Thinking Better

Thinking Better

At work today, I was faced with the unfortunate episode that happens to everyone at least once. That unfortunate episode was misunderstanding – poor communication resulting in confusion. I had requested that a team alter the way they were performing an action. I made the mistake of requesting it of the entire team. It was taken as a mandate or edict, and one I had no right to make or demand. Having working with these people for years, I was taken aback. Neither was it my intention to demand or mandate. It was a shock to hear that my intentions had been so miscommunicated. What had I done wrong to be so misunderstood? 

In this way, I learned. I believe they had no bad intentions; this situation was just a missed opportunity for stronger bonds and communication between us. I could easily hold a grudge or condemn them for being childlike in their response. Yet, neither of those are appropriate actions to take, either for me, or against people who mean well at their core. And, naive as it may sound, I believe people will gravitate toward doing “right” or “positive” or even “good” in any given situation.

Thinking better

As part of a larger society, we all want to work toward being at peace with our neighbors and the world in general. No, not everyone but I choose to believe the positive in mankind.Regardless of the “what” of the request, I was disappointed that people chose to believe “bad” intention rather than a “good” intention. How could a plea for help turn into an edict? I looked to myself, to see if I could have worded my request better and it was clear, I could have done better.

I find that these challenging communication situations are easier for me to handle as a Freemason. When I wasn’t a Freemason and did not have that foundation, I struggled to find framework in how to move forward without being “hurt.” Now, I do my best to also see their response as positive rather than negative. Sometimes, it is still difficult. As Freemasons, we work hard to not believe ill or malintent of fellow Freemasons; that same thinking goes for the people in my life who are not Freemasons. I can’t conceive of thinking differently because the persons are or are not Freemasons. I treat all as equally as I am able, even with my inevitable biases. I think I hold my fellow Masons to a higher standard because they are Freemasons; in many ways, they really do know better.

Yet, we all have gaps in our education. It’s up to our fellow Freemasons to help us become the best version of ourselves and it’s our job as Freemasons to hold ourselves accountable. I am better for making mistakes and having my Brothers correct me, help me, assist me toward seeing situations and myself differently.

Self Improvement

Where this has led me is to really striving to think through my passionate first responses to being ‘wronged’ and take a different approach.

Freemasonry teaches that we should endeavor to never misjudge a brother or to willfully misunderstand him. I think, in Co-Masonry, where family members or friends may be fellow members, teaches us to not segregate that treatment to a single group. When your wife or husband is a fellow Freemason, you take these lessons from the Lodge into your home. They can’t help but spread beyond the border of your front door. When everyone “plays by the same rules,” it makes it easier to be truthful and authentic with your reactions. You grow because you are able to absorb the lesson, let go of the ego, and move into how you can communicate better.

When you do take these principles out into the world, it’s disappointing to be reminded that not everyone plays by those same rules. This lack of “thinking better” creates the nasty politics of business culture and the fear of political discussions with strangers. It twists us into politically correct pretzels, attempting to hide what we really think and feel, and never really communicating. We have seen this in our recent upheavals in the United States. It seems easier to hate than to understand, and easier to believe ill in people than to believe well of them. I think many people just want to be heard, and listening to them requires we check our personal agendas and self-importance at the door. The lack of “thinking better” brings us to being deadlocked in negotiation or discussion, rather than truly solving problems.

It’s difficult to think well of someone who is bringing up their “issues” about us or has difficulty with something we did. I find myself hurting at the thought of rejection and the idea of a personal attack. I can be emotionally roughed up by someone thinking poorly of me. I think most of us would be, if we know what we’ve done or said to be in the spirit of cooperation rather than being malicious.

Conversely, it’s also a challenge for me to not be a child in return, to lash out and hold that grudge like some four-year-old child. That is where I become grateful for Freemasonry and the challenge to reframe the situation into a learning experience for me. I can push through the grudge and bring it back to “thinking better.” It’s more peaceful for me and it certainly keeps the door open rather than slamming it shut in their face or to my future experiences with them.

Harmony, to this Freemason, is a shining goal, where the spirit of cooperation and unity produce amazing results in our rituals and in our lives. It seems to me that to focus on “thinking better” is what helps bring us into that harmony; not just in our Lodge rooms but in our lives. With a little intent, we can bring this consonance to all of the people we touch, a greater humanity. Imagine, a world of thinking better: makes you smile, doesn’t it? 

