The Curse of the Black Cube

In a recent conversation with a brother – a new officer of his lodge – the topic of “black balling” a candidate came up. Even non-Masons should understand that the term means a vote against allowing that person to join an organization. In Connecticut, most lodges actually use black cubes; presumably so that they can be more readily distinguished and prevent accidental or unintentional voting.

Please note I’m not saying that this practice has anything to do with the eyesight our aging brothers; the fact that the Friendship Lodge ballot box has a small LED light inside, and the fact that yours truly just recently started wearing spectacles is in no way related.

Anyway, the new officer mentioned that he’d never heard of anyone being black-balled (black-cubed?) in his lodge, and neither had anyone else, even the “old-timers.” He was surprised when I told him that it was my opinion that this was pretty much how it should be; that in fact, I could think of very few reasons why a black cube should be cast for a candidate.

Sure, we can all think of some hypothetical (and in some cases, actual) situations as to why one might cast a “Nay” vote for a candidate. But it’s my contention that, generally speaking, if the Master of a lodge finds a black ball cube in the ballot box, then the lodge is doing something wrong; namely, it is not communicating properly. While there are some circumstances in which this would be unavoidable, for the most part the Master of a lodge should not be surprised at the last minute to see a black cube in the box. Regular members should already know in advance that a particular candidate is being proposed, sponsored, and voted on; there is usually a decent interval during which all this happens, and if a lodge member has some reason to object to a particular candidate, he should raise the issue with either the investigating committee or with the Master well before the voting is to take place.

I have several reasons for this contention. One is that by raising the issue in advance, it gives the member with a concern an opportunity to address the issue to determine if it is indeed a legitimate concern. While one should never discuss openly how one should or would vote for a candidate, if you believe that a candidate (or his sponsor) is not being truthful with the information on a petition, then a discussion with the investigation committee gives them an opportunity to address that concern. Concerns of a more personal nature should probably be addressed in private with the Master, with the understanding that such concerns should be confidential.

Then, too, is the matter of the reputation and sensitivities of the candidate and his sponsors. Should a blackball occur, there is no further discussion; the candidate is simply sent a letter explaining that he was not accepted. But none of this happens within a vacuum; not only could a candidate become angry or hurt, it’s quite possible that he might actively engage in some public retaliation. It’s pretty easy to set up a blog or website and begin posting anti-Masonic rhetoric.

One other thing that is rarely mentioned is the impact a blackball might have upon the brother who proposed or sponsored the candidate. The candidate’s sponsor or proposer could well feel insulted or embarrassed, especially if they have sponsored a family member, old friend, or business associate. Few sponsors, I would imagine, would be pleased at having some discussion beforehand that his candidate presents some concerns; but I can’t imagine any sponsor not feeling upset to be surprised by a “Nay” ballot. Not only would he have to face the candidate later, he must do so without being able to provide any explanation. Worse, wounded pride might cause him to act resentfully toward his brothers.

A lodge, in some respects, is like a small business. Successful businesses work toward good communication between employees, and have clear direction from the managers. But they also have good communication between the management and the employees. Good managers managers who foster open, clear lines of communication are rarely surprised by issues the employees have. Why would the “management” of a lodge operate any differently?

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  1. Jay
    August 22, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    In the three years I’ve been in the lodge I currently belong to, I’ve seen exactly one black cube, and I don’t know if it jibes with anyone else’s experience of cubes, but it soured me on the practice.

    Our lodge has approximately 190 members, but in the time I’ve been there, I’ve only met about 40 of them in total, and only 20 or so come regularly. At the meeting I saw the black cube, three middle aged men I had never seen before showed up. No one knew them except one older member, who confirmed that they really were members of our lodge, long absent. They didn’t mingle before the meeting, and only stayed long enough to cast the cubes. I’ve never seen them since.

    I was shocked when it happened, and I still don’t know what to make of it. All I can imagine is that the candidate must have done something that only they knew about, but for some reason couldn’t share with the rest of us. I just can’t understand why they would stay away from lodge for years, and only appear to keep someone else out, and it really bothers me that they could do that.

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  2. thomas
    October 12, 2007 at 2:11 am

    In the twenty-one years I been in the fraternity,I have seen the black cubes used several times. Accoding to our code book no mason has an obligation to let the lodge or committee investiagating the candidate to know why they might be blacked-balled. the black balls are not only to reject a candidate but also to protect the mason casting the negative vote. The information a mason has in deciding a negative vote might come out if made to the lodge or committee by accident or design. This is why we have the black cubes in our ballot boxes.

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