Brother or Friend?

Brother or Friend?

A long time ago, I heard a Freemason tell another that they “should not be friends” with their Brothers. It was a strange comment to me, as I thought that when I joined Freemasonry, I would find like-minded people who I could spend time with, conversing and changing the course of the universe, all of us achieving amazing and lofty ambitions. These are the things you do with people you like. And don’t you like your friends?

Later on, once I moved into the higher degrees, another, more experienced Freemason said the same thing, adding, “it is a lonely path, being in these higher degrees.” While I might have doubted before, I did not doubt now. I have seen too many things go awry to question that wisdom. My quandary, though, was trying to figure out what the difference between Freemason and Friend is all about? Why can’t a Brother also be a Friend? Why shouldn’t a Brother be a Friend? How do I communicate that to others, who have stumbled into some awkward and emotionally disturbing situations? How do I avoid them, too?

Let me preface this with saying that this discovery, this understanding between friend and brother, has been a long journey. I have learned a lot about myself, as Freemasonry is wont to provide to a person on its path. I am the type of person who tries to have a pleasant demeanor and be welcoming. Call it being a Libra, a caretaker, eldest daughter, or whatever you will; my personality is to bring in as much hospitality as possible with my attitude, thoughts, and feelings so as to create a circle of warmth, trust, and authenticity. I feel it’s the only way to communicate well with people, and how I want people to communicate well with me. Being open gives me insight into who they are. Many people mistake this for friendship; I think in general, people from the United States mistake quite a bit for friendship, but that might be a topic for another time. Being nice does not equate to friendship. Being nice is, well, simply being nice. I have had this issue all my life and it’s something I understand about myself. While I attempt to be clear, I sometimes do not see the forest for the trees. I struggle to see how being nice may cause misunderstanding. Let’s call it knowledgeable naivete.

A friend is someone who you have created a bond with, someone with whom you know and have a mutual affection. Someone once said to me, you win friends. They are created through experiences of trust, sharing, and having someone with which is common. You might or might not provide some kind of support for a friend; it might be emotional, mental, or physical support.

Different friends have different levels of engagement and meaning. A friend might be someone with whom you share events throughout your life or someone with whom you only share coffee once in a while. There are no expectations in overall friendship; each relationship creates its own boundaries and ways of thinking and being together. In Europe, acquaintances are not friends. You may know someone for 20 years, but they are not your friend. They are someone you know. We have less distinction about that here in the United States. We rely a lot more on others who tell us what we should be. Friends are necessary for everyone; they provide us a window to the world and an ear to speak to when we need that confidant, that supporter, that person who knows us best.

A Brother is very different. While we choose our Brothers in Freemasonry, it’s a very democratic and discussion-heavy process. Brother, it should be clear, is a title. It may mean a fellow Freemason, but it is also a title of someone who is a Freemason. For someone to become a Brother, there is a lengthy and stringent process, where the requirements are spelled out based on the Masonic organization or body. For example, one has to be just, upright, and free, of mature age, sound mind, and strict morals. They don’t have to meet my morality; they have to demonstrate a morality that upholds the tenets of Freemasonry – for example tolerance and prudence. As a Freemason who makes a judgement about an applicant, I can say with authority that this isn’t a popularity contest: the applicant must meet the criteria and the majority of the Lodge members agree to the membership. While it’s nice to have people get along, it is certainly not a requirement unless something is seriously disharmonious. Some Masonic groups do not admit the other gender, or some do not admin non-Christians. Whatever the rules are about entrance, they are tightly controlled by the overarching organization.

In my opinion, the more diverse the group of Freemasons, the better the growth of the human and humanity. What better way to gain a better understanding of the self than to rub up against those people with whom we don’t particularly fit well? Think… rock tumbler. We like to think we have no rough edges but all rocks in a tumbler are pokey. If you catch on someone else, it’s not because your surface is super smooth. You have bumps, like we all do. That is how we get better. By working them out. We’ll talk more about this later.

