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America the Great Experiment
Peter and Helen Evans' interview with Akram Elias
08 December 2002 

Perceptions of America from a Lebanese immigrant, and frank commentary on what it is like inside the secret group the Masons.

Following is an interview with Akram Elias, Lebanese born American citizen, 33rd degree Mason, Manager of Capitol Communications Group and Consultant to the U.S. Department of State. (For more information on Mr. Elias see end of article.)

Peter
When we first met you, you mentioned that you became an American because you wanted to be part of the "great experiment". Can you tell us more about that?

Akram
Let me first state that it's very interesting that in America most official documents we fill out ask "what is your citizenship?". They don't ask "what's your nationality?" To be part of this experiment it doesn't matter who your parents were, where you were born, what your culture was; only what ideas you embrace. America is really a unique idea.....the freedom to assemble, to associate with whomever we want. It's almost sacred ...the idea of freedom and liberty. And someone has to make sure that this idea doesn't fade. That's America's destiny.

This idea is both very strong and very fragile and it must be protected. Someone has to make sure that idea doesn't die, because we can easily let it die. Just look at history where this idea died. I come from Lebanon which enjoyed freedom when I was born there. Freedom was very big, but not a very strong democracy, it was a pseudo-democracy.

Peter
Beirut was described as the Paris of the Middle East.

Akram
That's true, and the country was also described as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

But it was a form of democracy. There was no question about it, they were struggling for it. It was quite innovative, but what I think was more important than the democratic experimentation was the freedom. You had individual freedom. But then it disappeared, it disappeared because the country fell into civil war and all kinds of things happened. We've seen numerous examples throughout history where that individual liberty has been destroyed.

I think it's the destiny and the duty of the United States to make sure that liberty is "out there" that it's maintained. First to preserve it in our country and then to spread it as much as possible around the world; not by imposing ourselves or our value systems, but by supporting those universal concepts that make us all human beings; within each diverse and ethnic culture.

There are certain things we all agree on and freedom is one of them. I think we should really pursue that and also the right of people to govern themselves by themselves through representation and under the rule of law. These are tremendous achievements and at the level of humanity they have helped to bring civilization forward. We have seen enlightened leadership brought to 2 great wars by the United States; WW I and especially in WW II. Our history is only a couple of hundred years old but overall when you look at it and compare it to all other great nations and great powers, I think there's no question; this is the most enlightened. And we can lose that again if citizens say, "well, we don't care about the world, or we don't care about government. For instance, we get voting percentages of 30 and 40 percent. That is scary down the road. That is why I am personally committed to telling others "you've got to engage", and it is also my way of saying thank you to the country that has given me the opportunity to do the things I need to try to fulfill myself as a human being.

You know, I have read a lot of political scientists and theorists, especially within western civilization, but I had never before encountered the beautiful analogy that George Washington came up with regarding government. Now he was not considered an intellectual compared to the other founding fathers such as Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin, but he said government is like fire. He said government is not reason, is not eloquence, it is force, like fire. We humans start a fire and expect it to be a servant for us; it provides warmth, it allows us to cook, it provides a certain level of limited comfort; but it is not the answer to every need we have. And when you think about it government is the same way and that's what led to the idea of limited government. But also, if you don't take care of the fire, if you don't feed it and tend it, it can go out. The idea that is this country can die if citizens don't get involved, and don't believe that this country has a destiny to keep this idea alive within our borders and to help spread it beyond. Because the more this idea is spread overseas, I believe the safer the world becomes.

When we tell people we're going to respect your own freedom, you're supposed to have your own freedom and ideology, and govern yourselves in a democratic forum under the rule of law for these 3 elements are very important. It's a balancing act but people will be more willing to sit down and discuss problems and to find reasonable solutions rather than try to go and bully their neighbors.

Helen
There was something Condoleeza Rice had said about "if you give people the choice, they will always choose freedom". You had said we should support it rather than impose it. There is a fine line there. What about those where the spark of freedom is not a conscious idea?

Akram
By support I mean, we plant the seeds, the idea of freedom, and then we create a certain environment allowing that seed to grow. Then interact and effect the environment to stimulate change. In other words, I look at ourselves as catalysts, rather than come up with the overall plan or solution. By impose, the reason I used it, I'm thinking of those instances where governments were attacked and the countries occupied and then the new regime came in and said, "ok, this is how you're going to have your freedom under this plan." I'm staying away from that, I think what we should do is to support more subtlety, mostly by engaging through civil society. We do this by encouraging the flourishing of civil societies around the world, by helping countries develop better laws that can protect NGO's; the right to certain organizations to exist, which is the right of association.

Alexis de Tocqueville when he talked about democracy in America, said this is the most important thing, because when you allow people to create their own associations they will be able to figure out things for themselves.

Peter
He was comparing France to America obviously and he commented that so many organizations or groups of people existed in America; whereas in France at that time if someone had a beef, a complaint or a desire to bring to the government they would do it on an individual basis.

Helen
In one of his recent speeches, President Bush commented that we will defend liberty the American Way. However, there is a lot of confusion about what the American Way is. Many don't realize that the American Way is that you choose your own way, rather than there is only one way to express liberty and freedom. It's very paradoxical.

Akram
Yes, this is why our idea is both strong and weak. It's strength is because each individual is free to shape his destiny any way he or she wants, but it could also be a weakness if...if they lose sight of the purpose of the experiment.

