For those of you who studied psychology in college, you know about Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. I am in my 40s and know that I am in Erikson's seventh stage, being that of generativity vs. stagnation. I feel like I have a good sense of generativity – the sense that I am leaving something positive behind for others to build on. It's not that I am dying and reflecting on my life, just that I know I have worked to build something meaningful. Most people get this from seeing their children grow up but I do not have children. For me, that sense has come about partly through Freemasonry.
This is a quick path to seeing something grow and prosper. I have had the benefit of teaching the catechisms to brothers even just a few years ago who have since gone on to be officers or otherwise active members in their lodges. It gives me a sense of pride to see that our junior warden, for example, who learned the catechisms entirely mouth-to-ear from me, has already taught others the same material and gone on to learn other parts of the ritual that I do not know. I got to see him prosper with what I had to teach him and also see him take his own direction. That is pretty darned fulfilling.
I gave a talk in my lodge last year about the power of language and gave several examples of how language, more especially the spoken word, has a transformative effect on people and the world. One thing I neglected to mention was foreign languages. There are words in many foreign languages that do not translate cleanly into English, and vice-versa. This is because of how the culture we live in and the language we use affect our thought processes. In short, we simply do not have some ideas or nuances of ideas in our collective conscience, and thus do not have a single word to define them.
One of those words is the Yiddish word naches (pronounced NOK-es). This is a selfless sense of pride. Specifically, it is a sense of pride a parent might feel at seeing his or her child succeed in life. We do not really have a word for that in English, but that is how I feel when I go to my mother lodge and see the progress it is making and seeing the officers, whose fervency and zeal are palpable, and to know that my past actions are reflected in that. I can see my influence, but do not care if others see that. It is not about them and what they see, but about knowing that I helped build something. I almost want to say sometimes, "You see that junior warden there? That's my boy!" No matter that he is 16 years my senior and a retired general. He is my boy. They are all my boys, and I am theirs.
All this makes me think of a quote I learned from an engineer I worked with years ago. Abe Michelen had on his intranet profile a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
To be a man is to be responsible: to be ashamed of miseries you did not cause; to be proud of your comrades' victories; to be aware, when setting one stone, that you are building a world.
To me that is the essence of generativity, sensitivity, the impact of our actions, and the basic humanistic message of Freemasonry.