I’m Trying

Adult: Pick up your shoes. I’ve told you three times, you need to clean up your room.

Teenager: I’m trying.

Adult: Yes, you’re very trying.

The first definition of trying is “difficult, annoying, hard to endure.” The conversation above is spot on, as it were. To try is to make an attempt or endeavor to do something. To make an effort. The depth and breadth of the effort is generally left open to interpretation by the listener. The word try comes from the old French, trier, or “sift.” It was virtually unknown before the 17th century and meant something very different to the English – it meant to adjust to a level surface by using a plane or other tool. In the general sense, it means an attempt to use or do an action. It is not a guarantee of success.

In most cases today, in North America, it is generally used to mean “you want me to do something for or with you, and I don’t really want to do it, but I’m going to tell you I will make an attempt because it will make you leave me alone.” Certainly, this is a pessimistic point of view, but, let’s face it – it’s generally true. According to Oxford word usage metrics, the word has increased in usage 10x in the last 50 years, generally in relation to attempting to do something rather than an archaic form of testing something.

ballThe word is detestable. Like a reformed smoker, a person who has given up the word “trying” in favor of actually doing becomes irritated at every mention. Yes, me. “Are you coming to my party?” “I’ll try,” is tantamount to “I want to appease you but as for myself, I am not going to commit, and no, I probably won’t be there.” It smacks of falsehood, either to oneself or to the other, and it is disingenuous. We shun the words “yes” and “no” because we know so little about ourselves. I am a horrid pessimist about “I’ll try,” so this may sound more like a rant than an exploration. I hope you bear with me.

In a recent conversation with someone, this word came up in a context of not attending a regular study group. The woman has had several medical issues and has a difficult time remembering things. She’s not one to generally make excuses for herself and she’s worked through various adjustments in her life to make life work. Yet, she still settles into old habits, especially later in the day when she is tried and forgets to attend the study group. In this recent conversation, she said “I’ll try to commit to attend.”

Being the reformed “trying” person, the hairs on the back of my neck rose, the small muscles in my neck twitched, and I swallowed several times before answering. Slowly, calmly, I answered, “I hate that word, ‘try.'” I did my best to remain calm but I knew that the edge of irritation had escaped. “I’d rather you say that you can’t be there and if you show up, you show up. Or, be non-committal.” She did not understand what I was driving at because she wanted to please me. I couldn’t communicate clearly enough to her that I’d rather have her know herself and communicate accordingly rather than please me with an ‘I’ll try.’ We both went away slightly frustrated until a little later when she had digested it further and I was able to be clearer.

I know that when we say we will try, it means that we won’t do it. We are not committed enough to do it. Yet, we work hard to fool ourselves and others that we really will make an attempt but if anything gets in our way, it’s over, finished, done. There’s a certain sense of self that is lacking, a falsehood that taints our words when we’re not honest about how we feel or what we’ll do. We are not even able to come up with a “maybe,” and provide excuses. The first words generally blurted out are “I’ll try,” with rationalizations and excuses afterwards. The reformed “try” person knows all of this and that is why they hate it so much.

tree-frogs-on-a-branchIn the quest to be a better Freemason, this was brought to my attention early on. It was brought to the fore by two people, one another Freemason and one not. In both cases, the message was the same. Don’t tell me you’ll try something: either commit one way or another or stay silent. I’ve never been the silent type, so this took me a lot of trial and error to get right, especially for one who wants to please others. Little did I realize that by “trying” a great deal, I was more trying than pleasing. Clearly, the actions that I wanted to perform were to please others and not taking care to understand who I was, what my limitations were, and ultimately living in integrity. An older Freemason said to me once not that long ago, “stop trying to please others. You want everyone to like you.” This was a little frustrating, after having thought that I had surmounted the idea that I wanted to be everyone’s friend. What I didn’t see, or see the subtlety of, was the lack of concrete responses was my way of attempting to please others and not be honest with myself.

Being honest with yourself, sitting in that silence and listening to your “realest” thoughts, can be difficult. We believe we are far better than perhaps we really are. Listening to yourself can be ugly, and we don’t want others to discover our ugliness. We don’t want others to discover we might be lazy, xenophobic, tired, cranky, struggling, or desiring silence. We want to be accepted and loved. In general, though, we forget to treat ourselves with exactly the same kindness or honesty. It truly does start with ourselves.

From the 1934 Walley translation of the Tao De Ching,

To understand others is to have knowledge;

To understand oneself is to be illumined.

To conquer others needs strength;

To conquer oneself is harder still.

