What was Brother Benjamin Franklin‘s intent when he listed silence as the second virtue of his Thirteen (remembering that he recorded them in order of importance)?
Have you ever sat and listened to conversations taking place around you? I have. Not as an eavesdropper per se, but because I wasn’t involved in anything else and people are rarely concerned about privacy when holding discussions in public. So, in any given situation you can hear idle gossip, complaints, humorous anecdotes, stories of experience, etc. from people you’ve never met before or are likely never to meet again. The interesting thing about these conversations can be the value of their content; or rather the lack of substance.
People talk to talk, and excuse it as “small talk.” What they fail to realize is that the noise they make isn’t small talk, as small talk is an art form. It is the ability to generate worthwhile conversation through casual, and often dull, avenues. More specifically, the dictionary defines small talk as the polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.
Take a moment and imagine the time of Benjamin Franklin’s life. It was likely very quiet at night without television, radio, or cellular/electronic devices to fill the air. The sounds of nature could probably be heard. It was a time where philosophy and theology could easily be discussed without distraction. Where reading was prominent and thought-provoking. And yet Brother Franklin still placed Silence as the second of the Virtues.
I would propose that his intent was singularly about idle chatter; to expressing the uneducated opinion; to fill the air with useless noise.
In our day and age, we can add quite a bit more to that list: cell phones, music, television, computers…knowing when to speak and how to speak so that you add value to a conversation is indeed an art form that is being forgotten. Now, imagine a world where people spoke only to contribute positively, constructively, and when necessary. I believe we’d be far more productive as a people. We’d have more respect for individuality and for education. We’d be more prone to have discussions about things that matter, and not allow popular media to control our society. We would value debate and be more capable of discovering the Truth of matters through engagement. For all the good that the technologies we have available to us have provided, we are a people in social decline. Silence is now a commodity of inestimable value.
In this age, we are subject to a culture who prefers to be entertained rather than educated, who would rather stand at the water cooler and discuss American Idol results, or the latest drama with Sookie, or the gathering of criminals in D.C. than the state of affairs with our school system, the moral decline of society, and the negative influences infecting our children’s minds. Our nation is falling into disrepair because we don’t practice this aspect of the Virtue of Silence: speaking when we’ve something of value to offer.
Brothers. Freemasons are to be free thinkers. Our honorable and ancient fraternity has been known to contribute to the best advances in culture and society. Our brothers have been at the forefront of those who incite positive change, leaders who are renowned for their ability to think compassionately and intelligently. We must return to a practice of Silence to carry on this tradition. Turn off the buzz. Listen. Think. Ponder. Add.
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