Selecting who becomes a Brother is only one part of answering the question, what is the difference between Brother and Friend? The second comes from repeatedly working in Lodge together as Freemasons. Human beings are normally drawn to one another as they perceive common interests. In Freemasonry, many Brothers travel together or offer their homes for visits and boarding. In the outer world, the non-Masonic world, this indicates or implicates friendship. For someone who is not clear about their Masonic boundaries, this kind of interaction can be misconstrued. Being nice isn’t being a friend; being nice in Freemasonry is expected and hospitable. Conversely, as I noted above, agreeing with someone isn’t a requirement to be or remain a Freemason. We all don’t have the same thoughts, same views, nor would we want to. Debate and rhetoric are things which create better humans, and Freemasons value the well-informed, opinionated debate. If you can’t discuss topics of importance with your Brothers, then you may not have success as a Freemason. In other words, disagreement or debate isn’t cause for hate or strife. It’s a cause for growth.

Rock. Tumbler.

There is a code of conduct that Freemasons have in interacting with one another that is fairly formal and is intact whether they are in a Lodge meeting or out in public or at a non-Masonic event. No Freemason would dream of striking another physically, calling names to them or their families, or treating them with anything but human decency. There is a respect for them as a human being but even more so, they have earned respect because they have the title Brother. There is also a respect for the hard work someone has put into their Masonic Order, whether it be from years of service, traveling to instruct or mentor, hours of meetings and committees, or other volunteer time. There is a respect of position, formally granted by the Lodge to that person who must spend their time coordinating, planning, instructing, and fostering further Masonic influence, as well as that Lodge’s officers who carry out the work. There’s respect for memorization, degree work, and one hopes, for the execution of the ritual. All of these require a sense of honor for fellow Brothers and a real dedication to support what they do, even if we don’t want to, can’t, or are not able to do it ourselves. We respect merit and ability. This respect is backed up by rules and regulations that demand respect, and a jurisprudence that enforces those rules.

I think this is where the waters become muddy. In the non-Freemasonic world, we bestow respect by our own credo. We win friends by living by our own ideals and sometimes we compromise those ideals for the benefit of having those around us who share our proclivities. We tend to choose our friends because they think like us, not because they think differently. We choose friends with our egos, generally. In a society that is increasingly polarizing, we need our armies around us to make us feel better. In a society that increasingly insular, we mistake the slightest hint of personal niceness as being hit on or being courted for, well, becoming a courtier. It can’t be stated enough that we don’t bring the outside world into Freemasonry and expect it to adapt. Likewise, we shouldn’t misconstrue the hospitality and fraternity of Freemasonry for friendship.

As you move through the path that is Freemasonry, your responsibilities, duties, and obligations become greater, wider reaching. Your duty grows, and your mind must be set to think of not only your own Lodge but your District, your Grand District, and perhaps your entire Order; it may even grow so far as to be responsible for the growth of Freemasonry itself. While a true, authentic friend would never ask you to compromise your avocation for them specifically, it places everyone in a precarious balance if you mix responsibility, duty, and obligation with going out for a few beers on a Saturday night with a single Brother. One has to be very careful where one boundary ends and another begins. How one comports themselves is in direct relation to how they have obligated themselves to a position within Freemasonry.

The largest and most difficult challenge is being “friends” with people early in your Masonic career and then weighing that with greater obligations as you grow. As we change, sometimes our friends do not. Maybe we don’t go out for beers any longer but stay home and enjoy a good study group online. There may be a bitterness about placing Freemasonry above friendship. There might be sadness because you spend time with a Lodge instead of a single person. I know of one person who became the head of their local Lodge. When that happened, people flocked to her to place them in positions of seeming importance in the Lodge, offices they desired. She succumbed to putting them in these positions and the Lodge suffered because of it because they weren’t equipped to do the jobs they desired; she thought of their desires and not the needs of the group. Friendship above Freemasonry. She learned a valuable lesson that first year.

