The question came up with one of my friends on Facebook: “Is there too much Masonry on social media?” By that, he was asking if the dozens and dozens of similar Facebook groups, often with overlapping membership, and all seemingly having the same conversations (and disagreements) over and over is somehow bad for the society. Naturally a few wags jumped in to suggest that the problem was that there wasn’t enough Masonry in the Masons on social media. An amusing retort, but it misses what I think is the real issue.
Social media, specifically the big groups like Facebook, offer an opportunity that we constantly remind new Masons about: the ability to “travel” to foreign countries. On Facebook, you won’t attend a lodge, but you can certainly find yourself in a conversation with someone from a different state in the US, or a Canadian province, or (if you don’t mind the time zone lag) brothers from across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.
American Freemasons are somewhat insulated by the above-named oceans; most of the US practices some version of the Preston Webb lectures, and the variations between most states are fairly minimal, at least in contrast to the workings and customs in lodges in the UK,Scotland, Ireland, France, and other areas. And because most of us lack some exposure to other workings and customs, we often tend to think that our way is “correct,” which leads to long pointless discussions on why you should (or shouldn’t) wear your ring a certain way, or why our English brothers don’t seem to get into arguments about the feminine Masonic orders, or whether the workings should be learned from a book or verbally, or why a tattoo isn’t a violation of one’s Masonic obligations.
I’ve often seen a picture of some brother’s new tattoo or some Masonic item, followed by a few comments like “You forgot your oaths,” or “Why are you displaying the secrets?”or “I take my obligations seriously and would never do anything like that!” or even “Are you even really a Mason?” To me, the disturbing thing isn’t that those commenters didn’t know about the different customs elsewhere, but that they immediately jumped to a conclusion and instead of questioning, responded with criticism. Perhaps when we talk about “the universality of Masonry,” some people make the assumption that Masonry is universally practiced the same way as it is in their lodge, instead of assuming the bigger picture, that Masonry is a way to encompass a universally agreeable set of moral values.
Masons on social media would be better served by giving some thought to their comments before typing. Of course you take your obligations seriously, but why would you assume that the person in question does not? Instead of jumping to conclusions when you see a brother espouse a different opinion, ask yourself what may be different about his lodge, his community, or his Grand Lodge that would cause him to think differently. And if you can’t come up with an answer, then ask him directly. Questions like “Hey, I saw that you have a different way of doing ___. Why is that?” will go a lot further toward spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection than assuming that he’s simply doing something wrong.
You may not be able to actually travel to far-off lands, but thanks to the internet and the various media platforms, you can at least get an idea about the different customs and cultures elsewhere. Freemasons should take advantage of those opportunities to learn about each other because we are, after all, one of the oldest social networks in existence.