Freemasonry tells us the same thing, in so many different ways. We are reminded, in rituals and charges, that the thing we must strive to do is continue to learn, mostly about “the knowledge of yourself.” The trick is to figure out how to do this practically. As Lao Tzu said, “to conquer oneself is harder still.” Why? Because we fear the loss of other’s opinions, favorable judgements, and good will. We want others to like us, because that means we are good people. It’s living by the judgement of others and not the judgement of ourselves. Perhaps we don’t trust ourselves to make an honest assessment of our person, so we let others do it for us. Whatever reason that dishonesty was born within us, there is no reason it has to continue to reside there. In fact, it seems as soon as we find it, it’s probably a good idea to let it go. No rationalizations, no dishonesty, no dodging, no worries: own what you will not do, own what is not priority or what is not as important as other things and then move on. I guarantee the rest will move on as well. It’s far better to not try.

As Yoda so eloquently put it, “Do, or Do Not. There is no Try.” With this in mind, the world becomes a far simpler place to navigate, as do the recesses of our own hearts and minds. And don’t fear – good brothers will hold you to that task.

Hidden Mysteries of Nature

Recently, I was with a group of Freemasons having a passionate discussion about the word “magic.” Some of the members of the discussion group felt that Freemasonry is “magic,” while others disregarded the word as superstition and illusion. Still others were exploring different meanings, trying to find within themselves how the word made them feel, what it made them think, and what was their own relationship to magic. As Freemasons, we regularly discuss religion, or rather, being religious. We sometimes specifically compare religious symbols to one another and generally explore spiritual diversity and messages. Often corrupted by men, we lose site of what being religious truly is. We almost never talk about magic, even in free-thinking circles and in public, you only hear “magic” discussed, generally, with humor, disgust, or fear.

Most humans may lose sight of what being “magical” is. Our current world is corrupted by the thoughts of the fearful in so many ways, it’s often hard to tell that we’ve been conditioned by it, by ourselves, by our family, media, and friends. For example, when we use the word magic, it tend to conjure up thoughts of either something horrific, like ritual sacrifice or Voldemort (Yes, I said his name). It might bring to mind witches, burned at the stake, or witches doing strange things in forests at night. Yet, the word magical also tends to bring us to Disney artifacts (Tinkerbell, anyone?), gigantic film special effects, or even dreamy, personal experiences – think, Christmas at Rockefeller Center. The point is, we have not explored the word magic as much as we’ve explored the word religion. However, both may be important to humanity and the Freemason as well. Our ingrained fears stop us from talking about the word and stick it in a cave, hidden from the rest of the world. It’s time to do a little word spelunking.

img_0249The word magic is presumably derived from Old Persian and possibly from the proto-Indo-European language as meh-gh, which means “to help, power, to be able to.” It’s taken many forms over the years, from everything to indicate the workings of scholars, sages, Zoroastrian priests, rituals, spells, and eventually related to something or someone not of your religion. If you didn’t understand it as part of your personal religious upbringing, it was considered magic, especially by both Judaism and Christianity (13/14c C.E) . In Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he illustrates a very thorough journey from folklore, myth, magic, and religion, to the science of modernity. From what I have so far deduced and experienced, the knowledge and wonder of discovering how the natural world works is what magic has been for thousands of years. It’s learning, understanding, exploring, and working in conjunction with the natural world. Forget the word’s baggage and take it back to its origins: the wonder of the natural world that brings us awe and teaches us reverence and respect.

We’ve all learned that humans put their own connotation on the words we use, and shared and agreed-upon usage are how they become “fact.” We should do our best discard dogma; if something imparts an emotional response, it seems to be time to explore it, not shun it or parrot someone else’s belief. Understanding the words we use, like understanding ourselves, gives us authenticity and gives the words power.

Understanding the truth of what magic is seems to be related to how we are in relationship with our natural world. I understand magic to be the physical laws of nature and the universe that I do not currently comprehend thoroughly, and and magic is the process of continually learning how to “be” and be in harmony with our universe. This is not so far from what we perceive herbalists do when they understand plant lore and heal the sick, or weirdly enough, the gymnast who understands the laws of gravity and motion in his body, and can execute the most incredible flips and jumps. Have you ever had someone throw a ball in your direction and you reached up your hand to grab it at the perfect time, even if you might not have been looking at it coming toward you? How did you do that? Magic? Perhaps you understand the laws of motion and the physics of gravity well enough to make the catch. Others may not. To them, it appears as magical.

img_0250The “magical” feelings evoked are the impetus for the process of discovery. We first see something that entices us, intrigues us, gives us a certain spark of interest and imagination. What did we just see? What happened there? Then, we may try to recreate it, seek its origin, find out how to do what it is we saw. “To be able to” means we’re learning magic. From the learning how to do, we wonder and our interest continues. We start dissecting, breaking apart the machine of nature to figure out its meaning, its purpose, and its origin. We might take a path through religion to get there, or we may jump right to science – either is an option. Once we find the how, we seek the why.

