|I begin with the notion that man
is a social being and that, as a consequence, there must be, as a matter of
survival, constant interaction, not only between individuals on a one-on-one
basis, but also between social groups. Co-existence has, therefore, been one
of the ideals towards which the majority of us have been cultured to aspire,
despite the Adolph Hitlers, the Osama bin Ladens, the Sadam Husseins, the Ariel
Sharons, the George Bushs, the Tony Blairs, and others too many to mention
We have, in the course of our history, developed certain attributes which we
call virtues and which we consider to be qualities, if acquired, that can mould
our characters and facilitate minimum friction in our relationships with each
other and so lead us in the direction of a Utopia. High on the list of those
attributes are the virtues Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage, which are reputed
to establish the foundation for a successful or satisfying life. Indeed, no
matter what your level is in society, no matter the trade in which you are
engaged, no matter the profession you practice, or what business you operate,
your success or satisfaction in life depends largely on your ability to deal
with other human beings. But note that a successful life is not always or necessarily
synonymous with a satisfying life.
is success? The answer certainly depends largely upon one’s
concept of success. For some, success is wealth. For others, it is celebrity,
adulation from fawning fans, instant recognition in public, or being frequently
mentioned in the press. For still others, it means power. These concepts,
however, I would suggest, are some of the rewards bestowed on successful
persons. Success ought really be reaching the goal you have set for yourself.
Successful people are in reality driven by something less tangible and more
personal: the excitement of achievement or self-satisfaction. Wealth, Celebrity
and Power accrue as a consequence of success but do not necessarily bring
with them inner peace and self-satisfaction. Horace Greely, an American journalist
and politician, placed the popularly accepted symbols in perspective when
he said, “ Fame is vapour; popularity an accident; riches take wings.
Only one thing endures and that is- character”. Therein lies the
nuance of difference between the notions of Success and Self-satisfaction.
There is and has ever been an ongoing search for Wisdom, Benevolence and
Courage, virtues which are said to form the foundation for a satisfying life,
(as I have mentioned before). These attributes have been espoused throughout
the ages by philosophers, theologians, personality theorists, and even writers
of fairy tales.
For example, Plato said, ‘ The virtues of an ideal State are Wisdom,
Courage and Temperance. Justice is also found there. The same virtues appear
in the life of a well-ordered individual.’ Aristotle said, ‘ Wisdom
is the result of training and habit; between callousness and flattery is
Benevolence, and between Cowardice and Rashness is Courage.’ In Christianity
we find in Proverbs Chap. (ii) v 1-9 Chap (iii) v 13-20 “ Yea if thou
criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding ;If thou
seekest her as silver and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt
thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.’ Shakespeare
wrote in Henry VI, Part II, ‘….ignorance is the curse of God,
knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to Heaven.’ Sir Francis Bacon
- writing in The New Atlantis about a utopian society in which the King
a memory above all others (wisdom), a heart wholly bent to make his kingdom
happy (benevolence), and the courage to build his concept into reality.
And in the fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, we find characters obsessed with
Over 2500 years ago, Confucius pointed out that the three
Virtues of a successful person are Wisdom, Benevolence and Courage. Confucius
was concerned with
the development of virtue and the formation of character as the basis of
familial, social, and political order. He shared with modern Christianity
a belief in the moral force of ideals. For example, the Golden Rule of
doing to others what you would have them to do to you; honouring one’s
parents; and a high moral standard in human affairs. Confucius focused his
on making people better in this life and with his exceptional love of learning,
self-improvement and moral principles, he became the most renowned teacher
in Chinese history.
In his Analects he said,
that is really wise can never be perplexed.
He that is really benevolent can never be unhappy.
He that is really courageous can never be afraid.
As Freemasons, we are wont to proclaim publicly that Freemasonry makes a
good man better. Our Temples are adorned with the names of Virtues, (among
them, Wisdom, Benevolence and Fortitude or Courage) which we are taught to
admire. Our Rituals are replete with examples of legendary characters whose
lives, we are told, exemplify those Virtues; but do we really do anything
more than admire Virtues? In my humble view, we have not been sufficiently
pro-active with respect to the everyday application of these virtues in our
lives. I doubt whether we ever attempt to focus on the effect of combinations
of these very attributes as a recipe for success or self-satisfaction in
Some time ago, I came across a publication entitled, “ From Confucius
to Oz.” by one Vernon Crawford, which I believe was intended as a manual
to success in business and life generally. I found this book quite interesting
and I have adapted and cited some of its passages as they relate to the subject
matter of this address, which is an attempt to move us Masons from the status
of mere admirers of the Virtues to one of persons who develop our character
by actively inculcating those Virtues which we so admire. You may ask, ‘How
can this be achieved?’ Vernon Crawford advocates, following Confucius,
Wisdom ,benevolence and courage: these are the three universal virtues. Some
practise them with the ease of nature ; some for the sake of their own advantage
; and some by dint of great effort.”, that “Alone, neither great
wisdom, sincere benevolence nor unlimited courage will help you reach your
goals and attain success”.
