Noble Habitus: Forebearance

Where loyalty is the foundation upon which the Noble Habitus is built, forbearance is the set of pillars upon which the rest of the code stands.  Out of all the knightly virtues that make up the Noble Habitus, Forbearance is the virtue that upholds the others, keeping the passions of a person in check, and ensuring that those passions do not lead to intemperance.  This virtue is so important, that it is the first lesson taught to Masonic Apprentices. Full disclosure: I am a Freemason. Forbearance has many names, and the one in most use has changed as the English language has evolved; by other names it can be called moderation, or temperance.  Perhaps the best word to describe forbearance, however, is measure.  Forbearance is a measure with which we can check our actions, keeping ourselves from becoming absorbed by vice or obsession.

Obsession, and by extension addiction, is one of the oldest enemies of humans; it is by far the most easily displayed notion of why we are often our own worst enemies.  Drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, nicotine, and even internet and social media use, can become so completely absorbing to a person that they will focus on this desire or perceived need to the detriment of all other aspects of their lives; little wonder, considering how hard life can be and the traumas we must process on an almost daily basis.  When life is hard, which is all the time, it’s easy to want to find a form of escape, to overcome the sadness that defines our lives and give us the same rush that serotonin and endorphins would give us if our lives were going better. Therefore the objects of both obsession and addiction are poorly conceived escape mechanisms, giving us the feelings that we lack in the short term, while perpetuating and even geometrically increasing our problems.

The consequences of addiction and obsession are usually easy to measure.  You spend all of your money on the object of obsession; this can lead to financial troubles, depending on how sharp the addiction is and how obsessed you are with the object of fixation.  If you’re addicted to alcohol, you spend all of your earnings on booze, drinking your paycheck and even putting some on credit to feed your habit. Cigarettes and other tobacco products, you may put barely enough fuel in your tank to buy your two packs a day.  Your children, exposed to second-hand smoke on the one hand, aren’t even allowed the occasional candy bar because your cigarettes are more important. You go home with hundreds of dollars in scratch-off tickets, or sit at the local bingo hall with pull-tabs, looking for the rush of the occasional win.  Taken to the extreme, your relationships suffer, your wallet can’t sustain itself, and you eventually find yourself alone, and totally destitute.

Knowing what your limit is, and restricting yourself from overindulgence is the essence of forbearance.  It is limiting what you spend on your vices and the amount in which you indulge in it. A good example is gambling, which might be the most insidious and pervasive addiction in the United States.  Unlike other forms of intemperance, gambling is a much more silent addiction; there is no obvious method to detect a gambling addiction unless the gambler is at the machine or playing scratch-offs.

Addiction isn’t the only form of passion one has to be aware of, either.  Forbearance also means keeping one’s temper in check, ensuring anger and resentment don’t overpower all other emotions in your mind.  Our brains, which we don’t even have an inkling of understanding about, are able to retain a memory if it’s attached to an emotion; and in a lot of ways this is important.  After all, the emotion of fear attached to the motion of predators has become so ingrained in our psyche that we can genetically pass it to our children. A child doesn’t need to be taught to fear snakes.  On the same token, we attach an emotion of anger or dismay to the memory of an event, such as when a friend or family member betrays us, and that emotion will burn that memory onto our minds forever. If we obsess about it, that initial dismay or anger will eventually turn to resentment.

Now it could be asked what resentment has to do with forbearance, and the answer won’t be obvious; after all, it has nothing to do with vice, or desire, or other things that cause an endorphin rush to the brain, which is largely what causes us to be passionate about something to begin with.  What Masons understand about this virtue, perhaps even better than the knights we were once contemporaries with, is that forbearance is all about subduing one’s passions.  Whether we like it or not, resentment is a form of passion, because we as a species are largely addicted to struggle.  Therefore part of overcoming our passions is overcoming our resentment of the past.  This isn’t a simple matter, as those things that happened in our past, and the emotions we attach to them, make up a large part of who we are.

So the conundrum turns up about how to handle the issue.  You can release your resentments without forgetting the lessons attached to the negative experience, but you might not even be aware of what those resentments are.  If you don’t know what your resentments are, you have no way to unpack them, so the first thing you can do to become better at forbearance is to unpack your past and figure out what bothers you.  To do that, you write.  It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you have an event or sequence of events in your mind when you do it.  Take up journaling, write about one or two topics a week. Relive in your mind what happened and what about it still upsets you, because if you don’t you will be prone to outbursts and anxiety.

With anxiety, often comes irrational amounts of anger and rage.  This is when forbearance and the effect of resentment upon it becomes clear.  When you give into anger, and rage takes over, wraith in its most ancient and well known form comes forward and can ruin your whole life.  It can cause you to snap at the wrong person, or negatively affect a marriage or child. A carefully cultivated sense of temperance is vital to a successful and fulfilled life.

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