There is a quote from a book by Arthur E. Powell, The Magic of Freemasonry, which takes me toward the part Freemasonry plays. It is this:

“Why do men love Masonry? What lure leads them to it? What spell holds them through the long years? What strand is it that tugs at our hearts, taut when so many threads are broken by the rough ways of the world? And what is it in the wild that calls to the little wild things? What sacred secret things do the mountains whisper to the hillman, so silently yet so surely that they can be heard above the din and clatter of the world? What mystery does the sea tell the sailor; the desert to the Arab; the arctic ice to the explorer; the stars to the astronomer? When we have answered these questions mayhap we may divine the magic of Masonry. Who knows what it is, or how or why, unless it be the long cable tow of God, running from heart to heart.”

So, is Freemasonry magical? Not in the way that Disney or Satanists or even fundamentalists of any religion would have the world think. That is fear and ignorance asserting themselves.

img_0253I believe it’s the discovery of the world around us that is magical. It persuades us to keep seeking and searching for the mysteries of nature and science. It speaks to us of understanding our world – not just the laws of men but also the laws of nature and whatever source it is that keeps us all “together.” Some may call it God, The Force, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Diana, Odin, the Tao, Krishna, and a host of other names. Perhaps they are just human mirrors of the same “thing” that ties us together. Perhaps that is the thing I am truly seeking: smashing the mirrors to understand what lies on the other side.

I would say that Freemasonry encourages magic and magical behavior, magical thought, and a magical mind. Ritual of any sort has a purpose and the structure, words, ritual, and trappings of Freemasonry are not as simple as to call them purely “magic.” Freemasonry requires a curious mind to work on its initiates. If one is not curious about Freemasonry and about the world in general, they will see Freemasonry as an institution, made for charity work, a fraternity in which to socialize, and a series of rituals that just encourage the participant to gain degrees. Maybe, for those masons, that is a first step, and maybe if there are more lives than this, we keep Freemasonry going for theirs, and our, future selves.  I see it as the Freemason’s duty to continue to keep our minds open and test our theories, test the world, be inquisitive; thus, perhaps Freemasons are magical scientists.

I do not think that magic is the antithesis of science. I think it is a step in the process of discovery, of which science is another. Science, which is “such knowledge, general truths, or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena” is another charged word, especially in the information and technology age. Is Freemasonry scientific? Take your own voyage and let me know what you think. This is your journey, too.

Englightenment

On a recent post, some people were critical of the term “enlightenment” and its application toward the human race. Now, this term was being used in conjunction with the “Age of Enlightenment,” something altogether different from our modern American use of the term. Students of History understand, know, or at least have heard of the Western European “Age of Enlightenment,” so called because of the explosion of knowledge, science, and access to those tools that brought forward many of our modern inventions and way of thinking.

According to Websters, enlightenment is explained thus:

inˈlītnmənt/enˈlītnmənt/

noun

1. the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened. “Robbie looked to me for enlightenment”; synonyms: insight, understanding, awareness, education, learning, knowledge.

2. a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

Someone very wise once told me that Freemasons fall into two general “modes,” if you will, with regards to their approach to Freemasonry: intellectual and devotional. This is a wide spectrum; and, we all have elements of both within our personalities while some people will fall more towards one side than the other. It’s difficult for someone who leans more toward an intellectual bent to understand a devotional way of being, and vise versa. An intellectually-bent person might look at Freemasonry as a tool to intellectual discovery, a place for concrete fraternal relationships, and a more inward view of life. Analysis. A devotional-bent person may want to explore the esoteric and occult side of Freemasonry, feel more reverential toward their deity through their Masonic work, and perhaps be more inclined toward personal, service-oriented relationships. Feeling. Each person has to some degree these modes of operation. Yet, as a Freemason, they are perhaps brought visible.

Why does this matter when discussing enlightenment? It seems that each of these people view enlightenment in very different ways. Is knowledge derived from a pure scientific approach? Analysis? Is knowledge derived from a pure empirical approach? Feeling? The interesting thing is the judgement that goes along with how each other views the opposite approach. There’s an intellectual snide comment here or there when the devotional Freemason approaches enlightenment with an emotional response. There’s harsh condemnation of science when the intellectual produces a theory based on their analytical approach and disregards the “human” element.  What is interesting is how each immediately judges the other’s approach to enlightenment, as if there is only one way. Even the non-religious discussion can evoke a dogmatic high-horse.