Let us then try to understand the meaning, nature and role
of each of these virtues and see how we can incorporate them in our task
of character building,
for as Confucius said ; “ If you have faults, do not fear self-improvement.” Let
us then go forward in that quest.
First is the virtue – Wisdom.
Wisdom cannot be acquired hastily. Patience, planning and practice are essential
components of Wisdom. The capacity for wisdom lies within all of us and can
be developed if we are willing to climb the wisdom ladder repeatedly, the
rungs of which are ; goal setting, learning, study, implementation, experience
Confucius said, “ Do not be desirous to have things done quickly;
do not look at small advantages. Desire to have things done quickly prevents
them from being done thoroughly. Looking at small advantages prevents
great efforts from being accomplished. When the mind was disciplined
by study, the remarkable harmonies of Nature would become plain. One
has to fill oneself with knowledge like the vessel. Upon knowledge gained,
indwelling truth would act as a yeast, forcing the mind to assume its
These, then, are the rungs of the Wisdom ladder:
GOAL-SETTING. If we do not know where we want to go, we become apathetic—any
place will do. Going through life with no goals in mind, is like going
through life without vision. Goals create a vision of our future achievements.
LEARNING. Learning what is already known about a subject forms the
foundation for Wisdom.
STUDY. Without study, goals will not be achieved. The path to success
must be paved with knowledge. Confucius said, “ Study
as if you were never to master it; as if in fear of losing
it. To be fond of
learning is near
to wisdom, and the wise is never of two minds. If one learns
but does not think, one will be bewildered. If one thinks
but does not learn
one will be imperilled.”
Studying is using data to make decisions. Knowledge is power; ambiguities
abate and decisions are made easier when you have the appropriate information.
IMPLEMENTATION. Unused knowledge represents a waste of the most precious
human commodity – creativity. An idea not acted upon is like a crop not harvested.
Ask yourself the question, What separates people who apply their knowledge
from dreamers who fantasize and procrastinate ? The answer must be –COURAGE.
EXPERIENCE. Experience evolves from learning, studying and implementing.
There is no substitute for experience. Doctors gain experience by treating
Lawyers by trying cases, businessmen by conducting transactions. Although
it takes time to gain experience, it is not the exclusive domain of the
Diligence and careful attention, more than age, bring experience. Anyone
who applies knowledge consistently acquires experience.
JUDGMENT. Acting wisely requires judgment, often referred to as “ common
sense”. Common sense is the ability to make sound decisions and is developed
by making numerous trips up the wisdom ladder. Good judgment cannot be learned
from books alone nor can it be passed from one person to another. Good judgment
is acquired through our individual experience. Confucius said, “ All
men are alike in their nature, but become more different through
The second Virtue is - Benevolence.
Benevolence is a behaviour which anyone can acquire and develop.
Confucius admitted that Benevolence is difficult to achieve, but
he said, “ Whether
we accede to benevolence depends solely on ourselves and not on others.” Benevolence
implies morality: cultivating a sense of right and wrong. Benevolent people
always proceed from the belief that if one does what is right, worries and
fears disappear, and ventures will end successfully. But Benevolence must always
be integrated with Wisdom and Courage. The clichés, “ What you
sow you will reap” or “ What goes around comes around”,
are exactly accurate when we practise Benevolence. The benevolent
deeds you do
will be reciprocated. When you smile at people, they will, most
times, smile back at you. The glorious feeling of Benevolence comes
to a feeling
of spirituality and goodness. The truly benevolent person can see
the beauty of the world, feel the warmth of friendship, and understand
of emotions. The goodness of our very souls is expressed through
our benevolent thoughts and deeds.
