Thoughts by Richard Bleil
The Masons have the stated goal of making good men better. While we do philanthropy, the main focus is on the members. We are all supposed to have been given a pure white lambskin apron (unfortunately my lodge was rebuilding and rather unpracticed so I never received my own apron), but nobody ever actually wears them in lodge anyway as clothe aprons are provided.
The white apron is meant to represent at least the effort at purity and being an example among men of proper actions and behavior. Previously I had written a piece on how Masons wear their aprons even when they are not physically on their bodies. We wear our aprons in our actions, our attitudes, and our continuous struggle for improvement.
But it’s more than that. There are various configurations of the apron, denoting the various stages of development as a Mason. For example, one configuration means that we’re so new to the brotherhood that we know nothing of the ways of the Mason. We’re learning, just from the start. Another configuration might mean that we’re learning the tools of the lodge, the mechanisms, the philosophies. It can take quite a long time (not so much anymore but historically it could take years) before we’ve mastered the material to the point that we become “master Mason”, knowledgeable in the craft and capable of mentoring others. Of course, the Masonic organization believes in continuing education (as I’ve written about recently) so there are paths in which these tools can be further honed, but no matter our level, we are Masons, and we all wear our aprons proudly whether or not they are on.
Often, we have a habit of trying to hide where we are at, as if, for some reason, we’re ashamed of being a novice. I still recall a professor I had when I was a young undergraduate in my second year of college who was, frankly, just terrible. There was no hiding it, but sometimes you don’t get the best professor. He was also obviously young and inexperienced, and most likely very new. Somebody in the class actually had the audacity to ask him, mid-lecture, how long he had been teaching.
This is rude. Even at the time I thought it was completely inappropriate. Everybody has to start somewhere, and if this was his first-year teaching, then it was his first year. There’s nothing he can do about that; it’s just a learning curve. He was presenting the material, and it was available in the reading, so it’s not like we didn’t have the opportunity to pick up what we needed, so it was just a matter of adopting to the situation for the students. To actually ask is nothing less than an attempt to shame him, and that’s something I’ve never liked.
Unfortunately, his response to the question was equally inappropriate, but understandable. Taking the defensive approach, he immediately snapped at the student, “THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” Well, it is, actually, as we are students in the class, but his response was at least not as rude as asking the question so obviously publicly in the first place.
I never forgot this incident (obviously). So, on the very first day of teaching, I decided to wear my apron in the proper configuration. I introduced myself, and told my students yes, I am indeed a brand-new teacher and they all have the dubious honor of being my very first class even before anybody could ask. I then took a minute to explain the mentor ships I have developed with other professors, the advantages they can expect from a new teacher (mostly enthusiasm and over-preparation) and the disadvantages (the learning curve had the potential to lead to some issues with appropriate teaching levels and confusion in policy and topics). I also suggested what they should do if they have any problems with my work. My first year was fabulous, by the way.
Today, I am taking motorcycle riding lessons. The room has a lot of highly experienced riders, so it is easy to let my pride take over and try to hide my lack of experience, but I would not get nearly as much out of the course than being open and honest. I doubt anybody would laugh at me (I kind of laugh at myself for my inexperience, honestly), but even if they do, the added attention from the instructors, and the added patience for a novice rider more than makes up for any embarrassment I’m supposed to feel from shamers.
Wear your apron and wear it in the proper configuration. Being a novice is a gift because it is an opportunity to learn something new. Those who view it as a curse are missing the point of our aprons.