Peter
The purpose of the experiment is to prolong the experiment, not to say “OK, this is it, we now have a solution” and then go back to sleep; or to say “OK, this is the best idea there ever could be and we're going to start imposing it on everyone else.” It seems to me that is the essential conflict with various totalitarian regimes.

Akram
Yes, absolutely because we believe it is an ongoing experiment. This is why the participation, the engagement, the involvement of citizens is key.

Helen
It's the experiment of the individuals rather than the government.

Akram
Correct. The government becomes a reflection of whatever the people become.

Peter
Going back to George Washington's analogy of government as fire, it seems to me there are two dangers. One, is that the fire will go out and we'll all freeze in the dark. The other danger is that the fire will begin to see us as its fuel rather than its master.

Akram
In fact there are several, but I mentioned only one aspect when I tried to explain it. This analogy is one I use a lot when I talk about forms of government with international visitors from all walks of life. I really like this analogy. I think it's a very powerful one, with many aspects. Another is that fire has a tendency to grow and expand very quickly and if you're wise when you start a fire you will make sure you have it boxed in and contained. So with government it's the same situation. That’s why the need for limited government is very important, because another thing about fire is that you wouldn't let it get too close to you because you'd get burned. So it's got to stay at a comfortable distance. It should provide some warmth but not become too intrusive. Government has got to be there to provide some basic things, but it should not be intrusive.

Peter
It needs to illuminate our work but not blind us with its brilliance.

Helen
Can you give us 2 or 3 sentences about what the “great experiment” is?

Akram
I think it is the ultimate goal of the great experiment which will never be achieved, that’s why I like the pyramid on the dollar and the great seal, it's not completed. It will never be completed, but it is to keep pushing us to think , to act, in a direction which will ultimately lead to human sovereignty. I think the ultimate objective is for the human race to become truly sovereign. Sovereign over itself, over its dominion. It's to break the chains that literally tie our hands as a human race. One of those chains could be the diversity that exists in the world. In the eyes of fundamentalists and in the eyes of narrow minded people; this diversity is used to divide, to pit people against one another and I think this is one of those chains that keep us in that cycle of violence; always bringing us down almost to an animal level.

Peter
Diversity exists because there are “right” people and there are “wrong’ people?

Akram
Well, there is a way another to look at it. In this world we are creations, creatures of this world. If the world exists with such a diversity there must be a purpose. I don't know what that purpose is, but I think we would fail in reaching the higher level of sovereignty over our destiny if we remain engaged in these kinds of attitudes where we are always fighting. A lot of things chain us down. Concepts like greed take over. You've got to be free from always wanting. Misery is one of the things that chain the human spirit. Intolerance chains the human spirit. Ignorance, superstition chains the human spirit. Look at the world. We live in an oasis in this country. You know there are almost 5 billion people in the world. The overwhelming majority lives under ignorance and some form of superstition. Ignorance typically leads to destructive behavior rather than constructive behavior, because when you’re ignorant of something you tend to fear it. When you fear, you tend to erect barriers to defend yourself against whatever you fear. You can become more pessimistic also because you think “This is it, I can't change anything. This is the way it is, period.”

And again I think the ultimate purpose of the experiment is suggested by focusing on this triangle, tripod if you want, made up of, one; individual free will; two; democracy; that is the representative form of government; that people should govern themselves through some form of representation, and three; the rule of law. The rule of law is to balance the rule of the people in order to protect the individual. It's a 3 way thing. By pursuing the triangle, we gradually break the chains. I don't know if we will ultimately break all chains because it seems that every time we break some form of chains, new ones arise.

Imagine... and this is purely idealistic, I don't know how to get there, but think of it this way. Imagine if we were to economically reward peace negotiators and conflict- resolution specialists, if they were paid high salaries, high consulting fees that would match what an arms dealer would make... I wonder what would happen. If the state of mind could be changed, in other words. So, it's hard for me to see it finished, but I think we should continue to go in that direction and that's the ultimate purpose of the “great experiment.”

Every new generation is going to discover new opportunities and challenges and there are going to be people who resist those opportunities, who fear the change and where we are going.

Peter
They resist waking up and the work that's involved in being engaged and conscious.

Akram
Exactly.

Helen
I think this is a good segue. Can you tell us about your Masonic background?

Akram
First I've got to tell you it was truly Masonry that has helped me define and develop my understanding of the Experiment. I came to this country when I was about 17.5 years old, and the reason I came here was that there was war in my motherland. I was born in Lebanon. My parents wanted us to find a way to get out as soon as we finished high school, because the country was going down the drain. I had a choice between going to France and the States. I choose the States because of the movies, the nice westerns that I liked and things like that. And of course I had an uncle in the University of Washington in Seattle, and he helped do the paperwork for me to come in. I came as a student, and in the beginning I wasn't planning to stay in this country. I was planning to finish my studies and go back. Things changed, things were not going well in Lebanon, in fact the situation was continuously deteriorating. I started to like staying in the United States. I fell in love. My wife and I have been together since 1983. We've been married since 1987, so that helped anchor me a little more here, and then I said, “Well, since I'm going to be anchored here, I want to know what this thing is all about.” Before then I was just going with the wind.

