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Little Boxes Made Of Ticky-Tacky

C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33
Sovereign Grand Commander

Thinking “outside the box” means expanding possibilities, not discarding them.


You probably recall the line “little boxes made of ticky-tacky.” It’s a fragment from the lyrics of a popular song of some decades ago, a song protesting mindless conformity. I was reminded of it the other day when reading an article about “thinking outside the box.” This seems an especially important concept as we enter 1998, a new year in which we, by working together, can achieve much for ourselves as individuals, for America as a beacon of liberty for peoples around the globe, and for Freemasonry as the world’s most dynamic fraternity.

The “boxes” in the song’s lyrics are made up of our habits, our attitudes, “the way it’s always been done,” the way our fathers did something.

Some things are virtually eternal. From the ancient Greeks on, for example, humanity has used initiation as a way of helping to transform a person into something new and better. Also, honesty, honor, integrity, compassion--these and other virtues are also ancient in human experience and will continue into the future, at least as goals, so long as we aspire to them.

But the expression of these virtues does change with time. What may seem virtuous to one age may seem sinful to another. There are stories of Victorian businessmen--honest, sincere, thoughtful, and compassionate men--who literally wept at the sight of a virgin forest or wilderness, not because of its beauty but at the thought of all that land and resource going to waste when it could be put to productive use. Today, honest, sincere, thoughtful, and compassionate men see just the opposite. Times change. We have to think “outside the box.”

The Scottish Rite thought “outside the box” at the turn of the last century. Masonic Degrees of all sorts had always been presented in a Lodge Room. It was the way to do it. Some very daring men in the Scottish Rite, against considerable opposition, thought there might be a more effective way. They built stages, purchased scenery and costumes, and dramatized the Degrees making full use of the most modern theater staging technique of the time. Professor C. Lance Brockman, in Theater of the Fraternity, 1896-1929, suggests that doing so was what gave the Scottish Rite the fastest growth rate of any branch of the Masonic Fraternity. We ended up with a better and more effective presentation of our Ritual because we dared to think “outside the box.”

We did not give up Masonry. We did not give up the essence of the Scottish Rite. All we gave up was an unnecessary limitation while keeping flexibility. Many Valleys still present the Degrees in a Lodge Room setting. Thinking “outside the box” means expanding possibilities, not discarding them. If ever in Masonry we needed to think creatively, the time is now.

The essentials have not changed. Research surveys tell us that men still want to associate with men of high purpose and standards. Men are still willing, in fact eager, to spend quality time with other men. Men still want to make things better for themselves, their families, and their communities. Men still search for sound moral values, still have a sense that bread alone is not enough, still reach a point in their lives when they have achieved financial or social success and look around and say, “There has to be something more to life.” And the Scottish Rite still has many of the answers they are seeking.

Consider the example of the quartz electronic watch. The idea was actually developed by the Swiss, but the Swiss watch manufacturers rejected it because, to them, a watch wasn’t supposed to hum. It was supposed to tick and to work with springs and gears. And so the American and Japanese manufacturers took the idea--and the world market--in watches. No basic need had changed. We still needed to be able to tell time, and when we were offered a more accurate and less expensive way to tell time, we took it.

Certainly, there are unnecessary and limiting “boxes” in Masonry and the Scottish Rite. But we must learn to think “outside the boxes” if we are to grow and maintain our Fraternity as an influence for good in the world.

We must be open to new ideas. Information is an example. When Albert Pike wrote Morals and Dogma, he wrote with a quill pen. The fountain pen had yet to be invented. When he printed the newspaper he edited in Little Rock, Arkansas, he set movable type by hand. Now, staff members of the Scottish Rite Journal prepare an issue of this magazine by editing and formatting it for publication with keyboards and computers.

Today information is much more than just a book or pamphlet; it is an audiotape we play in our car, or a CD ROM we access through our computers, or a download from the Internet. Masonry must be willing to explore and use all the new means of communication. Once it was possible to com-municate only face to face, then by mail, then by telegraph, then by tele-phone, now by e-mail. Freemasonry must be equally innovative. In the past, Masonry has always changed in order to use the technology available at the time and, most importantly, to meet the needs of the Brethren and society.

All of us must think outside of “ticky-tacky boxes.” We must shed useless conformity to tradition and, instead, seek imaginative ways to meet--and conquer--the challenges facing Freemasonry today. That way lies the future. And the future is where we must be, if we are to be at all.



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It is always a pleasure to welcome visitors to the House of the Temple, 1733 Sixteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009-3103. Located on Sixteenth Street between R and S Streets, seven blocks NE of the Dupont Circle Metro stop, Red Line, the Temple is open to Brothers, guests, and the general public for tours from 8 am to 2 pm on weekdays. The Temple is also open on weekends and holidays for groups of 25 or more provided special arrangements are made in advance with the Grand Executive Director's office (202)232-3579. Visitors are requested to register at the door.