Is it so difficult to imagine that you can have both approaches, and both are valid?
There’s also this “great quest” toward enlightenment, as if it’s something that can be achieved through one method, one voice, or one frame of mind. Some think that we can achieve enlightenment in a lifetime, like a Buddha or Christ. Some think that scientists could never achieve enlightenment, no matter how intelligent, because they have no “devotion.” Some think that only scientists could achieve enlightenment because they have “purer” processes. Some think that humans can achieve enlightenment one being at a time, and still others insist that it must be an all or nothing endeavor. I think enlightenment is far greater than the individual, and enlightenment isn’t something sparkly, pretty, easy, or fun. There’s no flash of sudden godhood nor individual ascension into the realms of all-knowing, having-no-use-of-bodies beings that will provide us some unknown fascinating wisdom. I don’t think that we get out of this corporeal manifestation anytime soon.
The idea of enlightenment, as in The Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th C., is really about letting go of the shackles of tradition. It’s about embracing change and using knowledge to propel us, individuals and humanity, forward. Enlightenment isn’t everyone achieving godhood. It’s about all of us realizing that we are already in control, and have the tools inside of us to solve those problems. Deepak Chopra said, “I was an atheist until I realized that god was inside of me.” When asked about his religious views, Einstein replied,
“Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”
Is finding “God” enlightenment? Born just prior to the Age of Enlightenment, Baruch Spinoza laid the groundwork for radical thought (in 17th C Europe) regarding the existence and definition of God. Much like Mozart as the pinnacle of Baroque music, Spinoza was the pinnacle of Latin academic writings in rationalist philosophy. According to Spinoza, God is Nature, and Nature is God. The fascinating thing about Spinoza is that he worked, day to day, as a lens grinder. His passion was philosophy, ethics, religion, and the question of the divine. He did not content himself with or define himself as his day-to-day paying job. He did not accept honors or rewards based on his writings and thought. He died young, at the age of 44, but seems to have accomplished a great deal for the human race in that short of a time. One can read Ethics and Spinoza’s other works at Project Gutenberg.

One would like to think this is true enlightened human being. Spinoza was an everyday man who engaged in deep thought, the search for Truth, and produced that Truth in service to Humanity. He propelled the next generation, and several after, to continue to explore and discover knowledge. He was an individual who kept the greater species in mind, literally. He was not concerned with some idea of heavenly admittance, some monetary gain, or some brilliance that only he could attain. This is someone who is on the path to enlightenment and bringing others along with him by virtue of sharing what he thought. It’s not purely the result of his work that causes him to be enlightened; it is the fact that he is bringing the entire species up to a level of awareness not previously found. He’s enlightened because of his humility and selflessness. Perfecting the human to perfect humanity.

The Age of Enlightenment did that as well; it brought different cultures to new heights of thought, awareness, and knowledge. As a species, it was a leap forward. Each leap of knowledge is obvious but not grand. One cannot leap from the valley floor to the top of a mountain in one go. Enlightenment seems, to me, to be incremental. There are no five easy steps to enlightenment, no matter what anyone says. There is no golden knowledge at the end of all the degrees. Enlightenment is work. Hard work by many, many people. And…we can only bring humanity up if we work toward its good, bringing it all up with the talents and gifts that we have, be it a lens grinder or a philosopher. And why not both? What is stopping us from pushing away from the TVs and video games and doing what Spinoza did? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except our own laziness. We are tempted by many things which bring down our humanity, or at the very least, stagnate and stall our progress. We need to be self-discovering, exploring ourselves, our environment, nature, our own natures, the universe, looking at things we know and don’t know, with both our natures – intellectual and devotional. Science and nature. Analytical and feeling. We might not find “enlightenment” at the bottom of a test tube but we may find wonder, delight, and wisdom on the journey. The results, of the destination and the journey, are the seeds of Enlightenment.

Busy

I hear a lot, often, in work, in Freemasonry, in all aspects of life, how busy people are. Busy. Busy bees, working around the hive, always moving, always… doing. I heard once someone say “we should be less ‘human doing’ and more ‘human being.’ I thought they were a little crazy. We’re always humans being, and we’re always humans doing, too. That’s what we do. We just… do. As an adjective, to be busy means “to have a great deal to do.” As a verb, it means to ‘keep occupied.’ The first known use of the word is before the 12th century C.E…. so we know people have been ‘actively doing things’ for some time. Hence, humans have always been busy.