I realized then I ought to know more about this country. And an opportunity came to me and that opportunity was using my languages. I'm fluent in Arabic and French and I can interpret in any combination of the three languages; English, French and Arabic. So an opportunity came for me to work under contract for the State Department, working with visitors and delegates from the Middle East, Near East and North Africa. That introduced me to the international exchange area and the CIV's and NCIV (National Center for International Visitors) which is the umbrella organization for the network.

Now, I was there to interpret, but what I was also doing was sucking in every piece of information I was hearing. In interpretation you have 2 styles by the way; most people don't know that. It's really an extraordinary skill. It's very tiring, of course, because your mind works simultaneously at different levels and I do simultaneous interpretation. In other words, while someone is speaking I can render whatever they are saying in another language at the same time. So your mind is focusing on truly grasping on whatever that person is truly saying and then your mind is also thinking about the right words and the right structure; the right syntax, of whatever you're going to say. Then, thirdly it's got to make sense. it can't be a literal translation of words because quite often you have idiomatic expressions, different approaches, subtleties, whatever. You've got to deliver the meaning. Then, of course, if you're doing it simultaneously you have to have the speed to at the same time. So your mind is really working in different directions. It really drains you afterwards. There are two types of interpreters, one type which is where most interpreters fall under and it relieves the pressure is that you capture the information but you don't retain it. You capture in order to pass it through, this way you don't fatigue your mind too much. You don't want to assimilate everything you are hearing because that requires that extra effort. So you don't internalize it. Then you have another type of interpreters that likes to internalize, likes to assimilate; I'm that type. If I'm to do a good job I must assimilate and internalize and process it

Peter
You're not just processing it, you're understanding it as well.

Akram
And then deliver it, yes. So there's an internal process for me. Now I mention this because I was sucking in this information about this country, what it's about. I had to reason it, work at it.

I accumulated a lot of information, a lot of data, a lot of statistics, bits and pieces about history, about society, about America, about values... you name it. That was great and I could talk to people about all these things but what really helped me put together the idea of what America was about was my involvement in Masonry. I was introduced to Masonry after reading about it in the 80's. In my youth, I was interested in the concept of Knighthood. I liked those idealistic things. The Knights Templar were one of those orders that attracted my attention. I read about those and learned about esoteric societies and the possible linkage to Masonry.

So I started reading about Masonry. What was this organization all about? I never had a chance to become a member of it until I settled down, even though I had read so much about it. I was traveling with State Department projects for 10 years from 1985 to 1995. I got to know the country, I visited 46 out of the 50 states, and gained a great appreciation for the geographical and cultural diversity. It's really a beautiful country! Then I joined Masonry and got through my degrees. My first degree, my initiation, was the most impressive for me. It just opened my mind to completely new horizons; which were the spiritual and intuitive horizons.

Peter
The inner horizon?

Akram
Yes, the inner horizon. You know Masonry is not a religion. Really, it has nothing to do with religion. I wouldn't even call it a spiritual organization; it's really a fraternity, more a philosophical fraternity. However, that spiritual dimension is considered to be of equal importance to the intellectual and to the physical; and honestly maybe the prime dimension. At least, let's put it at equal importance. Some would say it's the more important one, I would. However, let's keep this an equilateral triangle... 3 equal sides.

Masonry helps every individual reinforce and expand his or her spiritual knowledge within his or her religion. It triggers something And I think it's the inner, intuitive aspect. You start looking at things differently. So what happened was I started looking at what happened in this country considering that many of the Founding Fathers were Masons Looking at symbols around the city of Washington, DC. Where did these ideals come from? I made the connection that Masonry was instrumental as a institution that helped spread these ideals. Ideals that had started emerging out of Europe and the Old World. However, the local social and political structures that were in existence were the Old Order, and that was making it really difficult, almost impossible, for these ideas to flourish and to establish a New Order.

Peter
It had to be a revolution.

Akram
And the United States provided the opportunity. The New World Order. Novo Ordo Seculorum.

Masonry helped me really crystallize this whole thing. A Mason is a builder, and I hope to build myself as a better person and then be a builder of a better community by interacting with others and encouraging others to be free thinkers and free builders. We're “Free” Masons, and this is where you free the spirit... the soul of the individual. We'll come back to the Experiment. The more you realize yourself as a soul and try to be sovereign over yourself, the more you appreciate the same for others around you. It becomes a extraordinary melody, a symphony; however you describe it... a beautiful painting where everybody becomes an element, but an active element. That's why it's always changing.

Helen
It's always changing. I could realize my freedom but the hard part is when I have to recognize your freedom too. It's not just ‘my’ freedom but the relationship of freedoms.

Akram
That's right, this is why it's funny for me I cannot distinguish or disconnect the American Experiment from the Masonic Experiment. I think there is definitely a connection there. I don't mean it's the only connection; there are other connections, but this to me is one of the primary connections. It helped me as an individual become a better American. By “better American”, meaning no longer just happened to come here and then ok, things happened and I fell in love and decided to stay in this country and I then got my papers and stuff like that. I'm not saying that people who do that are bad, no. But for me, I was not satisfied doing that. It was Masonry that filled that gulf and helped me better understand that concept and the idea of the Experiment. And now I'm basically on a mission to spread this concept and idea.

Helen
Many spiritual paths suggest that countries like India and Tibet really know what they're talking about in terms of spirituality and America is much too materialistic and has no idea of the spiritual nature. What do you say to that?

