This particular article, though the third in Brother Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues series, is dedicated to Red Hanson who has been known to have said, “When you keep your mouth closed people don’t know how stupid you are. When you open it, everyone knows.”
I have oft heard it said that people should accept you for who you are. And while the thought is nice, it just isn’t realistic. Like it or not, you make a first impression, a second impression, a third impression, and so on. Every time you interact with someone you are making a lasting impression. What you leave them with can be dramatically influenced by what you wear, how you cut your hair, how you tend to your hygiene, and rather profoundly by what you say and do. Celebrities and politicians are in the spotlight all of the time for behaving in a less than becoming way, or by saying something completely inane. We are a culture of critics, and no matter how much we would like to believe it people cannot see into our hearts. The pages of our lives tell the story of who we are despite our best intentions.
Winston Churchill once said, “When the eagles are silent the parrots begin to jabber.” An atmosphere of silence seems to be awkward to most people requiring them to fill it with nonsense. Have you ever been on a car ride where you’ve been content to sit in silence and contemplate, but your passengers would instead serenade you with a cacophony of meaningless distractions? If you’ve been blessed with children, then I know you have. In Churchill’s case, I believe he was referring to the lack of intelligent conversation in politics. I’ve written before on how we shouldn’t sit idly by and allow the jabber of parrots to fill our illustrious halls. It tends to be written into law.
As Freemasons, we profess a dedicated belief in God, whatever the incarnation. “…in whom do we put our trust?” Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Freemasonry is all about improvement and service. We need to present ourselves well enough that our impressions on others exemplify our tenets. We must learn to keep our mouths closed lest people realize how “stupid” we are. Now, I’m not using the word “stupid” in its traditional sense. We tend to associate stupid with a lack of intelligence, but the definitions for the word in Merriam Webster’s dictionary also use the word as synonyms for vexation, senseless, brutish, and torpid. And it is to these that I focus your attention (while not necessarily forgetting the traditional definition).
When we open our mouths do we present ourselves (and thus Freemasonry) in such a way as to cause any of these negative impressions at any meeting? When we are in discussion with others do we seek to engage them in meaningful conversation, or do we present to them a face of ignorance? When we post our thoughts in our various online forums (Facebook and Twitter come to mind immediately) are we genuinely representing our ancient and honorable fraternity in the best light? Do we use vulgar language riddled with profanity, or do we try to seek descriptive words that manifest our beliefs? Do we engage in frivolously wasting other’s time by sharing vulgar and less reputable content, or do we try to uplift and guide our fellows and brothers towards the Light with every offering?
Best we practice silence if we do not seek the Light and share the Knowledge of the East with all our fellows and brothers lest we damage the excellent reputation of our organization, taint our brothers with our words and deeds, and otherwise “let everyone know [how stupid you are].”