By: Lance Card, Senior Deacon, Damascus Lodge #10 F&AM of Utah
Faith, Hope, and Charity. These are the three Masonic Graces most commonly displayed to the Public. Of these three, the greatest is Charity. Often, when we think of charity, our many philanthropic associations come to mind, or the lessons learned in the Entered Apprentice degree are what we focus on. Within this article, I’m going to recommend to you another kind of Charity. A charity is often one of the most difficult to give. Charity to yourself.
Overcoming the Impression of Selfishness
The thought of applying charity to oneself is likely mistaken as selfishness. Indeed, when the subject of charity is brought up people tend to think of the most common definitions of the word; organizations whose design is to generate money, food, clothing, housing, etc. for people in need; volunteering time, money, or goods to such organizations; even generosity in judgment, a kindness, and consideration of a fellow human being. Each of these definitions is pointedly external in nature. The noble characteristic of charity seems to be solely the domain of the exterior, a gift to others, certainly not to be applied to oneself.
My contention is that without applying charity to yourself, you cannot fully apply it to others and are then thusly incapable of fully and genuinely understanding the principle as it is taught in Freemasonry.
As an organization bent on the singular purpose of guiding good men along the path of becoming better men, we naturally attract those who are subject to introspect. Men who consider their own shortcomings with open and honest eyes truly need the leniency of Self Charity, for there isn’t one amongst us who can claim perfection. Every day brings with it new opportunities to improve, but it also delivers to each of us a laundry list of errors in behavior, thought, and assumption.
A man once said to me when considering joining the Fraternity, “I am already very aware of my failures, why would I want another organization to point them out to me?” Various iterations of this phrase are birthed in the minds of men on a more frequent basis than we are likely aware. We must learn to daily apply compassion, kindness, tenderness, understanding, and gracious forgiveness to ourselves. We must practice Self Charity.
The Power of Self Charity
One changed heart can be a light for many. – L.M. Fields
Our exterior reflects our interior condition. Our spiritual health and growth are equally as important as our physical and mental condition. When our spirit is shadowed and harried by self-deprecation, self-loathing, self-doubt, self-disappointment, or any other negative pallor, such is the ambiance of our character. We exude the paint of our soul. Some call this an aura, some accept it as mood, others still associate this feeling as, “something just isn’t right with that person.”
When we are light of heart, having forgiven ourselves our shortcomings, we become approachable. We are liberated from the burdens of error, repentant of our mistakes, and painted in warmer, more inviting colors of the soul. People with which we interact are aware of this disposition and are drawn to it. Unladen, we make great strides in self-improvement—markedly so—and this too is recognized by our associations.
People are drawn to Light, and when we apply Caritas to ourselves, we can glow.
How To Apply Self Charity
A simple concept, Self Charity, yet many struggle against their own minds when attempting to engage in the practice. Dr. Robert Enright, Ph.D., wrote, “Self-forgiveness is not quite the same as forgiving other people, although both have common features. When forgiving others, you struggle to be good to those who are not good to you. When you self-forgive, you offer, perhaps for the first time in years, a love for the self even though you let yourself down by your actions.”
That’s the first step; you must forgive yourself, and this could very well be a daily or even hourly process. Obviously, this is an exercise in and of itself, and there are many books, Ted Talks, and podcasts that cover various methodologies. Compiling information from these different sources results in the following:
- Two of the greatest enemies of growth and change are arrogance and ignorance. Zen Buddhists have a great proverb that illustrates this: “Face reality and effortless change will take place.”
- Be intrigued by your behavior, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Be detectives who explore the mystery of the self. One Ted Talk suggests, when the inner critic starts pounding away, know that your inner nurturer is a refuge and an ally. Observe and note the way that your inner critic behaves and chart courses that lead you around those reefs to the safe harbor of your inner nurturer. You must be the Jane Goodall in your own mind. Make a record of your responses and behaviors, don’t run from them, don’t hide them. You will only overcome through the application of a scientific remedy that nurtures your soul, and you can only achieve this through a scientific process.
- Talk to yourself and about yourself, the way you talk to someone you care about. Inner monologues happen all the time. Take control of the monologue, remove the inner critic from the driver’s seat. Try regarding your inner critic as something that lacks credibility—imagine it as a ridiculous character, like a silly cartoon villain. Argue against your inner critic to win.
- Recognize that beliefs do not equal truths. Beliefs and feelings better serve you as supporting characters in your play of life. Too often, human beings allow their feelings and their beliefs to drive their actions and words when the better method is to establish a position from logic and develop your ideas from this position. When you do this—again, debating against the inner critic—you begin to see truths, and these truths win over self-condemnation.
- Embrace the concept of “good enough.” Perfection is the domain of deity. Yes, striving for perfection is admirable, but to think you can attain it in this life is foolish. Inventory your strengths and learn to accept compliments. The next time someone compliments you, try saying, “thank you,” and stop there.
Years ago, I was designing websites for a living. The company’s sales team was very adept at selling these sites, and we were extremely backlogged. The expectation was to have five designs accepted by clients every day. Coming from a more traditional approach to design, I scoffed at the idea. Then, it was pointed out to me that the nineteen-year-old who sat behind me was doing nine to ten designs a day that was being approved by the clients. Keep in mind, this is just the design stage, no coding or programming yet. The secret? Settle for “good enough” and let the client either approve it or guide me to an approval. Once I accepted this concept, I was designing and having accepted fifteen to sixteen a day. I’ve applied this concept to other aspects of my life, and it has been advantageous.
- If you hate yourself for mistakes you made, make amends. Psychologist and self-compassion researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., explains: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?” Self-hatred is often focused on the past—a painful moment or emotion like shame or guilt, anger or embarrassment, or a sense of powerlessness. In that space, there is no room to forgive ourselves or embrace who we are.
Do your best to stay in the present and focus on how far you have come. This may feel uncomfortable or different, but over time, it will help you to decrease self-hatred and gain self-compassion.
If you have people in your life who always remind you of your past failures, it is time to trim the fat. Remove them from a position of influence. If necessary, remove them from your life.
Have you heard of the term, gamify?
verb: gamify 3rd person present: gamifies past tense: gamified past participle: gamified gerund or present participle: gamifying
apply typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to (an activity), typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.: “I like to gamify parts of my life to keep things fun” “to really gamify the process, you’d need to equip the cameras with guns.”
To keep myself on track, I’ve gamified my life. Each night during self-assessment, I review my behaviors, thoughts, and words as far as I can remember them and, based on a simple scoring system, determine what level of Manliness I achieved for the day. Boy, Dude, Guy, Man, or Gentleman. Do what you need to do, but take action today. Even if you don’t think you are hard on yourself, you may be surprised once you start observing.
The purpose of Freemasonry is to provide a means by which good men can become better men. We do not actively recruit. We do not invite. We are an advertisement. We are the recruitment office. If the office lights are out, everyone will think it closed. To keep the lights on, practice Charity on yourself.