Emulation vs. Envy


“The Trowel is an instrument made use of by operative Masons to spread the cement which unites a building into one common mass; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather, emulation, of who best can work or best agree.”[1]



1.  bring under forcible control:  to bring a person or group of people under control using force

2.  soften:  to soften something or make it less intense * idealism subdued by experience

3.  repress:  to repress or control feelings or emotions * worked hard to subdue her irritation

[14th century. Via Old French souduire "to seduce" from Latin subducere "to draw up" (see subduct).]


A large part of our Masonic teaching involves learning to “Subdue our Passions”. In fact, to quote from the Murrow monitor’s opening charge “Let us ever remember that the great objects of our Fraternity are the restraint of our desires and passions…[3]


Many of us over the years have given thought as to what exactly “our passions“ are and how do we go about subduing them. It seems to me that if we are to have any hope of accomplishing this, we must have an understanding of what “passions” are.


Of course, our lectures offer insight into our passions and how they can be over come. But there are also many other sources, which can provide additional illumination. I recently stumbled across one, which brought my mind back to the working tools lecture from that Masters Degree.


It seems that Aristotle gave this issue some thought in his day and on the subject of envy, he points out what I believe to be a key element in knowing what our passions are and how to go about subduing them.


To quote an author who was sighting Aristotle on the topic of envy and over coming it.


That antidote was first provided by Aristotle in the 4th century BC. The antidote to envy is emulation.

In the "Rhetoric" (ca. 350 BC), Aristotle distinguishes the two: "Zelos, emulation, is a good thing and characteristic of good people, while phthonos, envy, is bad and characteristic of the bad; for the former, through emulation, are making an effort to attain good things for themselves, while the latter, through envy, try to prevent their neighbors from having them." ("Rhetoric," 2.10.1)

Aristotle invokes the ancient wisdom of his 8th century (BC) predecessor Hesiod:


There is not one kind of Eris (Strife), but all over the earth there are two. One fosters evil war and battle, being cruel. The other is the elder daughter of dark Night, and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil. For a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order. Thus neighbor vies with neighbor to hurry after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. ("Works and Days," 11-24)


Aristotle concludes that "Whereas phthonos, envy, is censured because it seeks to harm another, zelos, emulation, is praised because it encourages a person to attain excellence on his own merits." ("Rhetoric," 2.11.1)“[4]


It is my belief that Aristotle provides us with a vital clue in understanding the difference between a passion that has been subdued and one that has not.


We are shown a clear difference between Envy and Emulation as the one being destructive and the other being constructive. Where as in envy we seek to tear down our fellow man, with emulation we seek to build up ourselves. Or, to paraphrase something familiar, emulation drives good men to make themselves better.


This points out a clear lesson in our goal of subduing our passions. Like fire or water, passion is an elemental force in men. Left to run unchecked, it can wreck havoc, destroying all in its path. But subdued, or brought under control, our passion can be a strong tool to build our world and our selves.


Something that is of interest to masons everywhere is the difference between good and evil. While there are as many answers to this as there are stars in the heavens, there is one simple, basic point I like to use.


Good tends to build while evil tends to destroy.


When your passions run wild, it will destroy you and those around you. But passion subdued and harnessed is what gave us the sculpture of Michelangelo; the writing of Shakespeare, and all the great works of art that man has produced.


Men who had the passion to bring it fourth brought every great endeavor and accomplishment from conception to reality. While every great and glorious undertaking must have the wisdom to contrive it, the strength to support it and beauty to adorn it, before these it must have the passion of men to drive it to fruition.

[1] “Murrow Masonic Monitor” 10th edition 1998 M.W. Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons or the State of Oklahoma. Page 77

[2] Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P) 2001 Microsoft Corporation.

[3] “Murrow Masonic Monitor” 10th edition 1998 M.W. Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons or the State of Oklahoma. Page 25.

[4] Jack Wheeler, Freedom Research Foundation Monday, Jan. 21, 2002