In some cases, maybe you never were friends and simply Brothers, but that is where the niceties and hospitality of Freemasonry confuse with the outside world. When you first enter into Freemasonry, maybe you are looking for friends or even family. You might be looking for those like-minded people and hope for friendship. Going and getting coffee and talking about esoteric subjects may be something you do with friends or with Brothers; it is the building of the relationship, and context, that makes the difference. It is not impossible to be a friend with a Brother – not by a long shot. Yet, what I see work is when Freemasonry is the basis of the relationship and that takes precedence. I can think of many instances where the reverse does not work.

In Co-Masonry, there is the added, extra challenge of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and other family members becoming Freemasons, sometimes in the same Lodge. This seems to take the modern familial relationship and make it even better. You have the common purpose of becoming better people, together, with a deeper grasp on your relationship. Perhaps it is because that “friendship” relationship never existed between siblings or parents – after all, it’s family. It was family first, even if the adults are friends, too. Freemasonry, in its familial format, supports those ideas and relationships deeply and helps them, in my opinion, become richer. I have seen whole families join Freemasonry and it creates a very strong, lifelong bond.

I have seen more than a few people who have given their entire adult lives to helping Freemasonry grow, and it is not an easy path. They are on the phone from 6:00 to 18:00, backed up in emails and meetings, planning and executing all the time. If they are lucky, they are able to carve out time for family and some close friends, some travel, and laughter. They have raised families who were nearly all Freemasons and have maybe raised some who were bitter about Freemasonry’s influence. Some have worked for decades to improve the lives of all Freemasons, with no thought to their own service or sleep. It is all a choice, and that sacrifice can be as hard as those that give up their individual lives to raise a family or a flock of parishoners. For these dedicated few, they have very few friends but many, many Brothers. For them, that is satisfying and healthy, and it helps them create the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in the world.

So, Friends? Or Brothers?

Trust and Where to Find It

Trust and Where to Find It

Having just come off an ugly few weeks at work, the issue of trust has raised its ugly head. Bosses not trusting the people they hire; employees not trusting managers to look out for them; gossipers and those who malign out of jealousy or fear. The workplace seems to be the last place trust is formed. The specter of what passes for trust in the modern world of North America, well, it leaves something to be desired. Many books have been written about the subject, by various authors, from Dale Carnegie to Malcolm Gladwell.  We could talk about being a leader and being an employee ad nauseum, as most of us have performed one of those tasks in some way shape or form. We’ve talked in the last several articles about work, industry, and the idea of being a contributing member of society. We’ve also talked about the value of Social Capital. I find that many of these topics come to a very core value of trust. Where do we find it?

A friend once said that “trust can never be earned. It must be granted and only when you are ready to grant it. It’s yours to give, yours to take away. It’s not something that is a wage to be paid.” Wise words, although at the time, it didn’t seem so. It seemed judgemental and hollow. Of course we can earn someone’s trust. Can’t we? Work hard; be upright; and show our integrity. Right?

Confidence, belief, faith, and rely upon – all synonyms for trust. Yet, who creates trust? In short…we do. In our heads, in our minds, and in our hearts. Trust is a construct of our own internal making, built on ideas, expectations, and beliefs that have been gathered over the course of creating our relationships. The building of trust is a wall, brick by brick, that is made from repeated incidents that end up the way we believe they should or would end up. We’ve played out a scenario in our mind and the members of the play have participated correctly and created a lasting impression on us. The integrity and trust of these impressions is built on not  who the individuals are but to what we believe. That is, trust is in our own minds and our own reality.

