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?