We all want and desire recognition of some kind, whether or not we are willing to admit it. This desire may drive us to behave honourably, like relieving the wants and necessities of our Brethren, such as in teaching, doctoring, ministering, social work, nursing, parenting, and any other vocation and avocation you may care to name. This same desire for recognition may also drive us to act less than honourably, compelling us to feel jealous or envious, thus leading us to attempt to destroy the good name and reputation of another by telling less than the truth, or by gossiping so as to spread thereby malicious and unfounded rumours, or by physically injuring others by applying physical punishment when they do not give us what we want.
The desire for recognition goes by many names. Call it love, caring, being cared for, affection, attention, competitiveness, ambition. We all need recognition in some form or other, indeed some of us crave it. The desire for recognition is greater in some than others, and for each the desire is greater at some times than at other times in our lives. Yet, it's always there, operating in the deepest and most secret recesses of our personality.
I can suggest ample evidence of this fact. Take Professor Bowlby's studies of orphans. These children, despite good medical care and feeding, without a loving surrogate parent to play with them and cuddle them, could not grow up to be normal, healthy children. Also, consider what is sometimes conceived to be the cruelest and ultimate punishment, namely, rejection, the withdrawal of affection and love, giving someone the cold shoulder, isolating them from other human contact, like solitary confinement in prison. Refusing to speak to someone else, to look at them, to shake hands with them, refusing in any civilized fashion to acknowledge their presence or existence is an attempt to control others through their need for recognition. The ancient Egyptians would remove the names of outcasts from all records, so that there would be no trace or memory of them; so too this practice is continued by the Soviets. Of course, the ultimate acts of rejection are suicide and murder.
Total non-recognition, of course, is the cruelest form of punishment that has ever been devised by the human mind and one to be used sparingly and only as a last resort, if at all. This form of punishment can do untold damage to the psychic fabric of the human personality, damage that is often irreversible, and if employed too widely forms the basis of prejudice and intolerance to an extent that can be disruptive of peace, good order and harmony. It is certainly contrary to the spirit of contemporary Masonry.
Here are some important questions to ask oneself, questions to reflect upon. How do you seek your recognition? How do you give recognition to others? When? How much? For what? Do you go about getting recognition and giving it in constructive or destructive ways? Do you have to please everyone to get recognition, love, attention? Does everyone have to please you before you acknowledge their worth? What is important to you? What does it take before
Brotherly Love and Masonic Principles you acknowledge the presence or worth of a Brother? Whom do you associate with? What kind of recognition do they give you? Please remember that attention, love, affection, recognition can be used to manipulate and exploit people. It can be sincere or it can degenerate into exploitive flattery. Also, be aware of the danger of becoming enslaved to your own craving for recognition.
We can never, it seems to me, eliminate our desire for recognition and remain whole and healthy. Of course, we can also have an unhealthy desire for recognition, too much or too little, or a desire for inappropriate forms of recognition, or an inappropriate desire for recognition. An unhealthy expression of this urge would signal a neurosis of some kind. In such cases the personality is in need of healing, or therapy, or enlightenment.
Masonry is very instructive on the subject of recognition. We are taught what kind of recognition is worth seeking and giving. We are admonished to reward merit, not a person's rank or wealth. There are those who mistakenly think that you are always doing the Masonic thing by being nice to people no matter how they behave, that you must indulge them and give them the recognition they crave. This is a grievous error and a profound misunderstanding of Masonic teaching and the principles of contemporary psychology. This is simply encouraging egotism of the worst kind.
One other desire common to all mankind is the desire for freedom of movement. The desire for progress, growth, and prosperity is endemic in us all. But Masonry teaches us to seek this progress by honest labour and right action. The Charter of Rights properly understood and applied is an acknowledgement of this universal characteristic of human nature, that we are compelled by our nature to desire freedom of movement, to desire to grow and prosper. Unreasonably and unjustly to withhold the opportunity for freedom of movement, to unreasonably restrict an individual's desire for social advancement, personal growth and economic prosperity, is offensive to enlightened human sensibility. This inner drive can be used, of course, to threaten people and to get them to conform in their attitudes and behaviour to our will. We resort to controling individuals through this desire for freedom of movement when we threaten to punish an individual by imprisonment, or threaten to confine them to their room, or threaten to take away the car or threaten to refuse them a visa to travel. In school, we may threaten to fail them. In Masonry we may threaten not to "pass" or "raise" them.
Masonic ritual constantly recognizes this human aspiration for freedom of movement by emphasizing the fact that Masonry is a "progressive" science. Masonry also recognizes the importance of this principle of human motivation by enshrining among its landmarks the right of visitation. We also speak of progressing through the Chairs to the East. The birthright of all Masons is opportunity to receive enlightenment and subsequently wisdom, a fact acknowledged by ancient Freemasonry in its symbolism of assisting the soul in its travel towards the East.
We are constantly on the move, physically and mentally. We seem to prefer in that movement to move to greater light, wealth, knowledge, well-being, understanding, peace. But the desire for freedom of movement may be distorted and become a desire for privilege, for freedom without responsibility, progress without merit, profit without labour. In its most evil expression, we desire liberty without the supremacy of law. This, of course, is anarchy. And we see plenty of evidence of it in the world today. The exaggerated and distorted craving for freedom of movement shows itself as willfulness without due regard or respect for the good of others.
By conscientious planning an effective leader can provide for this great human desire and through tolerance and patience assist others to achieve the lofty ideals to which all good men aspire: brotherly love, relief and truth.
*Remarks addressed at an Emergent Meeting of University Lodge A.F.& A.M., No. 496 G.R.C. February 1988.