In trust, both risk and reward are built in. The trust we create in our own mind, oddly enough, is the both the judge and the distributor of the decision. We need trust to be able to form relationships with people; long lasting relationships where both parties are mutually benefited by trust. Marriages, life-long friendships, even employer-employee relationships are trust built brick by brick. We might even consider that when we engage in commerce – it is an act of trust. We call AAA, and they say they will come to our aid. When that request is granted, trust has been gained. Never show up and well, trust has eroded or is gone completely. We decide in our own minds what constitutes the willful crowning of trust on a person or company; the decision lies solely within us. Trust seems to be the glue that maintains a civil and coherent society. Let’s face it – locks only keep out the honest people, yes?

0721_trustThat trust involves risk means that we place a value on trust that is above much of our common interaction with people. Having trust in something or someone can create a dependency that may be “warranted” or not. We need to see value in something in order to actually grant trust. Ergo, that value can be lost if trust is broken. We gain much when we trust – opportunities for cooperative activity, meaningful relationships, knowledge, autonomy, self-respect, and overall moral maturity. Perhaps trust itself has no value – that is, we grant trust not because we will obtain something for ourselves (and the trustee) but “just because” we find the person to be upright. Should we trust them solely out of respect for their person? If trustworthiness is a virtue, and we seek to grow it in ourselves, then doesn’t it behoove us to show respect for another simply because we see they are trustworthy? Shouldn’t others afford us the same quarter? “Trust would be a sign of respect for others if it were an attitude of optimism about the trustee’s character: that is, if it assumed that virtue resided within this person’s character. Moreover, trust that has intrinsic value of this sort presumably must be justified. If optimism about the person’s character was inappropriate, then the respect would be misplaced and the intrinsic value would be lost.” *Article on plato.stanford.edu here*

The author of the article noted above continues on from the quote above to drop the idea of the virtue of trust as simply respect for another person. However, I think it does merit talking about. The term “authenticity” sprang to mind while thinking about this and I think that is where the core of trust begins. Authenticity is not being false or an imitation of something else; it is “worth of acceptance or belief; true to one’s own personality, spirit, and nature.” Being authentic is first knowing about yourself – who are you and how do you show up in the world. Once you know that, being authentic is about letting no one sway you from that way of being. It’s not about conforming – it’s about being who you are regardless of the situation. There was an explosion of authenticity articles and movements between 2010 and 2014; what’s interesting to note is that we’re not, as a culture, talking about authenticity now. Is it because we have new leadership that, in their authenticity, are cultivating chaos? Or is it because the ability to be authentic is too hard or scary, and the movement is gone? Culturally and sociologically, it would be interesting to reflect on why there was that surge in “being authentic” and whence that movement has gone. However, not right now, another time… If you want to read more on authenticity, check out the plato.stanford.edu site which houses many articles both on trust (referenced above) and on authenticity.

All of these concepts seem tied together: autonomy, self-realization, authenticity, and trust. While the core of creating trust is authenticity, there has to be a certain willingness for the trustee to put a personal stake in the relationship. You can be as authentic as a fresh baked apple pie but if someone else has inherent trust issues, you’re never going to trust1be invited to dinner. As the cliche goes, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.” I feel as if I am in constant discovery of myself so to be authentic for me is to be present. As long as I am thoughtful and searching my feelings with honesty, that is as authentic as I can be. Like everyone else, I change my feelings and mind, as I learn more about myself and knowledge about the world. Am I still worthy of trust if my authenticity is fluid? I hope so.

Two of the core values, in my mind, about Freemasonry, are “authenticity” and “trust.” Like any society of men and women where people to come together for a common cause, Freemasons have a structure and codified ways of acting and being together. We are separate from the outside world because of the Fraternity. We don’t treat our fellow members with the same casual demeanor that we would the people we work with or classmates or even some of our family members. From the onset, we must consider the people that are bringing us into the fraternity with some measure of trust. This makes the vetting process not only important but critical; not for the Lodge or Order but for ourselves and for the aspirant. Freemasons themselves are under the microscope of the aspirant’s eye – will we meet their expectations?