THOMAS W. JACKSON
Honorary President and Past Executive Secretary, World Conference of Grand Lodges;
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
Shortly after assuming the position as Grand Secretary, I wrote this little prayer: “Dear God, let me never forget where I came from and let me know when to quit”. One of the greatest concerns that we should have today relative to Masonic leadership is with those leaders who forget their origins and with those who stay on too long.
In all probability, we all have met Masonic leaders who before acquiring the powers that we gave to them were decent and humble, gentle men. Upon assuming this power, however, they forgot “where they came from” and left behind a legacy of arrogance for which they will be forever known.
Other leaders who contributed so much to the fraternity of Freemasonry and paved the way for the rest of us to follow also left behind a legacy they structured for those who will remember them simply as old men and not as the great leaders they were. What a tragedy to be remembered for what they were at the end of their lives rather than for what they gave in the prime of their lives.
In preparing this paper on the subject of Leadership in Freemasonry, I found that it is not the easiest subject on which to write. There is not a great amount of written material available. Therefore, what I write is based on my observations and analysis over the 46 years I have spent in the Craft, all of those as a leader in some capacity.
The great Masonic leaders who preceded us must have been leaders of outstanding vision to have structured an organization the likes of which had never been seen before and frankly has not been seen since. There are no organizations outside of organized religion that has ever impacted the evolution of civil society as has Freemasonry. In that statement I am eliminating those “organizations” that were structured by tyrannical and oppressive powers that limited the rights of man and contributed negatively to that evolution.
The Masonic leaders, however, did not receive their powers through political or religious domination. Masonic leaders could be removed from office by action of the majority of the membership. This in itself was a unique concept back in the days of our early beginnings. Indeed, this concept perhaps paved the way for democratic thought. Freemasonry was one of the enclaves during the Age of the Enlightenment where men could gather and discuss progressive thinking with limited fear from the world outside of the lodge room. From these enclaves, leaders arose, not only leaders of Freemasonry but leaders of the world in multiple disciplines. Some of their names will forever resonate throughout the free world for their contributions to the rights and liberties of man.
Today, however, the Age of the Enlightenment is over. The right to the freedom of thinking is no longer a new phenomenon. Although limitations continue to be imposed by some religious doctrines and some dictatorial powers, these restrictions no longer exists in the free world. Thus, my brothers, leaders of Freemasonry today have a far greater opportunity to extend their visionary powers far into the future. For this reason, when any Masonic leader assumes office he also assumes the overwhelming responsibility of directing this noble Craft along a pathway that will be to the uplifting of mankind and to influencing the ongoing evolution of civil society.
For this to happen, however, today’s leaders need to develop a far greater vision than we are presently experiencing. They also need to have a far greater understanding of not only the significance of Freemasonry but also of the purpose of Freemasonry than they now have. They need to understand the ramifications of failure to promote the basic precepts of the craft and the benefits of success. We have within our grasp the opportunity and the capability of creating an impact on the ongoing development of civilization simply because of the reputation of the great Masonic leaders of the past. But this heritage will only benefit us and the world if we have the Masonic leadership with the vision and understanding to see its potential.
Freemasonry in Eastern Europe today is afforded the opportunity as well as the responsibility to play a major role in this evolution. The strength of the philosophy of Freemasonry has always been greatest where the need of society was greatest. The influence of the leadership of Freemasonry in Eastern Europe should play a vital role in the direction the societies will take in the development of the rights and freedoms of all of its citizens. The philosophy of Freemasonry could very well serve as a template for world peace and for this reason, the leadership in Freemasonry will be extremely important in Eastern European society even as it has in so many societies of the world.
However, this will not be a simple task. As Nietzsche observed: “Life gets harder toward the summit; the cold increases, the responsibility increases and there is never any guarantee of success”. The challenges facing Masonic leadership in Eastern Europe as well as in other areas of the world where freedom of thought and action is a relative new experience could be enormous. For this reason, it is imperative that when assuming office, the Masonic leader must be fully committed to the principles of Freemasonry and not to the development of his own image.
Even as Freemasonry develops leadership to lead Freemasonry, it develops leadership to lead society. Freemasonry has been able to claim many great leaders of the free world among its members and there is nothing wrong with Masonic leaders becoming world leaders so long as Freemasonry is not used as a political tool for self promotion. If it is our goal to take only good men and to make them better, is it not logical that these better men would make great leaders of the free world. In America, we take great pride in the fact that 14 presidents of our country have been members of the Craft along with many other prominent leaders in various political positions.
Unquestionably, the greatest driving force in any leader is his ego. Every leader becomes a leader because he has an ego driving him to excel. And yet, one of the greatest issues facing Freemasonry today is the damaging effect that is caused to the craft by excessive ego in Masonic leadership. Very few organizations confer the amount of power on its leadership as does Freemasonry and unrestrained ego is very much an ongoing dilemma for Freemasonry.
It is therefore extremely imperative that we seek a quality of beneficence in our potential Masonic leaders. The Masonic leader’s commitment must remain a commitment to his Craft, to his brothers and to his society, and not to himself.
One of the primary reasons that I have been supportive of your present Grand Master is as a result of him coming to me shortly after being elected to the position, and telling me “that if I thought it would be a benefit to Freemasonry, he would be willing to step down as Grand Master”. My brothers that is commitment to the Craft
There is nothing wrong with having our egos drive us. Everyone has achieved what we have in life because we had that driving ego. It made us what we are but the legacy we leave behind will depend far more upon our ability to rein in our ego than to use our ego. Masonic leaders must have the capability of avoiding that self-centeredness that has become almost a way of life in present-day world society.
It will always remain a challenge to search out those qualities in brothers that will make them Masonic leaders. They are intangibles, however, and difficult to find because there are no definitive qualities for which to look. There will be nothing specific to define him as a potential Masonic leader. It is not a visible characteristic that he will possess but he will be a man capable of using his knowledge, imagination along with modern tools without losing sight of the ideals and principles upon which Freemasonry was founded.
My brothers, this world is today as it is because Freemasonry lived and because it had great visionary leaders in the past. The world of the future may very well be in the hands of the Masonic leaders of the present. That means for each of us that it is in our hands my friends, whether we lead or whether we seek the leader, it places upon us an awesome responsibility. For society sake, we cannot afford to fail.
(Reprinted from MASONIC FORUM Magazine No. 36)