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Subduing the Passionettes

November 16, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

A 75 year old man who shows up at lodge and says “I’m here to take my MM degree.”

The brothers are confused by this, as nobody seems to know him. He insists that he was initiated and passed fifty years earlier, so the secretary checks into the old records. Sure enough, there’s his name.

The WM is curious. “You took two degrees over 50 years ago,” he asked, “so why are you coming back for the MM now?”

The old man replied “It took me this long to learn to subdue my passions.”
So, a while back I was having a  contentious heated spirited discussion with a member of a local religious group, in which she remarked with some exasperation “Oh, you Masons all stick together, anyway.”

“There’s a reason for that,” I quipped, thinking about our tenets of admitting men who are upright, moral, and of good repute. “Our membership requirements are more stringent than yours.”

Five seconds after I said this, I wondered “Is this the face of Masonry that I want displayed?” Yes, it was a great line – but did I really want it to be the impression of Freemasonry that she was going to take away from our discussion?

Unfortunately, I was six seconds too late. 

“OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?”
— Zaphod Beeblebrox

We tend to think of “the passions” as big, almost uncontrollable emotional outbursts; Arousal, excitement, fear, and other intense reactions are all part of the human package that we try to control, so as to keep our excitement from overruling our common sense and doing something that is harmful to ourselves or to others. When we are charged to subdue our passions, we aren’t told to ignore them entirely – that would turn us into emotionless robots. Rather, we are cautioned to be aware of our actions and how those actions will affect those around us.

Most people, of course, do not have expansive, passionate outbursts on a regular basis; consequently, those around us are generally not harmed by such things.  We often forget – or don’t realize – that the little moments are much more likely to affect somebody, simply because they are more opportunities for them.

I was thinking about this because of something that happened the other day. I was at a seminar given by the Grand Lodge, and near the end, I was in the open area selling books and pins and other neat little trinkets that Masons like to pick up at these occasions. We aren’t set up to be a small sales shop, and we had boxes of books and pamphlets all over. Neither did we have a cash register, although most of the items were charged in even dollar amounts. I said “most” because there were a few items that required coins, something that we didn’t have. Most of the guys who bought a $3.50 or $7.50 item simply told us to keep the change, but one brother, who bought something earlier,  did not. He told the person working the area that he would come back later when there was a chance that we’d have coinage.

He came back at the very end, just a few minutes before we closed up. I was working, and when he explained the situation, I looked around for something that would be worth the fifty cents to him. Exasperated (because I was the only one selling and was trying to take care of several people), I simply gave him back an entire dollar and told him not to worry.

Later, as we were getting ready to pack up, I was complaining to the other guys about the setup,  wondering aloud why we had such odd pricing on items, and mentioned the incident to them – noting that I just gave the guy back a buck. I mean, who worries about fifty cents, right?

A few minutes later, a gentleman walks over to the table and says “I’d like to donate something to the cause.”

“Cool,” I replied, “Thanks so much. We always appreciate any donations.”

He handed me a dollar and walked away.

I put it in the cash box and continued to pack up the books and papers, chatting away, when it dawned on me.

“I think that the guy who just donated a dollar was the guy I was talking about earlier,” I told my counterparts.


Now, here’s the thing. I’d already given back the dollar and put it out of my mind – mostly – in order to go on to other customers. So, why did I bother to complain about it later? The brother was certainly within his rights to expect change, be it fifty cents or a penny. I have no idea what his personal situation is like – that fifty cents might have allowed him a coffee for the ride home.

But I allowed myself to get annoyed; or more accurately, I allowed myself to display that annoyance to anyone passing by. As a result, I made that brother feel guilty enough to give back the dollar that I had earlier given to him.

Why should he have felt guilty just because I was annoyed?

Certainly I hadn’t meant for him to hear me. In  fact, I was more annoyed over the inconvenient pricing than anything else; but as a result of a lack of temperance and moderation on my part, he probably walked away from that seminar with a sour attitude. He certainly didn’t deserve that.

“Tact is knowing how to say
the nastiest things in the nicest way.”

— Dorothy Parker

What do we call those little lapses of judgement, those small slips of tact and discretion, anyway?

I used to have a reputation for dry wit that bordered on. . .  actually, went well over the line into the sarcastic. But over the last few years, since I’ve been a Mason, I’ve learned to smooth and polish that particular section of my ashlar, and during that time, I’ve also learned how to be a little more tactful, and a little more considerate of others. 

Well, most of the time.

Little incidents, like the one from last week, serve to remind me how important it is to think before I speak – if only out of simple consideration for those around me. No, it’s not the same as learning how to subdue those big, emotional reactions – in fact, it’s a lot more difficult, because in my future actions with mankind, I have a many more opportunities to say something cutting, hurtful, or just plain thoughtless. But because I have more opportunities for such interactions, I also have that many more opportunities to circumscribe and keep myself within due bounds, and, perhaps, to set an example for those people, who may set an example for others. 

Just one little section at a time.


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