Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

In a recent conversation with a long-time Freemason, she mentioned that people misunderstand the meaning of being a Freemason, and what Freemasonry is really doing in the world. Deeper into the conversation, what she was talking about was the current trend of all this “personal journey” hubbub. A lot of people join Freemasonry to find a way to enlightenment or expand their consciousness or become a better person. When people join Freemasonry, they want to find something – spiritual awakenings, meaning, purpose, secrets, a way to some secret treasure, power, sometimes even a business partner. Some people want to join to find a mate or get rich. Yes, there’s every type of something out there that people are seeking. Yet, that’s not why Freemasonry exists. The tenets, rituals, symbols of Freemasonry do not speak to these personal journeys.

Freemasonry doesn’t exist for the individual. It exists for the individual collective. Taken another way, Freemasonry doesn’t care about your personal journey. Your personal path and reason for joining Freemasonry doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t.

Freemasonry’s goal is not to perfect the human. One stone a temple does not make. Freemasonry’s goal is to “perfect humanity.” To perfect humanity, it needs a group of individuals that are willing to work and abide by its principles. Freemasonry’s principles are not those of a specific individual, religion, or philosophy. These principles are moral and ethical in nature; morality and ethical behavior are for the collective and affect the collective. Religion, politics, civil obedience – these are preferences which affect the individual. There is a reason that individual preferences are kept out of the Lodge room; the individual ego and desire doesn’t have a “special snowflake” place within Freemasonry.

I hear the rustling in the columns now: “No, just hold on. We’re asked for opinions and thoughts. We are supposed to express our individual thoughts and develop our own ideas and strength of mind.” True enough. However, we are asked in a context of opinion to be shared with the whole, and discussion and healthy debate, which in turn illumines the mind. A mind stuck in dogma or rigid behavior finds a difficult path in Freemasonry. Dogma and rigidity are the ego speaking through the personality. They are not the collective working through the individual but the individual trying to work through the collective.

Another Freemason that I know is fond of saying “Freemasonry is an individual path in a group setting.” In discussing this idea, he thought I was crying foul on this statement. Actually, I’m not. What I am saying is that the individual path does not effect or affect Freemasonry. It is a fixed set of landmarks and rituals with guiding principles that the individual may interpret and apply to their own life. The individual’s life and purpose for joining the group does not impose itself on Freemasonry.

This is not to say that Freemasons should be automatons and blindly follow leadership. Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite: they should feel comfortable enough in their individuality to share it with the whole, taking what works for them and discarding, but img_0176-1not dismissing, the rest. Yet, in the end, they work toward the good of the collective, which in turn, works towards the good of Humanity.

The individual Freemason struggles sometimes to see himself as a part of something greater. Perhaps it gets easier as one progresses in Freemasonry, when the message is provided again and again about humanity, not the individual. We cannot divorce ourselves from being individuals – that is physically, emotionally, and mentally impossible. However, we can see ourselves as part of the greater society, taking our mind and emotions outside of our own comfort zone and do what is necessary for the greater – good, Lodge, group, whatever.

I was struck by a recent commercial for a popular TV show. The show was about police officers, and their dedication to their city, country, and community, to the point of putting their lives on the line for any and all of those things. Not all of us can do police work, or be fire fighters, or doctors and nurses. There is a deep dedication in these people that goes beyond a nine-to-five job. We applaud those people because they actually save lives – regardless of danger, pain, or even their own death.

But, who is to say something like Freemasonry is any different? Bold statement, to be sure. Yet, what happens if Freemasons, through their Lodge or Order, strive to make the world a more educated, thinking, devoted, and aspiring place? If that striving for education produces one more doctor where perhaps there was none before, haven’t we made humanity better? What if the work of an Order creates a publishing company, and one of those books inspires a young reader to go on to a career in science, and they create a cure for a devastating disease? What if a Lodge has an outreach campaign to their older members and they are able to bring some bright light to their fading days? What if their family sees this and recognizes compassion, and in turn, creates a foundation to help others with the same disease?

Sure, the individual can do all these things. In fact, these examples are all accomplished by individuals working with a collective mind, a collective heart, and a collective intention. The Lodge is an entity of individuals but it too is “a single mind.” It is an individual collective, like a brain filled with firing neurons. It is not the Borg, there is no assimilation or lack of individuality; it is a melting pot. It is a collection of living stones, all in the process of perfection to create something greater than themselves. We are not stones that stand alone. There is no purpose in that. It’s in the group, the collective, that we can build that place that “shelters humanity” and provides a place of advancement for the entire human race.

The Leadership Doppelgänger

The Leadership Doppelgänger

In general, in employment, you can categorize people’s career personality strengths into three areas: technical ability, analytical and tactical thinking, and creative, entrepreneurial thinking. Everyone seems to have these traits on a sliding scale, a little of one or a lot of another, but they all exist. If you move to the top of your technical field, no matter the field, it seems inevitable that you will eventually land, at least career-wise, in a management position. Managers, too, have these three strengths, and they become more enhanced, more visible, the longer someone is in their management position.

