“Not Just A Man. A Mason”: What Does It Mean?

Embrace the profound essence of Freemasonry, not merely a group but a journey of integrity, shaping men of dignity.

By adopting virtues such as honesty, justice, and brotherly love, Freemasonry transcends time, urging us towards a dignified life. It’s more than being a man; it’s about living with unyielding dignity.

“Not Just A Man. A Mason”: What Does It Mean?

What do the following events have in common?

· People in the thirteen colonies take up arms due to a tax imposed on them by a faraway monarchy at the end of the 18th century

· People in Paris depose a monarch due to the excessive cost and unavailability of bread at the end of the 18th century

· People take to the streets against police brutality in the riots of 1962, 1992, 2020 and many other instances in the United States of America, France, and elsewhere across the world

· People gather to bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989

· People support the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa at the end of the 20th century

· People rising up against the Covid-19 lockdown in the White Paper Protest in China in 2023

The answer is not freedom, nor liberty, nor economic or political independence. The answer is that in each case, people had their dignity degraded and robbed from them to the point where they could no longer take it.

Consequently, they decided to take a stand against their oppressor in a bid to restore their dignity.

So, what does all of this have to do with Freemasonry? To understand the relationship, we need to understand the meaning of the slogan: “Not Just A Man. A Mason”.

Essentially, we need a clear and simple definition of “a Mason” and “Freemasonry” that encompasses all the different views and understandings.

If we ask ten Masons to tell us what Freemasonry is and what differentiates a Mason from a non-Mason, not only would we get ten different answers, but it is likely that some of those answers would contradict each other. Moreover, some will have real difficulty giving a truly coherent answer.

This may reflect both the richness of experience entailed in being a Mason and the immensity of the philosophical system that is Freemasonry, but it also reflects a shortcoming: a difficulty in coalescing behind a unifying vision and a clear message after more than three centuries of speculative Freemasonry.

Fortunately, I postulate that there is a unifying vision of what “Freemasonry” and “a Mason” are, and this unifying vision may be one of the best-kept secrets of Freemasonry, hidden in plain sight in our ritual book.

· EA degree, in the north-east corner: “Brother AB, you there stand an upright man and Mason, and I give it you strictly in charge ever to walk and act as such before God and man.” What is an upright man? He is a man marked by strong moral rectitude; an honest, just, conscientious, scrupulous, and honorable man (Merriam Webster)

· EA degree, apron presentation: “Let its pure and spotless surface remind you of a ‘purity of life and rectitude of conduct’, a never-ending argument of nobler deeds, for higher thoughts, for nobler achievements.”

· EA degree, lecture, the four cardinal virtues: Fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice; among many direct charges, we are told one additional time, “… Justice, in a great measure, distinguishes the good man, so should it be your practice to be just, ever remembering while standing in the North East Corner of the Lodge, your feet forming the angle on an oblong, your body erect before the WM, you were told that you there stood an upright man and Mason, and it was given you strictly in charge ever to walk and act as such before God and man.”

· EA degree, lecture, truth: “To be good and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry. Hence, while influenced by this principle, hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among us; sincerity and plain dealing distinguish us…”

· MM degree, charge: “Let nothing be more intolerable in your sight than the letting down of yourself to a lower level. Bid men come up to you, but refuse to descend a single step to them. Do not measure your importance by your titles or your money, but by the texture of your character and the cleanliness of your speech. Make other know always that a gentleman stands before them.”

There are many lessons in the rituals worthy of being included in the above list. Here, I have picked the ones which are the most direct, telling the newly-made brother what a Mason is and what is expected of him now that he is a Mason.

These are the first lessons and the first steps of that journey. So, what is the unifying vision of a Mason in the above list of adjectives and expectations? Surely we are not going to enumerate all of them when asked to explain “Freemasonry” and “a Mason” in a few words.

The unifying vision is simply dignity. Freemasonry simply teaches a man how to live life with dignity. A Mason is a man of dignity. Dignity is a concept readily understood by Masons and non-Masons alike, multifaced and quite complex, encompassing all the teachings of Freemasonry, compatible with “a system of morality veiled in allegories and illustrated by symbols”, non-religious, non-political, and contemporaneously sorely needed in our society.

Dignity is not only a unifying vision, but also a unifying thread across all the teachings of Freemasonry. For example, dignity is present in the three tenets of Freemasonry: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

While it is easy to see how a man of dignity will always stand for and defend truth, one may ask how Brotherly Love and Relief are related to dignity.

