We often say that Freemasonry makes good men better.
However, we do not always do a good job of explaining how.
There are several values and virtues promoted in the Fraternity that serve this purpose and in this article, I will be going over the attribute of Temperance.
Origin and Definition
The term temperance comes to us via the Latin verb temperare, meaning “to observe proper measure or to restrain oneself.”
The word temper comes to us via the Old English temprian, meaning “to moderate or to bring to a suitable state,” which also comes to us via the same Latin verb temperate.
Benjamin Franklin provided a very brief and narrow definition for temperance in his Book of Virtues:
“Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
Ezra Taft Benson, the thirteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives us a more extensive explanation:
“[A temperate person] is restrained in his emotions and verbal expressions. He does things in moderation and is not given to overindulgence. In a word, he has self-control. He is a master of his emotions, not the other way around” (source).
Historically (in the United States of America, at least), many grand lodge jurisdictions misinterpreted this virtue to mean abstinence, particularly from alcohol.
For this reason, imbibing alcohol was prohibited in many Masonic buildings throughout the country. Even recently some grand lodge jurisdictions have passed legislation to relax or lift such prohibitions.
How to Apply Temperance as Masons
To be temperate does not necessarily mean abstaining from alcohol (although some of us already choose to live a lifestyle of sobriety).
It simply means being moderate in our appetites and in control of our emotions.
In the Grand Lodge F&AM of Utah, we are charged as Entered Apprentices not to allow our zeal for the Institution to lead us into argument or discord with others;
I assume that Masons in other grand lodge jurisdictions receive a similar charge. I can certainly improve in this area, especially over social media where it is easy to be bold from behind a computer screen.
This also applies to how much time we spend on our respective Masonic duties. If we do not moderate such time spent, it can easily overtake our lives and distract us from more important duties, such as those to God, family, and country.
How to Apply Temperance to Daily Life
There are seven aspects of life that an individual must exercise to be healthy not only as an individual (source) but also as a contributor to society:
I would like to discuss each of these points in brevity as they relate to temperance.
I am not saying that we all need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I am also not saying that we must give up eating delicious foods.
However, we should be striving to keep ourselves physically healthy; the healthier we are, the more capable we are to be industrious and serviceable to our fellow man.
Too much or too little exercise and deprivation or overconsumption of nutrients are also not healthy. There is a necessary balance that we must find and maintain.
I will tread carefully here.
As Masons, each of us has a belief in a Supreme Being (however we each respectively define it).
Each of us should be strengthening ourselves spiritually not only by carrying out our respective duties to Deity, but also by studying our respective Volumes of Sacred Law (as applicable) and by being examples to each other and to others in general.
I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as getting too much spiritual nourishment, but there is such a thing as getting too little.
Temperance here means controlling our temporal appetites to make room for spirituality in our lives.
The more wisdom we obtain via application of knowledge learned, the more informed we will be, the better we can provide for ourselves and our families, and the better we can contribute to the relief of our neighbors.
In addition, by tempering our thoughts to withstand the temptations of allurements, we may overall improve in all aspects; after all, all the words one can speak and all of the works which one can purposefully enact, whether good or bad, originate from one’s thoughts.
As Utah Masons, we are charged at the close of about every meeting “to mix again with the world”;
In the very same charge, we are told that the extent of the generous principles of Freemasonry reach so far that “every human being has a claim upon [our] kind offices.”
If we do not socialize with others, then how can they make any such appeal to us?
I believe that it is our duty to socialize with Masons and non-Masons alike. For some of you, that is likely not a problem; for others of us (and I purposefully include myself here), perhaps we should temper our respective introversions by getting to know more people.
In the realm of political affiliation and discussion, it can be especially difficult to temper ourselves.
Must we remain silent on the issues in which we strongly believe? Not at all. Must we suffer the verbal abuses and vitriol of those who vehemently disagree with us?
Of course not.
However, we should endeavor to temper our respective behavior, showing respect where it is due and showing courtesy in lieu thereof when necessary.
This may be the most difficult of all, for to temper one’s emotions may largely depend on the temperament of the other aspects of life listed here.
I argue that we must be slow to anger and quick to forgive.
To become angry is a choice; just like our other emotions, it is not a condition that others force upon us.
Does any scenario exist in which anger is appropriate?
Perhaps. Do we see anger occur in the world more than is necessary? Far too often, yes.
Given that many environmental issues have been politicized as of late, I will keep this point brief. I refer to theologian John Wesley’s Sermon 88: On Dress:
“… let it be observed, that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this, nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly, this is a duty, not a sin. ‘Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.’”
Though Freemasonry is not a religion nor a substitute for one, it is clear that we are all men of faith; though our respective faiths may vary. And, although Wesley is focusing primarily on a person’s own physical appearance, the same principles extend to how we leave our surroundings.
As our Worshipful Master has conveyed spot-on to us on a few occasions,
“The eyes of the world and of the Fraternity are upon us.”
We must be respectful of our surroundings. I am reminded of a passage from the Scout Handbook that I was (and that maybe some of you were) issued and expected to study:
“The open country that remains is home to a rich variety of animals and plants. It supplies clean water for everyone to drink and it freshens the air we breathe. When we want to get away from the cities, we have the freedom to enjoy parks, forests, and [various sites] across the nation.
“With that freedom comes a duty to care for the environment. That means enjoying the outdoors, learning from it, and then leaving it as we found it ….”
As Masons, I believe that we can take this a step further by leaving any environment better than when we found it; but that is a discussion for another day.
At our jobs, are we keeping a good pace so that we do not burn ourselves out?
After all, the twenty-four-inch gauge reminds us that we must make time for our respective duties to God as well as for rest and refreshment.
Are we refraining from being too greedy with our allotted breaks?
Being temperate in our respective occupations also includes how we behave towards our subordinates, our peers, and our superiors.
Are we gossiping in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter)?
Are we striving to meet goals and deadlines?
If someone legitimately finds fault with us, we can take it in stride and use that information to improve ourselves instead of stewing and holding a grudge.
Thus, we see that Temperance is valuable as a virtue both to Masons and to mankind in general.
I invite each of you to determine where in your daily habits and interactions you can be more temperate, thereby strengthening your character and setting a wonderful example for others to emulate.
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