Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guest editorial -- The Ballot: Protector of Harmony

On Friday, I invited several Masonic bloggers to submit a guest editorial or essay on the topic of Masonic harmony, unity and discord. This is the second post in this series. This one is by South Carolina Freemason "The Palmetto Bug," who publishes The Masonic Line blog. My thanks goes out to him and to all the bloggers who participate in this series.

— W.S.

The Ballot: The Protector of Harmony
by The Palmetto Bug

In response to Widow's Son invitation for a guest essay I have agreed to wade into somewhat hostile territory in the hopes that his suggested exchange will at least provide a break from some of the petty sniping that has infiltrated our little Masonic oriented piece of the Internet.

Widow's Son posed the topic for the essays: Masonic harmony, unity, and discord. I'm going to stick with the harmony aspect of his suggestion since the absence of harmony automatically destroys unity and creates discord.

Whose harmony are we talking about? I submit that you must start at the Lodge level when discussing this word. Therefore, I'm talking about the Lodge's harmony. If harmony does not exist at the Lodge level then it cannot exist at the district level, the Grand Lodge level, or across Grand Jurisdictional lines.

Without harmony, all else will suffer or be nonexistent. Masonic education, charity, wholesome fellowship, and trust between Brothers will all become secondary and unimportant. The Senior Warden's comments during the opening and closing — at least in the ritual of most jurisdictions — allude to the importance of having harmony in the Lodge. Based on the Senior Warden's words, one could almost say that harmony should be the number one tenet of the Fraternity.

Now, we all know that one cannot make all of the people happy all of the time. With that said, what is a Lodge's greatest tool in preserving harmony? I say it is the ballot. The ballot is the tool, when used properly, that the Lodge employs to preserve its harmony. Please notice that I did not say "spread" harmony. The Fraternity is not currently in the business of spreading harmony. Though the spreading of harmony sounds like a laudable endeavor, it is an utopian ideal that is impossible to implement at this point. A Lodge is only in the business of preserving it own harmony. Attempts at the spreading of harmony would involve allowing just about anyone into the Fraternity and that would actually pose a risk to the existing harmony of a Lodge.

I'll close now by including a portion of a previously published piece of mine. The following was also used in as a Masonic education oral paper that I delivered to my Lodge. Hopefully this will help to illustrate the importance of the ballot and its impact on the harmony of a Lodge.
What is the "will of the Lodge?" More importantly, what is the Lodge?

The Lodge is all of its members... collectively and individually. The Three Musketeers would recognize what I am saying here. "Unus, pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (One for all, all for one)."

This relates directly to the process of electing new members to the Lodge. The creators of the secret, unanimous ballot knew what they were doing and they had it right when they created the system. They knew what some seem to have forgotten, which is that the Lodge is more important than the petitioner. The harmony of the Lodge is more important than the petitioner. Remember, the petitioner is not yet a Brother. He is not yet of the Lodge and he is just a profane who is seeking light. That may sound harsh, but it is the naked truth.

Now, let me speak on the reason the ballot must be unanimous, or nearly unanimous in certain Jurisdictions. The Lodge decides who becomes a member. Not a majority of the Lodge... but THE Lodge (I wish I could emphasize that even more). Remember the phrase, "All for one, one for all." The creators of the ballot system knew that the task of deciding on whether or not to admit new members was so important, and had such far-reaching implications, that it could not be left to the few or even to a majority. All of the members have to decide. The Lodge has to decide. Majority rule, though currently the best system for society, creates conflict. Unanimous rule, though utopian at this time for general society, creates harmony.

I'll now examine why the ballot is secret. Too easy. Why is your vote for the next President secret? See, even the profane have figured this one out. A voter or a balloter must have complete freedom to go with his conscience. Requiring him to divulge his vote or ballot and/or provide a reason for his decision can influence his action and, thereby, remove some of the freedom that a secret vote or ballot guarantees.

Are good men sometimes denied membership? Of course. It happens. You have to keep in mind, though, that the harmony of the Lodge trumps any perceived "rights" of the petitioner. Masonically speaking, the petitioner has no rights.
— The Palmetto Bug

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  1. Harmony was never defined in this piece.
    Is Harmony more than one thing to more than one individual?

    Is harmony right?
    It is harmonious to have a Lodge filled with Racists, does that make it Right?

    Harmony may need to be defined to see if it is applicable to the secret ballot?

    secretly, only racists may be voted in, and good men kept out, according to PB that is OK.?

    Har´mo`ny Pronunciation: här´mô`nŷ n.
    1.The just adaptation of parts to each other, in any system or combination of things, or in things intended to form a connected whole; such an agreement between the different parts of a design or composition as to produce unity of effect; as, the harmony of the universe.

    2.Concord or agreement in facts, opinions, manners, interests, etc.; good correspondence; peace and friendship; as, good citizens live in harmony.

    I see that North Carolina is in Harmony with the rest of Freemasonry, when is South Carolina join this Harmonious Brotherhood?

    Or is it more harmonious to still be racist?

    Harmony is more than "my way or the highway!"

  2. One thing though about the usefulness of the democratic ballot box: What protects us in Freemasonry against the Tyranny of the Majority and Mob Rule in the use of the ballot box?