Which one of these strengths is the foundation of great leadership? There are some who would argue, as did the book eMyth by Michael Gerber, that it is a mix of all three. The knowledge of oneself in these categories is really the key. We must first understand that the manager is not, just by virtue of title, a leader. A manager is the one who makes the business operate, the one who sees to the tactical, day-to-day running, the one who makes sure that the employees have what they need to be successful, and the one who anticipates issues and when missed, fixes them. Not everyone can be a manager. It takes a fullness of vision to be able to see the whole and work to have the parts move in synchronicity. A manager must attend to details, to make sure that goals are set, communicated and clear, and that the targets are eventually met. A good manager knows his responsibility does not stop at the end of the day but that it continues in his consciousness, through all the aspects of the day. Most people can develop the strengths necessary to be a manager, and some may develop into being good managers. Much depends on the knowledge of themselves.

The “manager” the leadership doppelgänger. He looks like a leader because he has a team. He smells like a leader because he has an air of being in charge. He sounds like a leader because he gives direction. A manager, however, is not necessarily a leader.

Knowing what it takes to build a functioning team is knowing about bits, bolts, and bots. Leadership is far more than a title. What happens when the manager is called on to lead? This is when he draws on his experience as a technician and as an entrepreneur. This is also where most new managers fail. It takes a very wide vision to lead, and it takes deep knowledge. As a leader, this manager must know what his people are expected to do. He should know what they need to do their jobs, understand what the goals are from their perspective, and know where potential pitfalls may assail them.

As an entrepreneur, he must be able to see the work as it unfolds throughout the months or years; he needs to be able to speculate on performance of people, technology, and materials and take action to not just mitigate problems but anticipate them and even course-correct before they surface. The entrepreneur is a creative mind, able to take apart problems and put them back together in a different way. The good leader listens to his team, weighs their input with his own experience and knowledge, wisdom and intelligence, and then makes his plans. He steps to the front when executing those plans and puts himself at the head of the charge. Being a leader means being able to step into all the jobs the team does, at any time, to continue to help the team succeed as a whole. A great leader does not think of himself as the “head” but as a functional part of the body which either all succeeds or all fails. Being a great leader means a substantial knowledge of what he can provide and what he can’t; he’s honest and upfront about that and utilizes his team to bring their strengths to the fore, augmenting his own weaknesses. Together, they form a rich and strong team that creates.

It takes time to develop leadership. It takes mistakes. It takes tears and anger and joy. It takes learning again and again what you can and cannot do, and finding the right people with the right strengths to accomplish the work. It takes education and perseverance, patience, desire, and fortitude. It takes a commitment to a career of working with people of all kinds, all types and temperaments, all abilities, and all backgrounds. It takes working with people who are far superior to you in many if not all ways, and it takes working with the gentlest of human beings who want simply to please. It takes others to remind you of your own mission, your own self-worth, and the value you might play in others lives.

Freemasonry and Leadership

In a recent conversation, the statement “Freemasonry is in the business of making leaders. It’s teaching everyone to become a leader” was made by a Freemason. Another person disagreed. They stated that they never wanted to lead a Lodge of Freemasons, and that they weren’t very good at it. They also stated that not everyone should rule a Lodge of Freemasons. There was, of course, some disagreement and a boisterous discussion.

Freemasonry has a foundation of taking the rough-sided-yet-nearly-perfect stone and continuing the polish it. It teaches people to know themselves and thus start the progress becoming a leader. It, like many institutions of a fraternal nature, allows one to deeply learn the technical aspects of an office and find out their strengths and weaknesses which help the individual forge themselves into a more perfect stone with which to build something – whether it be business, ideas, or a better world.

Each position within a Masonic Lodge has a purpose, a reason for its existence. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be there. There is nothing superfluous in Freemasonry. Each person who takes those positions, those offices, must understand what the core of that job is – what its role and function is in the running of a Lodge, how it fits with the other positions, and what the ideal form of that office is. A secretary is not just someone who takes minutes and reads agendas. The secretary is the memory of the Lodge, the recorder of its workings, thoughts, aspirations, and issues. Without someone to record the life of a Lodge, how can we learn what works and what does not, or what the goals of the Lodge may be? The secretary is an important office to ensure that the Work stays on track to the Plan, to ensure that progress is made.

The same is true for business as it is for Masonry. Each function in a department has a purpose; a company is not going to keep paying an individual, in most well-run companies that is, for doing something that is meaningless to the bottom line. The simple fact is that every job we take, Masonic or otherwise, can be a leadership position.

Therefore, I disagree with the statement that not everyone can be a leader. It might be that not everyone can be the head of a group or the manager of a team; that is simply being a manager. That is not a leader. Leadership has many levels, many forms. It is the patriot who rises to the top of the fight and does what is right, as well as the craftsman who teaches a classroom of hungry minds how to handle a welder. It’s the genius guy who is a little bit crazy and maybe a little wacko, but manages to communicate to his colleagues just how important a new way of thinking may be. Leadership is a sliding scale and each of us has some of it inside of us. Some might find the strength inside to be great leaders in whatever capacity they lead, eschewing the fear that comes with leadership. Leadership may be scary business but something that’s necessary to grow a better world. A better humanity.