Akram
I hear this a lot, by the way, and I can understand why many people overseas have this perception. First of all their perceptions are based on a number of things. One of them has to do with foreign policy and they don't understand how our foreign policy is shaped and how it comes to be. They look at headlines, and their interpretation of that foreign policy is colored by who is reporting it. That gives a very small, tiny window about what American is all about. That's one.

Second, another prime and important source of these misperceptions is our media, and I mean TV, movies, etc. In most countries around the world, historically, the media were instruments used by government to do local propaganda or to educate the public. It was directed. In other words there was an agenda. People grew up with this idea that whatever they see on their television... well, it reflects their society, or it's supposed to promote something. Well, the fact is that our media were never controlled, we don't have a Ministry of Information as almost every other country has. They think that what they see on television is an intentional presentation of “America.” They don't understand that because of the commercial nature of our media it's really just entertainment. People who watch it are not expected to what they're watching; they know it's not their lives. Just look at “Dynasty” or “Dallas”, one would think Americans are filthy rich, are back- stabbing and don't care about anyone else. That's not it, but it's the impression these programs give.

Another thing is the American tourist. Americans plan to go somewhere and they call their travel agent and say listen I'm interested in a group package. Typically travel agents have these arrangements where you stay at the Holiday Inn or Hilton or some other big name hotel. Overseas, these tend to be very important, nice hotels, so in the eyes of the locals, they see an American staying at one of these hotels and they think Americans must be very wealthy. They see a tourist’s nice camera and don't know that maybe the camera was bought on credit and the tourist may be making payments. Even the entire package tour may have been the result of years of saving to bring about this big trip. They don't know the background, the locals just see something and, comparing it to their local conditions they say, "these guys are filthy rich!.”

Then adding to this distorted perception is that the package tours are basically arranged to go only to certain areas of major historical interest and so the locals conclude that “Americans don't mix with the people.” So they get all kinds of misperceptions and the list goes on.

Peter
And if there's a language barrier, it almost rules out the possibility of interaction with the locals.

Akram
Yes, Then they also hear Americans talk about money and they don't understand what we mean by money. They think that by talking about money it's the most important thing in our lives. I'm sure there are some Americans and some people of other nationalities who really do think money is the most important thing in their lives, and they just adore money. I'm sure they exist, but that has nothing to do with any specific nationality.

I try to explain to people when they raise this issue that the only reason we speak about money is because money has to do with power and in this country we like to know where the power is, we like to limit it, we like to divide it, we like to make sure someone is not abusing it. This is a one-on-one philosophical aspect which has to do with the politics of it. And the other one has to do with the individual empowered, who looks at money as a means, as a tool. We might think of a violin; it’s the instrument or tool you want to make beautiful melodies. The violin is not an end in itself, it's what you can make with the violin. In the same way, money is a tool.

Then they sometimes say, "you have ‘In God We Trust’ on your currency which means you think money is God.” And this is really where I get into explaining what ‘ In God We Trust’ really means. It doesn't mean that the dollar is our God, no. In fact, we're taking something very materialistic and putting on it something very spiritual, very important; it all has to do with the Experiment. ‘In God We Trust’ is on top of the dollar. It is supposed to guide the dollar. So our financial power, the money, the material goods should be guided by spiritual enlightenment.

And because of privacy, because we tend to be very private and focus on the individual you will not see the spiritual stream at first glance. You must dig deeper to understand what it is. But you see Americans; they give, they volunteer; they see problems overseas and they give money, they give time. Volunteerism is such an American thing. You don't volunteer unless there is something within you that pushes you to do it. You can give all kinds of examples, but it's not obvious. You can easily miss it, it doesn't hit you. You can easily come to this country and live in this country for many years and not understand a thing about the American Experiment. And I've seen that, I've met people who have come to this country and who have lived here for 3 or 4 years who have gone through college and gone back home and in some cases became even more fundamentalist. Because they never dug any further into the Experiment. It takes an initiative on their part to understand.

Helen
Freedom involves responsibility, and it's easier to lapse back into not taking responsibility... especially if we haven't succeeded. In our writing and teachings about freedom we stress that implicit within freedom is responsibility.

Peter
It's not success unless you initiate it.

Akram
Yes, in fact my view of true liberty and I'm using two words; liberty and freedom, but obviously they are synonymous words, one being Latin and the other being more Anglo, I guess. But because of the lack of change of words, I like to give them a little twist to try to distinguish if you want.

I look at liberty as a two sided coin, it has 2 faces but it's whole; where freedom to do things, to think, to move about freely is one part of it; and the responsibility is the other part. The whole is where you become; for I cannot be truly free unless I'm responsible in my work. Why? Because, in my perception (and this is what Masonry helped me to understand) I cannot truly claim to be free unless I'm breaking the chains. Now to break the chains means I have to assume responsibility. Because you can't break chains unless you take the initiative and responsibility to do that. If freedom means to do whatever comes to your mind, to do whatever you feel like doing, whatever comes in the wind from whatever direction... well, that's not my concept of freedom. Freedom and Responsibility always go together. You can't separate them. This is where the Eastern concept is interesting because they look at the wholeness; the dualities come together. You cannot take this one or that one; you have to take the Whole. This is where Masonry, by the way, is one of the Western esoteric traditions that really focuses on the wholeness.

Helen
Please tell us about some of the Masonic symbols .

Akram
Well, we have the checkered floor in each lodge. White and Black squares symbolizing duality. If you take the oblique, very narrow road you can travel the all white or all black road. But if you really experiment and go straight you are always jumping if you want to stay on the white road.