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

“I can’t teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” 

So says Socrates, a great thinker of his time in Ancient Greece. He was known for educating his disciples by asking questions and thereby drawing out answers from them, called the Socratic method. The goal was to nudge people to examine their own beliefs, instead of unthinkingly inheriting opinions from others. The approach was a way for his students to find the truth of anything. Thinkers have venerated the method ever since. It really worked for the Greeks.

I have always had a fascination with Greek culture. I particularly enjoy studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I also admit to getting lost in Greek mythology at times, enjoying Greek food, and have always secretly wished that I could dance like a Greek goddess.

Given the above, it seems only reasonable I should find myself honing in on Socrates. Mind you, I am no authority on the great ones of the ancient past, other than being humbled by their wisdom and insight. Socrates is for me the most interesting of the three: a perspective I am sure many might agree and equally as many might disagree.

There are two statements that Socrates made that I found particularly thought-provoking. 

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

The first quote that starts, “To know, is to know that you know nothing” is a paradox right off the bat. Yet, instinctively, somehow, I understand the entire point and it makes sense even while being a total paradox! And the second quote struck me as so linked and interrelated to the first one. One would be hard pressed to assert one carries more11873522964_9cb8eb5a44_b weight than the other or to even think about them separately. 

How can we know what we don’t know? Does the Socratic method offer us a technique to advance towards the light of true knowledge? 

Plato’s Dialogue: It’s About the Questioning

Socrates said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, question everything. I recently read the statistic that children through the ages 2-5 ask roughly 40,000 questions. I have wondered why, as we go through into adulthood, the number of questions we ask drops significantly. 

We know through the writings of Plato, the student of Socrates, that he was often quizzed by his teacher about deeper realities. Red Rose in the GardenIn “Plato’s Dialogues,” we can read short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had with another student. And thus, we get a really good idea of the Socratic method. 

The style of a Platonic dialogue may go something like this:

Q: “What color is the rose in the garden?”
A: “The rose in the garden is red.”
Q:”Is this rose still red to a blind person?”
A: No.
Q: “So you are saying the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “What color would it be to a blind person? Would it be pink or white or some other color?”
A: (No answer – student is bewildered).
Q: “So the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “If the rose in the garden is where no one can see it, is it still red?”
A: (No answer – further bewilderment).

And so on. The questioner might end up forcing a realization in the student of how color only exists in a person’s mind as a result of their perception; it isn’t actually a property of the rose. In other words, the rose is not red.

Socrates believed there were two ways to come to knowledge: through discovery and by being taught. To be taught presupposes that someone else has discovered the truth for you. He thought for his disciples to really know a subject, they should form their own beliefs and experience their own blind alleys and realizations.tunnel-2033983_960_720

How does this idea of discovery relate to the path of a Freemason? 

From Darkness to Light

Every Freemason is on a quest to discover his “true self.”  He is taught the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which logic is one of them. The study of critical thinking and reasoning allows the Freemason to look beyond mere perception and dogma in the search for truth. In this way, it is possible to forge a path to moral, scientific, and philosophical enlightenment. “To know nothing” is leaning into the next moment, wondering what you are going to find. It is a form of being blindfolded or hoodwinked, waiting for more light. 

It was in Freemasonry that I really learned to embrace the journey from darkness to light, to become a friend of the Socratic method, and learn to be humble in what I don’t know. When I first joined, a poor blind candidate, I was asked probing questions about the First Degree. Questions like, “What does it mean to know thyself?” and “Is truth absolute or relative?” I was asked to explore the relationships among concepts and ideas. For example, I had to compare two types of symbols and to explain how they are similar, how they are different, or evaluate the meanings of each. 

Over the many masonic degrees, my mentors have pointed me in the direction of truth only to glorify the beauty of the group vision and the image of enlightenment. 

The Freemason W.L. Wilmshurst said:

“Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility.”

I think he is saying that truth is a mysterious something that is sensed, even though the truthrational mind may try to discredit it. The ability to sense this invitation to truth, even when the path is dark and hidden, is perhaps the most important lesson to consider here. “The future I do not see. One step enough for me.” 

My takeaway from the Socratic method is this: Remember how little you know, question everything, and keep your mind open to other possibilities. If all goes well, truth is our travel companion from darkness to light.  What do you ask for? 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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