Listen to the word in common English conversation now, and the word tends to be laced with more judgment. Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” The quote is intended to be self-reflective and self-directed. We must ask the question, to what are we applying our time? Is it worthy? Is it constructive for our needs and wants? Does it go to enrich us, feed our families, or improve the greater good? WHY are we busy? It’s easy to be busy: cleaning, cooking, laundry, writing, reading, caring for our families, running people around. Much of the time, we’re so stuck in ruts of “doing” that we forget to ask “why” or “is there a better way?” I find myself continually doing something and then wondering if I really need to be doing this task that task. Is there a different way to do it? Can I make myself less “busy” and more productive? These are two very different things.

busyness1“Life is simple, yet we continue to make it complicated.” Confucius was right – we are creatures keeping busy making many things complicated, if not everything. Complication is not creation. It’s just a headache waiting to happen. What do we complicate with “busy?” Our relationships. “How are things?” “Really busy, you know?” These opening salvoes in communications with others beg us to talk about what our activities have been. What have we been applying our time? When people tell me “wow, you’re really busy,” I think “not so much.” I think about if the time I’ve been spending, like wadded up cash in my pocket, is really been put toward worthwhile things. Have I been a slug? Or have I been working on bettering things?

Where does it get complicated? It gets complicated in the swamp of judgment. Not judgment of ourselves – judgment of others. Are our friends busy with work? Busy with “play” or busy with children. As yourself, “Do I place more importance on one than on another?” If you’re honest with yourself, you probably do.  There is an implicit bias in North America, particularly the United States, that if you’re busy with children, your life has far more importance than if you do not. American businesses are geared toward relieving parents in times of hardship and our social services and whatnot are far more supportive of parental and childhood needs than of those without children. Think, “mental services” versus “child services.” Reflect and be honest – which do you think is more deserving of financial and labor support?

I do not have children of my own, and most of my friends know this. Most of my acquaintances as well. I have other friends who do not have children and hear some of the same ‘feedback.’ There is an underlying judgment in my brand of “busy” versus the parental brand of “busy.” In all honesty, I do my best to let it go because I know the choices we all make. I only ask that people don’t judge me and mine in return.

still-moment-in-midst-of-busynessRobert Louis Stevenson was more absolute: “Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality.” I have to wonder at this. What makes being busy being less vital? To Webster, vitality is, “the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things.” This leads me to believe that RLS was talking about the ability to discern where you put your time versus just placing your activity “somewhere,” to an indefinite purpose. In this time of the the year, the Winter Holidays, people are “busy” – running here and there to get one last gift, get the groceries, make party and dinner decorations, send cards. I believe that RLS is saying that we should judge what we’re placing our time into and its meaning.

I think we forget that there really is a time for everything… with a nod to the KJV of the Bible and the Byrds. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” I would not be so dogmatic as to say “this is the time for sewing, and now this is the time for dancing.” I think, though, that we have to look for balance. What this author, and Pete Seeger were saying is there is a moment for everything and we need to relish, support, sustain, and then let go of that moment. This means the busyness in our lives should not be mindless – it should exist with purpose. If there’s no purpose, why do we do it? 

busyness3As I grow older, I find myself torn between the busyness of youth and the contemplation of maturity. I eschew watching television in favor of reading, forego quick coffee for a good French press, and strive to make dinner rather than eating out. I think, probably far too much now, about why I do things before doing them. I like to pause before opening my mouth and think about the words I want to say, rather than just blurting them out to “move on.” I like silence. I find comfort in waiting. I wait for both sides of the story, rather than just one. I don’t mind waiting for someone on a meeting, if they are late. It certainly wasn’t always this way; yet, I still find time to get a lot done – like writing and photography, like working, gaming, and sleeping. I think it takes time to build your life in such a way as to find stillness and thought refreshing, restorative. Being busy was what I did. I’m still busy; I hope that now I am more thoughtful about it.

I contemplated this during some recent activities with my Lodges. People were all talking about how busy they were. It brought me right back to my apprenticeship in Freemasonry. We are reminded that there’s only so many hours in a day, and like the quote above, it’s all spent “doing” something – sleep, meditation, refreshment, study, labor – but we are specifically directed to be doing it all in the service to humanity. This is another motivation to think about what we do and why we do it. Ego and self-glorification are fleeting and thin. Working toward a greater good is something that can send the satisfied person to sleep with a smile. Well, at least it does me. I find that the more I do work with a better purpose – something better than making my personality feel good or just “getting away with what I can,” I just, well, feel better. Better. As in, more satisfied with a job well done, rather than just a job done. Why am I busy? Because there is work that needs to be done that is important work. It takes time to stop and figure out what “important” is; perhaps it takes finding that in yourself before you can apply your hands to it. Or, perhaps, it should. My job this next year is to take even more time to apply what time I have to important things. This is the time to think about what is important, before the new year comes.