To understand that, we need to explore the definition of Brotherly Love. Beyond the obvious (that we love each other as brothers), Brotherly Love is the all-encompassing feeling we have when we are present with each other.

It is that space where we treat each other with respect, tolerance, and acceptance; the space where we act with decorum, order, and harmony; that space where we speak in turns, politely, courteously, and gracefully.

In short, it is the safe space where we practice giving and receiving dignity.

Dignity has three dimensions: an outward one refers to how we treat others; a receiving one refers to how others treat us; and an internal one refers to how we view ourselves as dignified people.

Brotherly Love makes us practice treating others with dignity and receiving dignified treatment from others.

It is an essential and fundamental teaching, practice, and enjoyment of Freemasonry, which many if not most active Freemasons cherish. When we fail to instill the practice of Brotherly Love in newly-made brothers, we often fail at the rest of Freemasonry teachings because those brothers usually disappear from our lodges, meetings, and events.

When we learn about dignity and how to practice it when showing Brotherly Love, we become equipped to use this perspective when we are in the outside world. Similarly, we are able to readily identify the lack of dignity thereof and we can thus either restore dignity in that aspect of our lives or extract ourselves from the environment.

In both cases, we are better equipped to exercise dignity and demonstrate the principles of Freemasonry in the profane world. This is how the practice of Brotherly Love reinforces and fortifies the third aspect of dignity: that of how we see ourselves, which grants us the fortitude to live a dignified life when dignity around us may be lacking.

Finally, Relief is the ultimate expression of dignity because in charity, we attend to the needy in a bid to lift them and restore their lost human dignity.

A needy person may be weakened by sickness, age, emotional or physical loss, sorrow, poverty, or homelessness; all of these result in a loss of human dignity. In charity, we contribute to restoring to them their human dignity, and this act keeps a Mason aligned with his fundamental duty.

The Masonic Care Community allows people to live the rest of their lives with dignity; the Masonic Medical Research Institute finds treatments to allow people with certain medical conditions to improve their lives and continue to live in dignity; Hurricane Katrina Relief, Ukraine Relief, and Maui (Hawaii) Wild Fire Disaster Relief are aimed at restoring the human dignity to those who lost it by losing their homes and their loved ones.

I invite each Brother to explore how many teachings across all three degrees relate to the idea of dignity.

I am confident that dignity is the unifying thread of the philosophy of Freemasonry, and the few examples above are just the tip of the iceberg.

For many Masons and most new Masons, the slogan “Not Just A Man. A Mason” is at best a question mark: indefinite words, neither intuitively understood nor yet experienced.

I hope that the above sheds much-needed light on that slogan. However, that slogan has absolutely no meaning to a profane person wanting to join Masonry, though the slogan is intended for the profane candidate who hopes to be a Mason.

If many seasoned Masons cannot define what a Mason is, why should we expect a profane to seek further answers? A better slogan would be one which is intuitively understood by a profane and includes the definition of both “a Mason” and “Freemasonry”.

Dignity must be at the center of the slogan. Obviously, a professional marketer may have more insight into how to spread this idea to the public. However, based on my own ideas, I would propose variations such as: “A Mason, leading life with dignity”; “A Mason, perpetuating human dignity”; “A Mason: a way of living with dignity”.

Dignity is a powerful and fundamental human need, it moves people to revolt, resist, and protest when they are robbed of their dignity.

There has never been a time in the history of human beings when human dignity has not been of vital importance, and our time in history is no different.

Furthermore, in the history of human beings, there has never been a better time than today for men to uphold human dignity at the highest level.

The teachings of Freemasonry and the qualities of the true, dignified Mason in society are contemporary, indispensable, and sought after. We just need to shed a better light on who we already are.

Article by: Ziad Jalbout


Ziad Jalbout is an active member of the L’Union Française No.17, of the 10th Manhattan District, a Past Master of Aurora Grata Day Star Lodge No. 647, of the 3 rd Kings District, and a Past Assistant Grand Lecturer, of the 3 rd Kings District, of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York.

Ziad is a member of the American Lodge of Research, Constitution Chapter 140 of the Royal Arch and Valley of NY Scottish Rite.

Ziad is a graduate of New York University and his area of interest in Masonic research is in English and French Freemasonic history of the 18 th century and the esoteric dimension of Freemasonry.

Ziad is a member of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York.


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