the Lodge’s metaphorical shoe, and when one of those nails fails to perform, the Lodge suffers for it.
Either a Lodge is strong or a Lodge are weak.  My decision to use the singular and plural forms here was intentional.  A Lodge working in the singular, with unanimity, is a strong Lodge.  All the members are of the same mind. They all want what is in the Lodge’s best interest and they all work together to make it possible.  However, when a Lodge is functioning plurally, it has broken itself down into a conglomeration of individuals – each acting in his own interest, building his own power, manipulating, deliberately defying the Master or circumventing the will of the Lodge on the mistaken premise that he is the only right-thinking man there.  That Lodge is no longer a singular unit.  It is rudderless, at war with itself, and hence I would say that such a Lodge are weak.
I would ask you to consider whether your Lodge is or your Lodge are.  It’s probably fairly easy to tell.  How is your attendance?  Would all members feel that their ideas are given a fair hearing or do you have one or two people who think that it’s their Lodge and you’re simply fortunate enough to be sitting in it?  Do the Officers and members cheerfully do what is asked of them by the Master or do they make excuses, complain and deflect responsibility?
A Lodge that is functioning singularly probably would have good attendance – ten percent or better.  Their members could come before the Lodge with ideas and they would be debated in a friendly way.  Debates would be about ways to improve ideas, not sabotage them.  When asked, members would happily do whatever is in their power to help the Lodge.
Conversely, Lodges that function plurally would have more empty chairs than full ones.  Discussions would be dominated by the few personalities who feel that theirs is the only opinion that should matter.  Attempts at innovation would be squashed, and requests for help from the Master would be met with grumbling, complaints and excuses.  People would pay lip service to work, but the rolling up of sleeves would seldom be seen.
If you feel your Lodge is doing well, congratulations.  If you feel your Lodge are not doing well, there is still hope.  One of the first charges we receive as a Mason is to be obedient to the Master and other Officers.  How well are you doing that?  How well are the other members of your Lodge?
In our Opening Charge we are told that “if we are united, our Fraternity must flourish.”  How united are we?  Are there people who perpetually dissent or threaten to take their ball and go home if things aren’t done their way?  Ask them why.  Perhaps there is a problem outside of the Lodge that is driving them.  We are taught to remind our Brothers of their failings and aid their reformation.  That has to begin with a conversation. 
When you have time to reflect, ask yourself whether you are helping your Lodge to function singularly or plurally.  As Mason’s we are to strive constantly to smooth the surfaces of our ashlar.  That requires us to occasionally stop and check the progress.  In preparing this talk, I became aware of areas where I could improve both my attitude and my actions.  If that applies to you as well, I encourage you to do what you can to change.  Don’t be the farrier content with a shabbily-shod horse.  Demand the best of yourself.  Your Lodge, and more importantly, you, will be better for it.

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