    In the United States, our Founding Fathers envisioned the tensions present in democratic states and recognized that you had to provide checks and balances for both minority and majority factions in order to promote the peace and harmony of a Republic.

  3. Unfortunately, the "one-strike-you're-out" method of balloting as championed by the essayist can cause the exact opposite of harmony. It allows a spiteful individual to singularly impose his will upon an entire Lodge. Masons, generally, don't like that.

    Justa Mason

  4. I imagine that is why many US states require 3, rather than 1 "nay" vote to turn down a candidate. It prevents mistaken votes (guys who can't see well enough to know what color ball they grabbed) and it prevents one single person from causing a lot of dissension.

    While the idea of a unanimous vote has some good points, consider: the candidate has been interviewed by at least 3 others, and has met two other members during petitioning. If any of those 5 or more members had an issue, it should come up before, not at, balloting.

  5. Mercy - some of y'all can turn a well-meaning article into such a mess.

    2 Bowl Cain: My article was never meant to define harmony. It was meant to illustrate that the harmony of the Lodge (whatever it is that makes that Lodge work in harmony) is more important than the petitioner's "right" to join Freemasonry. Your racism comments are undeserving of a response. I recommend knocking that cowchip off of your shoulder.

    Stoic: The interesting thing about a Masonic ballot (in those GJs that use the unanimous ballot) is that each person has as much power as everyone else - combined. I don't point that out as a good or bad idea but just as an interesting thought. It is pretty profound when you think about it. The individual is as powerful as the group.

    Justa Mason: Please notice that I said, "The ballot is the tool, when used properly, that the Lodge employs to preserve its harmony." The key words were, "when used properly."

    Tom: My GJ mandates a second ballot for the primary purpose of correcting any "mistaken votes." I do agree that any issues should come up from those initial five sponsors and investigators. I preached on that same ideal when I took the East. The secret ballot is still a Masonic legal right (in most GJs), however, and we have to respect that. Freemasonry is not a majority ruled organization. It is an "all for one, one for all" ruled society when it comes to allowing entrance to new members. There is a certain phrase coming from my GJ's closing MM charge, that I am not at liberty to repeat outside of the Lodge, that brings this idea home to me.

  6. It seems that there are some that blame a lack of harmony in some lodges and injustice in others on the secrecy of the ballot and the requirement that it be unanimous for a candidate to be admitted. I must disagree.

    The lack of harmony and the injustice is not due to the ballot, but in spite of it.

    Somewhere along the way, someone failed to practice enough care, and the quality of men that were allowed into Masonry diminished. We admitted those who were more interested in themselves than the lodge.

    These men abused the ballot box and the problem grew. Now that problem is out of control.

    But I believe that the problem will run its course and correct itself

    . The lodges that have been infected with this disease will either fight off the infection or will submit to it and die out.

    In time, the problem will correct itself.

    Patience brothers.

  7. The key words were, "when used properly."


    I was visiting a lodge in which they were balloting on several candidates at once, all of whom were well recommended and investigated. When there seems to be little doubt as to the fitness of the candidates, some lodges vote on all of them at once.

    It was a hot day, no A/C, they had much business to conduct... so naturally there was a black cube. This forced a re-ballotting on each candidate individually.

    Naturally, all three passed.

    My assumption was that somebody dropped in a wrong token. But later - much later - somebody told me that a particular lodge member had been in the habit of objecting to the idea of ballotting on several candidates at one time, and intentionally dropped in a black cube in order to force an individual ballot.

    Apparently, that's not how they did it in the old days, and he didn't countenance any changes.


    While I agree on principle that proper use of the ballot is one tool to maintain harmony in and among the lodge, it's also easily used as a tool to create disharmony - perhaps not intentionally, but by allowing personal piques to undermine the desire of the rest of the members.

  8. "While I agree on principle that proper use of the ballot is one tool to maintain harmony in and among the lodge, it's also easily used as a tool to create disharmony - perhaps not intentionally, but by allowing personal piques to undermine the desire of the rest of the members."

    So the desire of the rest of the members to have a man join the lodge outweighs the desire of one member to not admit a man that he feels is unworthy of being called brother?

    My point is that we are voting on wither or not to admit an outsider into our circle of brothers. The lodge room is a very personal and even spiritual place for me and I share a personal and spiritual bond with my lodge brothers. I do not want someone admitted into that without my consent.

    Does the ballot get abused, yes. In that you are absolutely right. However, what we are protecting, on brother's right to protect his ability to feel comfortable in his lodge, is much more valuable than what we may be giving up.

    Does racism bother me? Absolutely. But it will die out, in time.

  9. So the desire of the rest of the members to have a man join the lodge outweighs the desire of one member to not admit a man that he feels is unworthy of being called brother?

    No. This is a shaky tightrope to walk, and we both recognize that the power to abuse the black ball vote is - or can be - difficult to resist.

    A member should be able to blackball a candidate who makes him feel uncomfortable for some reason - lack of job security, criminal history, and personal or family quarrels have all been used as reasons, and we have to support that.

    But what of the member who blackballs a candidate out of bigotry and prejudice? Is he acting in the best interests of the lodge, or for himself? Yes, these men will die out - eventually. But are they, themselves, affecting the harmony and growth of the lodge by continuing their practices?


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