“You should sit and meditate for twenty minutes a day. Unless you are too busy; then you should meditate for an hour.” – Zen Proverb, Unknown 

 

Trust and Where to Find It

photo-is-peterson-trustHaving 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, 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 willfun 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. For the aspirant. Freemasons themselves are under the microscope of the aspirant’s eye – will we meet their expectations?

Do you want some of this?

Open HandsEntitlement. A word bandied about often by many citizens of the United States. I wanted to explore it because in a recent conversation, it was used akin to arrogance and I wasn’t sure that was correct. The word “entitlement” doesn’t appear in the English language until 1782 and I was unable to find its original source. However, in a very interesting article on Entitlement, (in a blog called Language Log),  the author is investigating the question of when the term went from being a positive term to being a negative term. The article in question is here. Specifically, we North Americans now tend to use the term in a negative way: ” a sense of entitlement” is used to discuss someone who is feeling privileged, or feeling they need special privileges when they are not due them.  Additionally, the government uses it in a negative way to indicate the same thing; “entitlement programs” are seen as those programs which feed the parasites in society and are not empowering. Some elements of society tend to refer to them as “handouts.” Others see “entitlements” as a duty to care for fellow human beings.

These references and discussions leads one to see a culture that seems to be pushing the idea of activity and work as the only valid “value” in society. As a nation, we see our work as a symbol of uprightness, honesty, and strength. We see the homeless, poor, and unemployed as having done something wrong or lazy or both. If your parents instilled that value of working hard for your goals, no matter what they are, the thoughts have crossed your mind at some point in your life that someone must have done something wrong to be laid off, fired, homeless, poor, or generally in a poor state of affairs. Guaranteed. The only way one cannot feel this way is if one has been dragged through the proverbial “ringer” themselves and had to be that person who is poor, homeless, oppressed, or otherwise fallen into “bad times.”

Do we take our judgement about “entitlement” to extremes? I ask myself that often. I go to yearly conferences where dozens of people arrive to a site and live in a cooperative atmosphere for days at a time. Living in dormitory settings and eating meals family/buffet style, it’s expected that everyone participates in the setup, cleanup, and EFZmaintenance of the site. No one is exempt from this expectation except the infirm or very senior or aged attendees. In general, this seems to work very well. People are cooperative, happy to help, and understand not only the value of “many hands make light work” but also Industry or work are good for us overall. People feel better when they are participating and joining in the creation of a harmonious and giving space. When twenty people clean up, it means more time spent for everyone in other activities.  The group is happy and the environment is uplifting.

You all know what I’m going to say here. There is no perfection and no paradise. There are always one or two people who struggle with these cooperative work or shared space concepts. They place all their items in the showers of the bathroom that is shared with ten people. They lock the bathroom door, restricting access for those same ten people who would also need the toilets or showers which are shared. They rarely do the dishes, and almost never look around for what work might need to be done. They don’t even ask if they can help – they just disappear for their “personal” time. After all, they’re on vacation, aren’t they? They expect the “locals” to help the with rides, directions, or general questions | assistance at a moment’s notice and with little regard for what that person might actually be doing at that moment. They see other people’s time as their own, not something for which to be grateful. In short, they do not think about the other person before making their requests. They do not see the other person as valuable as they are. They may be the gentlest soul in the world, used to working hard at home; however, at these conferences, there’s a “sense of entitlement” that seems to permeate their actions.

The proper thing to do is to point this out to them and help them understand how their behavior impacts others. As a member of the community during this time, it’s my job to do that. I believe it’s all our jobs to do that. I fail. Others fail. The person continues to see their behavior as acceptable and others continue to see their behavior as intrusive and rude. This breeds resentment, gossip, and ill will. I’ve felt that resentment grow, and ask myself silently, “Don’t they see what they are doing? They are wrecking this for everyone!” That might be a little dramatic but the resentment does grow. I make assumptions that they are lazy, acting entitled, or just clueless. When it finally erupts, it comes off as condescending, belittling, and not very respectful of the other person. Conversely, it does no good to “ignore it.” I do not want to be that person who says “people are people” and they “will always be that way.” That’s condescending in another way; by not offering the person the person the information necessary to learn and grow, you’re saying they are not capable, intelligent human beings. You are demeaning them by dismissing the behavior. In fact, you are enabling the entitlement.