Peter
The path of the knight.

Akram
Exactly. And this again is why I'm on this quest. I'd like to affect, impact on as many Americans as I can, especially the younger generation, to help them early on connect with what we're talking about.

Helen
So often we find our readers or students want to go beyond the duality. The absolute is wonderful to contemplate, but we have to learn to live in the dual, temporal world. Please tell us about the doubled headed eagle.

Akram
Well, it's not an easy thing to do, but let's start with what we stated earlier. It's freedom and responsibility. It requires a balancing always of what you feel like doing and "is this responsible?" Does this add to your enrichment as a person? Can you live with yourself? Does it make you a better person? That's what Masonry is supposed to teach, ideally. Your supposed to make yourself a better person, here are your tools we offer to you; symbols. And then you choose and you find your own path. It's not dictated to you; there is no “one way.” There are also a variety of tools. There are compasses, there are squares, there are plumbs, levels and various tools to build with. And you focus on the combination of what you must use to make yourself better. And this is so, every time you make a decision to do something.

Let's start from the beginning. I think people should take some time off in their lives; preferably once a day, or if they don't do it once a day, do it once or twice a week. We're always running with our established routine that we follow to a certain extent and every once in a while there are things we have to deal with outside that routine, but I think as spiritual and intellectual creatures it behooves us to take a step back and to think, "what would I like to accomplish today, what would make me happy at the end of the day". Even if I'm just going to my regular work, what is it that I can do today, or maybe this week or over the course of the next month. Do a little bit of planning, thinking , reflecting and then this helps guide you when it comes to making decisions. We can decide if doing it this way or that will help me fulfill myself as a better person, to fulfill that objective that I have . This is where the responsibility comes in. So you have freedom of choice, because we can make this choice, that choice, or any number of the myriad of choices we face.

Peter
The “freedom to choose” is also the “obligation to choose”, which is something we wrote about a couple of years ago in a series of articles we called 'contemplations'. You reminded me when you were talking about taking time off. The article was called Radical Self-Responsibility; the escape from victimhood and blaming. As much as we take responsibility, to exactly the same degree do we empower ourselves to freedom.

Akram
Yes, absolutely. I totally agree with you because this taking responsibility helps you reach the true freedom by breaking the chains. Let me give you an example. A successful person may say, “I made this happen.” But when you dig deeper and ask, how did I really make it, I realize I didn't do it on my own. I took initiative, I thought about doing something, but every step of the way I interacted with people. I didn't do this in the void. I interacted with others and each person has contributed in one way or another; either through a negative or positive experience. This is the black and white squares, this is the double-headed eagle. We learn from both.

Peter
That's why it's important to love our enemies. So we can learn from them instead of just rejecting whatever it is they show us.

Akram
It's important to know your enemy first of all, then it's important to appreciate what your enemy stands for even if you don't agree with it. This is how I would try to explain it to someone who says,”love your enemies?? Come on! That's a foolish, idealistic approach that would never work in the real world”. My approach would be that when you have an enemy you've either got to fight or try to find a peaceful way to co-exist. Either way, unless you know that enemy, you won't succeed.

Helen
That's what we write about. You loving your enemy doesn't mean you like your enemy, nor does it mean you are friends with your enemy.

Akram
And you cannot know your enemy unless you put yourself in their shoes to try to understand what is driving them. So you know what their weaknesses and strengths are, in the same way you discover your own weaknesses and strengths. Then you can sit down and say “well, let's see what can be done.”

Helen
Sometimes we take the esoteric view in which Love means identity, or knowing another. You can't love something or someone without knowing them . Love is not sentimentality and emotional fuzziness. It just means, "I know who you are." That's the definition of love. Jesus said Love your Enemies, and Martin Luther King Jr said, "Thank God he didn't say ‘like’ your enemies!”

Tell us about the eagle's talons. Some people think that peace excludes war or conflict, and it doesn't necessarily.

Akram
There are Masonic and other esoteric influences definitely with the eagle as part of the Great Seal of the United States. First let's set the stage by saying the American eagle is different from the traditional Roman Imperial Eagle. The American eagle represents freedom. It's the king of the sky and it can fly above the storm. Now, to be truly independent and free in this world you have to look at the duality in which we live, and see how to keep things in balance and harmony and know that everything has a purpose. Then use wisdom to bring about harmony. So the eagle is really representing the wholeness of freedom. It's holding what some think are mutually exclusive opposites in its talons. One of the talons hold the arrows, being the symbol of war and defense. The other talon holds the olive branch, which is of course the symbol of peace. And in the classic way of approaching it we are looking at two mutually exclusive symbols, some think of it as good and bad, when in reality, because of the duality in the world in which we live, these two are complements. They are like 2 pieces of the same whole and unless we understand that, we won't we able to truly deal with this. If you want to go to the concept of love, then love would be the understanding of the use of both.

What is fascinating about this is where the Eagle is looking. It's looking toward, or it's head is turned toward the olive branch. It sends a message, that we will go to war to achieve and defend peace.

The ultimate peace to be achieved is, of course, the inner peace esoterically within yourself as an individual and, of course as an extension, within the community. Again that cannot be achieved unless you balance the negative and positive forces. The two halves of force. You have to know how to deal with both and you have to create the balance. That's the way it is. You know we say the seed has to die to produce life, and so life and death cannot be separated. Does that mean one is bad and the other is good, for what are we ultimately talking about? There was much more philosophy back then when the Experiment was being founded at the beginning of this country. Symbolism was very important.

