Years ago, I used to assist with the Ninth Degree of the Scottish Rite, Elu of the Nine at the Valley of Savannah Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. I was one of the Elu and we would light a candle and name one of the nine special virtues of the Degree which serve as additional weapons for the Mason: disinterestedness, courtesy, devotion, firmness, frankness, generosity, self-denial, heroism, and patriotism. I was always given “disinterestedness”; I think because it was hard to pronounce and I was the young guy that would take whatever he was given.
The Nine Elus of the Degree were those selected to search for the murderers of Hiram that represent ignorance, error and intolerance. The attributes of: disinterestedness, courtesy, devotion, firmness, frankness, generosity, self-denial, heroism, and patriotism are those that will destroy these ruffians whose goal is to destroy the best in human nature.
I recently mentioned disinterestedness in a conversation and the people I was talking to did not understand the term; many think that it means uninterested or a lack of interest. It actually means something very different. The definition is, Disinterestedness: the quality or state of being objective or impartial. Key synonyms are: fair-mindedness; impartiality; justice; neutrality; objectivity; impartialness.
In Freemasonry we celebrate disinterestedness as a key attribute of a good man and Mason. It is that attitude that we serve in the Craft and in our community; not for our own glory, but for the betterment of the Fraternity and Society. This disinterestedness is not easy for us because it strikes at the root of our own pride and egoism.
We must always remember that one of the key goals of Freemasonry is to build in men the character of a Gentleman. Shortly after I had the conversation listed above, I read the following in Gordon S. Wood’s “Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different.”
When John Adams asked himself what a gentleman was, he answered in just these terms of a liberal arts education. “By gentlemen,” he said, “are not meant the rich or the poor, the high-born or the low-born, the industrious or the idle: but all those who have received a liberal education, an ordinary degree of erudition in liberal arts and sciences. Whether by birth they be descended from magistrates and officers of government, or from husbandmen, merchants, mechanics, or laborers; or whether they be rich or poor.”
Disinterestedness was the most common term the founders used as a synonym for the classical conception of virtue or self-sacrifice; it better conveyed the threats from interests that virtue seemed increasingly to face in the rapidly commercializing eighteenth century. Dr. Johnson had defined disinterested as being “superior to regard of private advantage; not influenced by private profit,” and that was what the founders meant by the term.
Among the other virtues mentioned in the disinterestedness could also be looked at as a characteristic. The men who developed our Ritual in the early days of Speculative Freemasonry were the same type of men who led our Revolution against tyranny. They identified these as key characteristics of a good man and developed lessons and Rituals to help us to understand and direct our paths in the right direction to achieve the Character spelled out in these virtues.
By valuing and practicing disinterestedness, it does not mean that we are not affected by the results of our work. Nor does it mean that complacency should creep into our actions or that we should not act to improve the outcomes of our efforts. It means that we should not do this work for our own glory, but for the glory of the GAOTU, the craft and Society as a whole.
- Does this statement ring true in your life?
“Be disinterested; that is what really matters.”
- Do you agree with this statement?
“Disinterestedness is essential in the pursuit of knowledge”
- When you achieve a position, do you accept because of the rewards you expect or do you consider only how you can advance the organization and your fellow man?
- Do you pursue knowledge without an agenda, without any bias towards the knowledge you pursue?