Obviously, as I stated above, the right thing to do is to point out the behavior and talk about its impact. My general way of doing this is pointing out the behavior, listening to them expectation1and their responses, showing how it impacts others, and providing a few possible ways to approach the issue. I try to approach it as a discussion rather than an admonishment – at least the first time. Maybe even the second time. Yet, I always have that fear of bringing something up to someone and having them be upset; indeed, this is the reason most of us don’t do it in the first place. We think we are one of three things: we are not responsible, we’re acting beyond our authority, or we’re going to upset people.

Tough.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s bravado and I stumble. But I have to just do it. Practice makes perfect.

The first steps are always the hardest. For me, approaching entitlement as a discussion rather than corrective behavior seems to be the right answer. I have to frame the words that come out of my mouth in such a way to help correct the situation, not inflame passions. I know that everyone doesn’t work that way; my hope is to have understanding about impact rather than to just blindly correct a behavior. If someone is chastised, they tend to only associate the behavior with that specific environment. If a discussion ensues, they see their actions in the broader context – their lives – and thus may make the leap of approaching all activities with a mindset that steers away from entitlement.

What I think is true for this conference might also be true for the wider society and our day to day lives. While we’re not living in dormitories and sharing food at every meal, I think the path of discussion rather than accusations feels more correct, more productive. Perhaps more human. I personally tend to get mad when someone expects me to jump at their call without even a “hello” or they infringe on shared space with their demands and wants. If I can take a breath and think for a moment before engaging, I might be able to leverage that “pivotal” moment and create something positive. It doesn’t always work – traffic is a great example – but I hope that I’m making progress. Thinking before speaking is always a challenge but one worth jumping into.

Not everyone will “get it.” Some of those I call out will be embarrassed enough by their actions to be mad with me for pointing it out. Some will cry and think I’m calling them awful people. Some will ignore the guidance, or hate me for being arrogant enough to think I’m better than them, or just plain shrug their shoulders and walk way. It shouldn’t stop any of us from trying to address these things that would hold us all back from being better people and better citizens. The community we strive to improve is the one with which we are actively involved; that is our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

helpinghandAs Freemasons, our behavior away from our Lodge is equally as important as our time within the Lodge. We’re taught how to behave with one another, including the ability to address concerns with a fellow Brother directly and with virtue. Shouldn’t we afford the rest of our community the benefit of our lessons learned? That is part of helping humanity improve, I think. It doesn’t make it easy when the rest of the world doesn’t play by the same rules. It also doesn’t exempt us from facing the challenges and the hard work ahead. If we dislike entitlement so much, and we resent the people who fall into that mode of being, what are we doing to combat it? What are we doing to improve it, whether it is a head-to-head conversation or immersion in supporting an organization like Habitat for Humanity or mentoring for job-training programs? It behooves us to be the examples of working hard to show the meaning of real service, gratitude, and entitlement. How can we help people help themselves, instead of being victims? How does being a victim benefit anyone, personally or societally?

Maybe we can take back the word “entitlement” to mean what it initially or originally meant: “the amount to which a person has a right; the fact of having a right to something.” What is a “right,” and to what do we each have a “right?” What are your thoughts on entitlements and rights? Is a study of “the human right” in order? Or Rights in general? What do you think?

As always, I am grateful for your views and opinions.

thanks1

 

 

 

 

Legacy

legacyThe human condition. It is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotional nature, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.” One key element was left off this Wikipedia definition: creation. Humans were born to create. We die hoping we have created enough. Humans were born to build, adjust, renovate, improve, birth, tend, cultivate – to create.

This might be a general assumption of the readers here, but we are all searching for the meaning of life. Why are we here? If you’re Neil Peart, the answer is “Because we’re here. Roll the Bones.” If you’re Jung, it’s to “realize a vision.” The Bible (Isiah 43:7) tells us that the purpose of man’s existence is to ‘glorify God.’ Pain, frustration, weakness, and chaos seem to all stem from a lack of purpose in our lives, or a not having a goal towards which we strive. We come to the World’s Table with expectations, complications and baggage. By the time we’re ready to create something, we stumble. What are we doing here on Earth, at this time and place? We have way overthought the question. Our purpose is to create. It really is that simple.

All of the examples above can all be distilled to creation. From babies to businesses, from community to chaos to cash reserves – humans cannot help but build something. Even if it’s a stack of beer cans beside the couch while we chill, we’re building. Our minds want to make things better, bigger, faster, higher, more pleasing, more chaotic, different, and new. We build better drugs, faster cars, and higher buildings. Think carefully, when are you *not* creating? Even your body is creating while you sleep.