There are certain times in history I call a gathering of Eagles. It's rare in history when certain momentum was building up, when certain forces were converging from a variety of places. These forces could be social trends, they could be intellectual, you name it... It's hard to explain and I don't know what's driving it but something happens and you have these Great Eagles come in as a gathering, all at the same time and the same place. Look at WWII, you had black and white right there. You had Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Mussolini on the dark side, if you want. The 3 eagles of the dark side. They were harnessing all the negative, the dark forces. And look who matched them. It's amazing, you had to have a Winston Churchill, you had to have a FDR, you had to have a Charles deGaulle; 3 giants in their own ways; Eagles focusing on the concept of freedom.

Helen
It's the constant balance. It's not the elimination of one to the other. For instance, the war on terrorism, we ask will it ever be eliminated? Instead, we perhaps should be thinking of balance rather than elimination. You talk about the duality; let me suggest that within the cycle of life, the seed dying to create the plant for example. If we're the seed, we don't think it's very pleasant. However, from the larger picture, moving away from the perspective of a day, a week, or even a generation or more, there is a larger movement happening that we are the instruments of. We have to stand back to see the wholeness from a larger perspective. However, when we chop time into small segments we perceive them as merely “good” or “bad” rather than the totality.

Akram
The big picture. That's where we need the coming generations because we're being bombarded by all kinds of images and distractions. We have to work harder, we have to devote more quality time to those things that matter to us. We have many choices and must reject distractions. Just look at all the channels we can get on TV. This could be a complete distraction, or a tool for education. Are you going to make the responsible choice? I would like to be able to tune into arts and entertainment television or the history channel or the discovery channel or PBS, it's up to us to choose. The more choices we have the more responsibility we must assume. That's what people need to understand.

Peter
It becomes a meta-choice. With that many channels I cannot possibility assume the responsibility for watching all of them.

Helen
We don't have total freedom, but rather the freedom to chose. We can do anything, but we can't do everything.

Akram
The multiple choices, that extraordinary diversity of choices that is out there provides you with the freedom of choice but what that really tells you is that you have to make your own responsible decision. You only have so many hours a day, what are you going to do? Are you going to be pushed around by whatever comes into your life or do you try to sit back and become sovereign?

Peter
The revolution of human consciousness is turning away from being an effect or being a victim, and turning toward being a leader or being sovereign.

Helen
If we're looking at the big picture and we realize there is much more than our day, our week or even our wholes lives; and also that there is a greater movement that we're a part of, then we might confront a dilemma. If we're part of this great movement, how do we hold onto it while being sovereign and believing that everything we do everyday is important. It's paradoxical.

Akram
It's by realizing that you are a free agent and as an individual we are not only part of the movement of that big cycle, the big picture, but we alter it as well. It's a living organism. It is not a predetermined, Marxist, inescapable result.

Helen
So when we talk about destiny we're not talking about predetermination?

Akram
No, no, no, no. A completely different concept enters my mind. Let me put it another way. I believe each person has a seed of genius in him or her. I truly believe that and I believe most people for all kinds of reasons live their life here on earth and somehow don't discover that grain, that seed. For all kinds of reasons, we can name some of them as cultural, economic, self-inflicted, social, etc. There are also people who discover the seed but just ignore it, don't know what to do with it, get distracted or just get frightened. And then there are those that people call geniuses who are people who have discovered it and zeroed in, they just took a conscious decision to act on that and then direct it. You see why there is nothing predetermined. That seed when you use it and zero in on it and say I'm going to use it, I'm going to develop it; well then it's going to release tremendous energy. However, that energy can go in all kinds of directions.

Peter
That's why we call that power in ourselves ‘determination’, because it does determine.

Akram
That's why it means you really die and are resurrected. You go inside and you know thyself. You go deep. That the true underworld, you see, and then you come back. When you come back with that you harness that energy and you really can do all kinds of creative, innovative and inventive things with it. This is where responsibility comes in. Imagine somebody like Stalin and Winston Churchill, two geniuses, they harnessed that energy, but they chose to use it differently. There is nothing predetermined. Destiny, in my humble opinion, is, that you have within you something that can make you a much better person, a much better person than you are and affect the environment around you. So destiny is knowing yourself and getting hold of that and unleashing that energy. Now, you can go in this direction or that direction. For me to be free is to be able to make those kind of choices. To keep breaking the cycle that’s chaining us down. That doesn't mean you don't use negative force.

Peter
There is only force.

Helen
We've often distinguished violence from force by using the example of the force of nature that is always with us, such as hurricanes and volcanos which kill people every day. It's not malicious force. Within the highest and best is to use that force without hating someone, ‘loving your enemy’ while you're stopping them. Jesus said ‘turn the other cheek’ to personal insults, the modern saying is ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ Rise above personal insult. But to protect your sovereignty you may use force, and it may be deadly force, but it's not for mere self-aggrandizement.

Akram
I agree. I think rising above insult is something I try to do in my life on a daily basis. You're confronted by what some might call ‘negative energy’ trying to push you in one way or another, or trying to generate some negative reactions within you, like defensive reactions. If you rise above that then you can alter it, because energy is, in fact, a living organism and can be impacted on as a whole. You can alter the way you react and your energy reaction can alter the outcome.

