“Cleanliness generates healthiness, which generates other aspects of life and most important security, but if security and healthiness are there without cleanliness, then they are sure to collapse.” – Ankur Agrawal
This continuation to our look at the Thirteen Virtues of Benjamin Franklin investigates the virtue of cleanliness. The actual statement of the virtue being, “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation” we’re going to break the article down into these three categories (though this topic could be, and has been, the topic of many a heavy book). In the process, I hope not to offend, cause duress, or otherwise burden you brethren with an excessive amount of self-conscious desire to bathe. If the shoe fits, then it shall be thrown at you.
The Unclean Mason Stinketh
Imagine, for a moment, the oft-stuffy confines of the inner room in the dead of summer. It is a terrible heat wave, and those good brethren who sit around you have been struggling against an unseen force of some high power — so great that you may think they are trying their best not to be possessed by a superior dark spirit. Then, as each of them slumps in their seats, finally succumbing to the unholy force, you realize that it is an uber-stench that has beaten them into senselessness. What’s worse is that it is emanating from you. Oh, you unclean being! Not only is this embarrassing, but it is downright rude. There’s plenty of stenches to abide by when a group of men gets together, and it is very inconsiderate to add to them by not taking care of your hygiene — shame on you.
Let’s look at another scenario, shall we? A public forum. Anywhere public. There you are standing amidst the crowd wearing your Masonic ring, hat, jacket, pendant, and underwear. You drove to the scene in a vehicle that has a vinyl Square and Compasses on each taillight, a colossal vinyl symbol in the back window, and a cute note from your mother pinned to the dash that says, “I love my Freemason.” Whispers are wafting through the group like wind through the last few remaining hairs of that 90-year brother that likes to tell stories of the “Good Ol’ Days” about that greasy-haired fellow that’s part of the mysterious cult with designs to take over the world. Mothers hastily pull their children away. Children stare while tears build up in their eyes, unable to look elsewhere for fear of what could happen to them and yet unwilling to show weakness by sobbing. Pitchforks are taken to hand. Torches lit. And why is this? Because someone failed to bathe using soap, wash their hair, have a neatly groomed look about them, and insisted on sullying the Fraternity with their appearance. Tsk, tsk.
The long and short of it, brothers? Bathe, wash behind the ears, wash your hair, use deodorant, get a haircut, comb it, and avoid looking like a homeless version of ZZ Top.
An Unclothed Mason is Embarrassing
Let us progress on to the subject of attire. I’m going to avoid the obvious joke about the spare tire and focus on the clothing, as Brother Benjamin would prefer. Far be it for me to dictate a particular style for a Freemason. My style is that of a biker with Harley Davidson symbols, leather headbands, and tattoos or while at work, a professional with tattoos. One of my good friends, and fellow Freemason, keeps his head shaved, but often grows out a bushy beard, likes climbing mountains like a goat, and tends to wear scrubs all day. Another wears a leather vest, belt buckle with a bull embossed upon it, cowboy boots and a Stetson. We each have our style, and there’s no mention of a particular daily dress code for a member of this esteemed Fraternity. Of course, when at work we’re supposed to wear the uniform of the Order which is a dark suit, dress shirt, and tie in our jurisdiction. But even then lodges aren’t as strict as to have the Tyler run someone through for showing up in a T-shirt and jeans… at least, not since The Incident.
The idea here is similar to that of the clean body mindset. Wash your clothes. Look like you give a few cares about your appearance. Dress accordingly.
I tell my children that they are in charge of their packaging and as much as we would like for people to not judge a book by its cover, they do. When you dress slovenly, look unkempt, and keep yourself in disarray, people view everything you have anything to do with in a more miserable light.
When we’re about our work in public, don’t think for a minute that people aren’t judging our Fraternity by the appearance of our brothers, and when you wear that Square and Compasses, you a representing the Order. Don’t get caught up in the hype of having to buy everything from a brand name store for the sake of appearance. Frankly, the majority of styles prominent in the market today are, in my humble and ever unimposing opinion, stripping the masculinity from our gender one skinny jean at a time. Whatever you’re wearing, wear it clean, ironed when appropriate, and in good repair.
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?’”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters
Make a Habit of a Clean Habitat
Here’s some advice for cleaning your abode:
- Don’t vacuum too often — it weakens the carpet fibers. Say this with a severe face, and delicately shudder whenever anyone mentions Carpet Fresh.
- If disturbed, dust bunnies cannot evolve into dust rhinos. Rename the area under the couch “The Galapagos Islands,” and claim an ecological exemption.
- Layers of dirty film on windows and screens provide a helpful filter against harmful and aging rays from the sun. Call it an SPF factor of 5, and leave it alone.
- Cobwebs artfully draped over lampshades reduce the glare from the bulb, thereby creating a romantic atmosphere. If someone points out that the light fixtures need dusting, look affronted and exclaim, “What? And spoil the mood?”
- In a pinch, you can always claim that the haphazard tower of unread magazines and newspapers next to your chair provides the valuable Feng Shui aspect of a tiger, thereby reducing your vulnerability. Roll your eyes when you say this.
- Explain away the mound of pet hair brushed up against the doorways by claiming you are collecting it there to use for stuffing hand-sewn play animals for underprivileged children.
- If unexpected company is coming, pile everything unsightly into one room and close the door. As you show your guests through your tidy home, rattle the door knob vigorously, fake a growl and say, “I’d love for you to see our Den, but Fluffy hates to be disturbed, and the shots are SO expensive.”
- If dusting is REALLY out of control, place a showy urn on the coffee table, and insist that “THIS is where Grandma wanted us to scatter her ashes.”
- Don’t bother repainting. Scribble lightly over a dirty wall with an assortment of crayons, and try to muster a glint of tears as you say, “Junior did this the week before that horrible accident. I haven’t had the heart to clean it.”
- Mix one-quarter cup pine-scented household cleaner with four cups of water in a spray bottle. Mist the air lightly. Leave dampened rags in prominent locations. Develop an exhausted look, throw yourself onto the couch, and sigh, “I clean and I clean, and I still don’t get anywhere.
In all seriousness, a clean home is a happy home. You’ve more than likely heard that before. Maybe from your mother? Possibly from your grandmother? There’s a reason it is being passed down through the ages. The very first cave, Eve says to Adam, “Ain’t no one happy ‘less I’m happy, an’ I ain’t happy ‘less this cave be clean.”
We strive to keep our temples clean so visitors and brothers alike will feel comfortable and at home when they step within them. What kind of example do you present to those who visit your home if it is about to be quarantined as a health hazard? Is that the way of Masonry? Can you study better within the winding maze of a packrat’s pizza box replica of Manhattan? Can you strive for that ever elusive mantle of perfection Solomon exhorted us to strive for when you worry because you haven’t been able to find your roommate for a few days now but can still hear his muffled cries for help somewhere beneath the waves of newspapers, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, and unmentionables that have built up over the years? Poor fellow.
What it boils down to, Brothers is to take pride in your appearance as a Freemason. Unfortunately, the world has not yet created a way to see into your heart and immediately tell that you’re an upright man. They judge by the cover of the book and the shelf that the book rests within. Let’s present the right image to the world, shall we? Please, share with us all some tips and tricks to make it easier to maintain the appearance of a person who cares, and serve on, brothers!