A recent conversation with some friends involved discussing the attributes of avatars, archetypes, and virtues. This was in conjunction with a question posed to an audience: Do you want to be (a) God? What an audacious question! Do I want to be a God? Oh, heck no. Hubris has brought down many a man, and woman, and I have no desire to experience that pain. It did bring me back to the question of “why am I here, then?” Having thought about that often, I find it’s difficult to distill a lifetime of thought into so simple of a question. Am I here to be a god, or THE God? That’s a firm “no” in my mind. The very idea makes me shudder. I’m here to be a human being, the best expression of my own form of human being that I can be. Yes, that’s it. Very firm “no” on the “god” thing.  And then the niggling, wormy, repetitive thoughts of humanness and godhood would not leave me alone.

legacy5What is a “god?” To Webster, it is: “ a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically :  one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality Greek gods of love and war.” Interestingly enough, if it is capitalized, it means, “ the supreme or ultimate reality.” Whoa. Wait. NOT a person? So, someone who is a “god” controls part of the reality but God controls all of reality. Gods and gods create realities. They create.

If our desire is to create, our very need for existence is to create, and God is commonly known as “the creator, the controller of reality” well… yes, let’ say it – Are we trying to be like God? Are we trying to BE Gods? It seems we humans do nothing but try to create and live in our own realities. In Genesis 1:26 though 28, the Bible talks about making mankind in “their” image, and “and he made them man and woman.” We’ll set the plurality of that aside for right now but divinization has been around for 2000 years as a Christian concept. In the second century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) said that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.” Irenaeus also wrote, “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods.”

Maybe we have no choice. Our destiny as a species is to become gods, or God-like. Or even God. We’re inevitably going there, through our experience of creating, whatever it might be. As much mental gymnastics that we do via theology, psychology, astronomy or astrology, it all ends up in the same destination: we live, we create, and we die to forward the human species to return to their God home. We are creating our realities. We control our reality. People attach such reverence, deference, fear, and glory to the term God; I think, however, that it is the same way with ice cream and puppies, money and fame: it’s a human lens viewing and interpreting but it simply falls short. There is a rose-colored lens coating our idea of God, via religion or not, and that rose-color makes everything pretty. What if It just is, and we’re part of the “It?” We can categorize as Archetypes or manifest as avatars or embody ideals and in the end, we create whatever is our own special aspect of the Divine. The individual voice of God, whatever you legacy2deem that to be, becomes a painting, a piece of music, a child, a poem, a home, an organization, a community, a new way of thinking.

The aforementioned conversation inevitably turned to “Well, we’re either supposed to be gods or not, so what?” If we’re supposed to become higher expressions of ourselves, then that’s great. But we’re dead. The point is…? Humanity is constantly changing. Maybe we wouldn’t go as far as saying “evolving” but perhaps that wrong. Perhaps evolution is not a conscious “thing.” That is, we evolve, regardless of whatever we think about it. It’s not about being conscious about evolving; it’s not even about evolving consciousness. The human being species continues to propel itself forward via creation. The evolution will be a reflection of that creation. I think we may have to forget about the what (evolution) and work toward the creations that are within our aspect of the “God whole.” In other words, if my “god-given” gift is speech, then speak. Speak to the best ability and training you can and make an impact. Stir people. Find the Truth of what your little land plot is of “God” and make it prosperous. Forget fame and approbation: do the best you are able, no matter what it is.

In truth, isn’t that the Legacy we’re leaving for our descendants? For the Humans that follow us, we’re leaving what we create, whether it is more humans or more books, fine art, the echoes of music, or beautiful gardens. Maybe it is a life saved because we cared enough to write the policies for the Red Cross that allowed that to happen, or because we ran the sound equipment that recorded Martin Luther King’s speeches. It’s the difference between someone finding a new way forward because you took the time to bring your gifts to an organization, like Freemasonry, or not finding any kind of guiding light at all. Perhaps they would, eventually through some other organization or group; yet, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? It legacy4would be different, and thus cast a different turn on the evolution of Humanity. The best expression of who we are is the creations we give by utilizing our talents, whatever they may be. Like light in a prism, we’re individual colors that come together to make a whole. The idea is that we contribute what god-like qualities we have to weave a whole that helps our descendants move closer to a better expression of the god-like qualities, and so on.

Weird as that may be, maybe that’s what our forefathers were also trying to say when they said that God made humans in their image, and God became “Word” so that we could understand what it was like to be God. In our limited capacity as human beings, in a mortal world, we only see part of the whole. Similar to the workings of a Masonic Lodge, where the many play their parts but only one can see the ALL, we humans are the many. We’re part of the All, but we don’t get to see it yet. We don’t get to play in that playground until its time. When it is time for our individual self? No. When it is time for all. We get to move forward glacially. Progress measured in epochs. When the evolution clock ticks, it won’t seem like evolution at all.