Helen
As you’re describing this, I notice you're doing Aikido with your hands.

Akram
That's exactly what it is philosophically. I give you a very simple example; traffic. I try to smile. There are benefits in that. Do I really need to get my blood pressure up? I don't need to get angry. Smile... It creates a different affect on your body. It does cause something to that other person also, because they wonder ‘why is that guy smiling?’ even if they didn't think too much about it, it did affect their subconscious.

Helen
How would we be able to use this same sort of force when we hear other nations saying that “Americans don't care about us. Americans only care about themselves.”? We can't just smile at them. What can we do as individual citizens that will have an effect at the national level, at the international level?

Akram
First of all, I think Americans care. Different cultures express the way people care about one another differently. In some it's more overt, some are much less obvious. It's just like the way people express themselves. Some use body language, some are verbal, some use eye contact; different ways of expressing care. I think Americans care and the reason I say that is simply if you look at the statistics of how many Americans are involved in local, national and international organizations and NGO's to try to improve their own communities nationally and also their relations within the international community. We see an increasing number of Americans being involved, whether it's in charities or now the citizen diplomacy program, which I think has great potential.

So, having said that, I come back to my Masonic experiment. Did you know that Montesquieu was a Mason? He was initiated in 1747 and that triggered something in him and, although it took him about 10 years, he came up with the idea of separation of powers; the balancing and the checking. That was his great contribution to political theory in government. Anyway, Voltaire was probably one of the most famous French Masons. Voltaire contributed with his famous sentence in Candide, "que chacun cultive son jardin", "let everyone tend his own garden". As a Mason, the work has to start with me. I've got to work with myself to make myself a better person.

What does it mean to be a better person? This is very important in Masonry, we don't say that you become better than others. It's self-improvement, it has nothing to do with competition. In this way you can avoid many of the negative, destructive forces, such as jealousy, greed, envy, competition in the sense that you have to put someone down in order to rise. This establishes a completely different way of operating. You're really competing with yourself and the more you know yourself the more you should try to push the envelope and become better within yourself. If everyone was to do this, while respecting that everyone else has the same right to do it, then we would have all types of flowers blooming within the same garden. But that's philosophical. Masons always try to make a practical application of philosophy, which brings us to citizen diplomacy.

Citizen diplomacy is one of the most powerful and effective tools that can be used and should be encouraged. That's the reason why I accepted to be on the Board of the National Council for International Visitors. I truly believe in that mission. It is amazing what the average citizen can do in showing the rest of the world that Americans care and truly make a difference.

This organization offers an incredible opportunity for people around the country. Our government brings people from all around the world to come here to learn more about the United States, to see American as She is. There is no propaganda here, there is no brain washing. When the visitors are here, they see different views. They see our homeless, they hear about our crime, they meet wonderful people, they are received in private homes which may be one or two people or a three- generational family. They see it all. It's basically opening up to say “here we are, come experiment with us.” It's incredible. That opening up and showing of all our culture takes guts and courage.

Now where and how do individual American citizens connect with these people? Americans invite them to their home, meet with them, take them around, or maybe make some contacts for them. We try to make that connection. Why? Because when we do that it's a 2 way street. First, these visitors come to know more aspects about America and they're processing this information saying, "wow, I didn't know this, this is incredible what's happening here". For example, one of my favorite places is a small town about 2.5 hours outside of Chicago. I spent time there with delegates and I had an amazing experience. A lot of people in this small town don't lock their doors. Think about that for a minute. Now here is someone from outside America who has been told there is crime everywhere and it’s not safe to go out on the street at night. Our international visitor in small town Illinois woke up in the middle of the night to go to the fridge and saw someone sleeping on the couch who he had never seen before. Well, with the noise the person on the couch woke up and the delegate asked, "who are you?" The visitor replied, "I'm a friend of their son and I was out with other friends in the area and had too much to drink so I just parked and decided to sleep here on the couch." It was just amazing for the delegate.

What the program does is tell visitors and delegates that we can to take the time to meet with them, take the time to listen to them and to provide them with as productive an experience as we can while they are here. Also, we learn from them. It's a 2 way street. The interaction always leads to something more.

Now, a lot of people have the word ‘terrorism’ on their mind. And most citizens in this country feel helpless, “What can we do to fight this war against terrorism? The FBI or CIA or some organization has to take care of that. I'm not the military and can't help with that." The majority of Americans don't fall into any of these categories. So what do they do? I personally think this is an incredible opportunity for the average citizen to contribute to the war effort through citizen diplomacy. You CAN do something, you don't have to feel frustrated. You can help, because terrorists don't operate in a vacuum. Terrorists operate in certain environments and they need certain support wherever they are; places to hide, sympathetic people around them to protect them; in many cases they even build on misery and ignorance. They exploit the ignorance of the people by telling them America is the Great Satan, the Great Evil and stands against everything that the good citizens, the true believers in their country stand for. They use that; it's ignorance and it's exploited. We can't do away with that simply with law enforcement, intelligence and the military. We need to work on all fronts.

We're coming back to the Whole. We have to use both the positive and negative reinforcements; the olive branch and the arrows. Citizens here can play a great role by defeating ignorance, by pulling the rug gradually from under the feet of those who use it and gradually diminishing their support. We defeat this ignorance by engaging other citizens from other countries and showing and telling them who we are, by building these bridges. Then, when they go back to their own countries, it becomes much more difficult for them to accept those ideas from the terrorists. They may say, "I disagree with you, I've seen for myself. I may disagree with US policy in this or that area, but I don't hate Americans. You are lying." That's basically what it is, you contribute as citizens by making it more difficult for terrorists to gain support.