Wishing others well indicates concern for the welfare of
others and is a very special aspect of human behaviour. In the self-centred
world of today’s “ Me
Generation”, courtesy, politeness and respect for the rights of others
are often forgotten or subordinated by self-interest. Truly benevolent
people recognize the worth of others and are most willing to openly express
friendliness, and consideration to others.
To develop Benevolence, you must be convinced that being
kind and considerate is the best way to conduct yourself in life. Benevolent
types listen more
than they talk; they refrain from harsh words, and speak pleasantly. Benevolent
people are empathetic and help others who are troubled. Generous, good-hearted,
charitable, well-wishing and loving are adjectives that are most often
used to describe a benevolent person. But Benevolence must be tempered with
for as Confucius said, “ To love Benevolence without learning
is bound to lead to foolishness.”
Benevolence is the most overlooked and ignored characteristic of success.
Benevolence is not weakness or letting others trample you. A sense of right
and wrong and a concern for others epitomize Benevolence. Benevolence pays
off because it makes you and people around you feel good. It fosters self-respect
and a feeling of self-worth, the absence of which makes the other fruits
of success hollow and meaningless.
The third and final virtue for consideration in this address is, COURAGE.
Confucius said, “ The man of courage pursues
his objectives fearlessly. The man of courage is never afraid.
Faced with what is right
and to have
it undone, indicates a lack of courage.”
Wisdom and Benevolence may make you self-satisfied, but without Courage
you cannot be successful. The faint-hearted seldom succeed. Courage means
assertiveness and the willingness to take risks. It also means self-reliance
and inventiveness. But unconventional thinking and innovation invite criticism,
and Courage is required, that is the Courage to withstand adverse comments
and possible failure. Independent thought, self-confidence and other courageous
characteristics separate the successful from the unsuccessful. Courage is
an indispensable component in the character and behaviour of successful people.
However, unbridled Courage begets recklessness.
Courage is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “ a quality of
mind, or temperament that enables one to stand fast in the face of opposition,
hardship or danger.” However, courageous action depends on the particular
situation in which you may find yourself and in the context of this address,
we are concerned with character building, it is the decision to choose
the path which you believe within yourself is the right one and to distinguish
right from wrong.
Courage lies between cowardice and recklessness. Courage not tempered with
Wisdom and Benevolence often leads to over-zealous, reckless actions and
a failure to reach goals. The courageous person never loses sight of his
goal and marshals Wisdom and Benevolence in pursuit of his objectives. Blind
courage, more often than not, misses the mark. Anxiety and fear, the companions
of cowardice, inhibit Courage. Inappropriate fear lies at the core of cowardice.
The most common fears are, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, and most
of all, fear of failure.
Fearing rejection, a person hesitates to displease others. Similarly, one
may not act if one is thin-skinned and greatly fears criticism.
Linked to the fear of criticism is the most deadly fear --- the fear of
failure. This fear inhibits Courage.
When a person gives in to these fears, he may be less anxious and may feel
more comfortable ; but he pays a terrible price.
Cowards do not reach their goals. They lose self-respect, and self-esteem,
making it more difficult to be courageous in the future.
Courageous people are not necessarily people who have no fears. Anxiety
and fear are emotions which everyone experiences occasionally. But courageous
people realize that despite all their anxieties and fears, only a small percentage
of negative consequences they envision actually come to pass. By acknowledging
anxiety, and recognizing that it is unfounded in most cases, one can keep
fears in perspective. By keeping your anxieties in perspective you can learn
to take risks,stand up for yourself, and avoid having others taking unfair
advantage of you.
People with a balanced, prudent, benevolent and courageous profile are confident,
well-adjusted and self-reliant individuals. When things go wrong, rather
than blame others for their failure, they look to themselves for solutions.
As men and Freemasons we have been inculcated with and immersed
in a knowledge of and an appreciation for these most important virtues,
as perhaps no
other grouping of human beings have. Let us, therefore, recognize our weaknesses
and faults. Let us follow the advice of Confucius, who says “ If
you have faults, do not fear self-improvement.”
We must now take our courage in our hands and import into
our lives, in a very practical and empirical way, these attributes which
we readily ascribe
to our Creator, and thereby make ourselves really better human beings,
so that when the time comes for “ the soul to take wing through the boundless
and unexplored expanse” towards the very source of our being, we can
truly say, each of us, “ I have marked well.”
Hon. Justice Bro. Joseph B. Alfred, P.A.G. Reg.
Deputy DGM Bahamas & Turks District, E.C.