Temperance is not about abstinence as many believe today, it’s about moderation. It’s about maintaining a balance, and applying due restraint to our passions so that we aren’t tempted by the allurements of excess. Masons are taught to avoid excess in all things, and temperance is that virtue that reminds us to practice all things in moderation. That requires a level of self-discipline.
Fortitude is that virtue that provides us with strength. As we’re taught, fortitude is that steady purpose of mind that enables us to withstand any pain, peril or danger. It allows us to stand strong in our words and deeds and not stray off the noble path. Again, this requires a mastery of self-discipline because standing strong in the face of danger or even criticism is a very difficult thing to do.
Prudence is a virtue closely related to both temperance and virtue. It is a virtue that helps us regulate our lives by applying reason and wisdom to any given situation to help to determine the proper path. It is the wisdom to know when to act, and when not to act. It is the wisdom to know when it is best to speak, and when it is best to remain silent. It is the wisdom to know when to fight, and when to flee. Prudence is the balance between temperance and fortitude. And without question, prudence requires a great deal of self-discipline.
I’m an impulsive person by nature—self-discipline is not something that has come easy to me. It’s something I’ve worked very hard on since I’ve become a Mason, and I’ve made tremendous progress over the last thirteen years. Much of the progress I’ve made is because I practice self-discipline every day.
I discovered early on, that I do great at self-discipline until I’m tempted, or I was put under stress, or I was challenged in some way—then my self-discipline vanished in an instant. That’s because I had self-discipline in theory only, but not in practice. I’d have a great day and meet all my diet and exercise goals, and then I’d drive by the Dairy Queen on the way home, and suddenly I’d be eating a peanut buster parfait. I’d stop by the tavern on the way home at 5 o’clock for “one beer” and I’d still be there at 10 o’clock (or later). I’d make an effort to control my temper, until somebody said something I didn’t like and in a flash . . . well, you get the idea. So I decided to teach myself self-discipline the same way I learned how to write books and play the piano. I practice it over and over again every day, and over time it becomes easier to apply in those situations when I’m tested.
I have a number of daily exercises I use. The purpose of these exercises is to challenge myself, and make myself pay particular attention to my words, my actions, and my attitudes in an area that I feel I need improvement in. I intentionally make myself live outside my comfort zone in different areas so that I can better handle myself in a proper manner when real challenges present themselves. Some of the daily challenges are fairly easy, but require me to think about one particular area for a day. Other challenges are very difficult for me, and I’ll often have to repeat them for a few days in a row until I move on—and I’ll go back to those again and again until they get easier to accomplish. Some of my challenges I’ll set up to last a week. Some of my challenges involve diet and exercise. Some involve my interactions with other people. Some involve distractions that I need eliminate. Some involve productivity. Some involve getting out of a rut I’ve found myself in. Some involve changing the way I think about things that repeatedly seem to irritate me. Patience is something I’m particularly challenged with at times, so those are exercises I go back to time and again. One thing you can be sure of, is that I’m working on something every day.
And it works. The more you exercise something, the stronger it gets—makes no difference if it’s a muscle or a trait. And just like with athletes, the time they spend training and working out off the field prepares them for the challenges they face on the field. As I’ve said many times before, it’s not just about doing Freemasonry, it’s about living Freemasonry. A big part of Freemasonry is that idea of personal growth and self-improvement. You can learn the principles of Freemasonry from books, but you can only apply the principles of Freemasonry through practice in your daily life.
Freemasonry isn’t three degrees and done. It’s a lifetime commitment to keep chipping away throughout our entire lives on that rough ashlar.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog. He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282. He is also a member of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org