This is a very pragmatic and practical way of looking at it. I truly believe there are forces of darkness that need to be checked by the forces of light.

Peter
They have got to be enlightened.

Helen
Just as we talked about the confusion of love and liking, we're now touching on the idea that if you disagree with someone you must hate them.

Akram
Yes, I have a hard time with that myself. I really have a hard time understanding that why if you disagree with someone you have to hate them. Why is it always, either this or that. Let’s go back to Voltaire who said, "I totally disagree with you, I despise what you're saying but I'll tell you I will fight with equal vigor for you to have that right to differ from me." That's enlightenment. We're not supposed to all think in the same manner. The Great Experiment I think would be meaningless if everyone were to think the same.

Peter
That seems to be the ultimate result, if the purpose of the Experiment is to keep the doors of finality from closing; to keep open a place where people can experiment to improve themselves and grow in emotional, spiritual or physical stature; what's presupposed there is that ultimately there will be a conclusion. We'll finally get it. The problems occur, obviously we haven't reached there. There are people in the world who fervently believe they already have the truth and whether we criticize the 9/11 terrorists as having been flawed Muslims or fanatical or overzealous there are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus all the major religions of the world, the true believers, believe that the truth is found and the experiment is not necessary and I think that that is the foundation of the opposition. On the political, material, cultural and intellectual level there are oppositions as well. On the philosophical and religious level there seems to be an opposition that is not overcome by saying we respect your freedom. The fundamentalists might say “we know the truth; what is this experiment for?” Basically they’re saying, “Come on get smart, get the truth, we have it”.

Helen
Isn't that very disagreement part of the experiment?

Akram
That's what I was going to say. This is what re-energizes me, reinvigorating me to keep going with my quest. Disagreements play an important role because it is that kind of an attitude that is creative. I think it's part of the experiment as humans, it’s part of our nature to become complacent. Maybe the disagreement is to keep us on our toes. That’s why the uncomplete pyramid is there (on the dollar bill) to keep reminding us that the experiment is not complete. The first layer began only in 1776, we've still a long way to go.

Helen
When we come up to opposition, we usually feel comfortable talking about philosophical arguments. You say it's day and I say it's night. But if we allow that sort of disagreement in words, we allow that disagreement may reach the extreme also. We become uncomfortable when we say don't point that gun at me, but it's all the same energy of disagreement. If it's there in one level of energy it's there in all intensities and we have to learn to deal with it.

Akram
Yes, in all intensities. This is why I am coming back to the Eagle. You need both aspects of the force. You know Star Wars is probably one of the very first modern, sci-fi series where George Lucas, also a Mason, used this concept. I saw an interview with him where he was talking about the 3 degrees and basing the movie on them; Darkness and Light. Getting back to the gun being pointed at us, we've got to accept that that's part of the Whole and we've got to accept that both types of force can be used. It's part of the Whole, but we never finish. The Experiment will never finish.

Helen
You can also call it the Great Adventure.

Akram
I don't know when we die physically as humans what happens to that energy or where it goes, but as far as the human experiment here on earth I don't think it will ever be complete but it does keep pushing, pushing, pushing, building with that enlightenment in mind. And this country, when you talk about the destiny of America, it is to lead that charge.

Peter
Good military metaphor there.

Akram
Well, it's from the concept of Knighthood, it's really a quest and don't think it's going to be an easy ride.

Peter
I got answers to my questions about the Fundamentalists, if they believe so strongly that they cannot tolerate that we are still continuing with our own search, then they still have more work to do themselves and just are unwilling to acknowledge.

Helen
We can all live together as long as they don't say there is no room for you on this earth too. Then we would have to protect our sovereignty.

Akram
The way I would sum it up into one sentence, I would yes, tolerate anyone's presence and thinking. Actually I shouldn't even say I tolerate, because who am I to tolerate? They are with us and I recognize that, but I would fight them, and by fighting and I'm using the Knighthood concept of fighting here by using both positive and negative force. I would make sure that whatever I try to do is for the ideal. I would also always be aware that the fight is there and it probably has a purpose and the purpose for me probably is to keep me on my toes.

Helen
I might interject here, the Knighthood quest is something like the Samurai quest. We always say if a Samurai is coming after you tell him his fly is open or embarrass him in some manner because when he becomes personally involved he can't act. He must act only for the highest ideals, not for personal aggrandizement. Much like the "turning the other cheek" analogy.

Peter
Do you think any one path has a lock on the truth?

Akram
There are some universal concepts that somehow manifest themselves differently in different cultures and therefore, my conclusion is that none of them has a lock on the truth. All of them are equally true in their own way and there are different paths and different ways as long as we keep the enlightenment as the goal. That's why I like the eye over the pyramid on the dollar bill. We need that source of light, not the seven colors, it's white, whole light as a guide. Sometimes people see only the seven colors, or the seven paths, but it's the wholeness that guides you esoterically.

The authors, Peter and Helen Evans, have two published books; "Freedom Through Contemplation" and "Manifest Success!" They also conduct classes via e- mail. More of their work can be seen at onecenter.org. They live in Washington, D.C.