What does it represent?
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Now and then I like to write about Freemasonry, an ancient fraternity I have much respect for. It dates back several centuries, back when operative Masons were building the great churches, cathedrals, castles and other buildings of the time. Working as a group, the Masons of that period would mentor and teach their skills and building techniques to younger members of their group, thereby improving craftsmanship and bonding as a set of trustworthy brothers. Over the years, the society evolved to allow others to join the fraternity in order to build better men.
Today, the Masons are a very tight knit group who actively participate in their communities, promote morality, and come to the assistance of others, not just members of their own group. As the fraternity spread around the world, certain words and handshakes were invented to identify Brother Masons. Such protocol helped establish relationships between Masons, such as that between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World war II. It also opened doors to visiting Brothers and welcomed them to communities, and was used to request assistance in times of peril. The grip between Masons, therefore, is an important symbolic gesture of trust.
The secret to the Masonic handshake is not in how it is given, but what it represents. Those who learn it are taught to subscribe to the three basic tenets of Freemasonry, which are "Friendship, Morality, and Brother Love." This is more than a catch-phrase, it represents how Masons are to treat each other; to meet on the level as friends, the expected rectitude of conduct, and how to work with others, such as offering wise counsel between brothers. Such a handshake creates a bond between people, just as the ancient Masons tried to build in their society of fellow craftsmen.
Most Masons take the handshake seriously and are mindful of what it represents. Unfortunately, there is a small minority of people who join the fraternity for ulterior motives, such as to build a network of contacts to promote their business. Such people learn the customs of the Masons and use them for personal gain as opposed to the three tenets of the fraternity. I personally have a problem with this and refuse to shake the hand of someone I do not believe embraces the true concept of the handshake.
Over the years I have met a handful of Masons who use the handshake for political purposes and have forgotten its original intent. This is a small number of men, but they do exist and, to my way of thinking, besmirch the character of Freemasonry and hurt the society in the process. If you cannot trust the person, there is little point in extending your hand, regardless of their Masonic title.
So, the secret of the Masonic handshake is that it represents a type of relationship and rapport you expect between Brothers. I would like to believe the Masonic handshake is foolproof. Unfortunately, it is not. Without a clear understanding of what the handshake represents, it becomes meaningless and a symbol of the fraternity's decay.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a freelance writer and mnagement consultant in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
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