The Meaning of Solidarity

The Meaning of Solidarity

Every civilization is infused with the idea, myth, or story of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the only multi-cultural folklore that has a consistent meaning regardless of ethos or time period. In these stories, the tree is the bringer of Wisdom, and all living creatures – divine and mortal – rest in its branches and leaves. In some cases, as in Ancient Persia, human beings are the structure of the Tree, providing love and wisdom for all humanity and life. In some traditions, the Tree represents the pathways to God or is the manifestation of the divine love of which we are all a part. Life entwines with itself, regardless of species or form, creating a living, breathing connection of all physical manifestation of the universe.

This is solidarity.

From the Secret Life of Trees, we now know that trees –

“of the same species are communal and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence, like an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their out spreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet. All trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, as well as communication. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”[i]

This is solidarity.

I do not think it is a coincidence that trees are representative of brotherhood and solidarity. We seem to be familiar with the idea of brotherhood but not of solidarity. Solidarity wasn’t an official word until the early 19th century, when Napoleon used it in his Civil Code. The idea of solidarity, however, has been around since there have been human beings. Solidarity is the unity, or agreement of feeling or action, amongst individuals with a common interest. It is mutual support within a group, whatever that group may be. It derives from the Latin word solidus meaning “the whole sum.” The sum of all the parts.

I’ve been examining the word Charity and the word Solidarity, and in many Masonic rituals, the words are used in the same ritual passages but evoke very different meanings. Charity, in our modern mindset, has the overtones of pity and lack; it implies the helpless in need, the weak needing strength, and the silent needing a voice. Charity is from a perspective of superiority, of have versus have not. For better or worse, our North American culture has turned charity into a near-dirty word. Solidarity, on the other hand, reminds us that action and equality are the motivations toward helping one another.

universeAs the trees have informed us, solidarity is “the brotherhood of deeds not the brotherhood of words.”[ii]

We have far forgotten that the human race is the only “race” to which we belong. Unity. We have forgotten that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Service. We have forgotten that through all the esoteric teachings, through all the world’s religions and philosophies, there stands one truth: we are all one. Humanity.

Humans, being human, have learned segregate and discriminate. We discriminate which clothes should stay in our closet, which friends are good for us, which foods go into our bodies. We segregate our clothes closet by color or function, we segregate our libraries by subject, and we can’t help but judge and segregate those around us. Does a baby not discriminate the non-mother from the mother? Does the herd of cows segregate themselves from the hunters? Humans. Animals. We judge and discriminate and segregate every single day. These words are not evil words. Like the gun or the sword, they are tools to be used precisely and thoughtfully.

We fail in our humanity when we fail to recognize that we discriminate against our fellow human beings with a mindset of fear and hate. There are myriad ways to segregate ourselves, and we do so without asking ourselves why or if it is even in our nature. We might reflect that we were once primitives who needed to band together against nature’s harshest enemies to ensure our survival; and banding together against “other” was necessary. When we banded against other humans, we began a downward spiral that we have been fighting against ever since. And yet, we also realize that the spirit of cooperation can live within us and provide us a better way of life. Albert Schweitzer said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

We divide ourselves by age, gender, class, religion, culture, geography, nation, and race. We divide by hair color, eye color, clothing, schooling and hobbies. Someone is either of “us” or “not us.” We do this for many, many reasons – none of which seems valid to me. We see the differences but rather than celebrate them, we choose to fear. We choose fear because we do not see that humanity is one race, one being, one egregore.

We know that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Logos, the breath of life in the divine universe, is God made manifest. The original translation of Sahidic Coptic, the saying here is actually “In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and God was the Word.” This Word, Logos, is the exhalation of breath, which is the spirit of animus, the divine will, the supreme knowledge.

According to Rudolf Steiner, once primitive man evolved, he began to utter articulate sounds — the words of speech. This great transformation, of learning to breathe and speak, was of cardinal importance to man. In Genesis (II.7), we read:

“And the Lord God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage describes the period when the gills once possessed by man changed into lungs and he began to breathe the outer air. Simultaneously with the power to breathe, he acquired an inner soul and with this soul, the possibility of inner consciousness, of becoming aware of the self-living within the soul.

“When man began to breathe air through the lungs, his blood was invigorated and it was then that a soul higher than the group-soul of the animals, a soul individualized by the Ego-principle, could incarnate in him to carry evolution forward to its fully human and then divine phases. Before the body breathed air, the soul of man could not descend to incarnation, for air is an element enfilled [sic] with soul. At that time, therefore, man actually inbreathed [sic] the divine soul which came from the heavens. The words of Genesis, in their evolutionary sense, are to be taken quite literally. To breathe is to be permeated with Spirit…When we breathe, we commune with the world-soul. The inbreathed [sic] air is the bodily vesture of this higher soul, just as the flesh is the vesture of man’s lower being.” [iii]

1200px-Logos.svgHumans breathe in spirit. All humans were born to achieve the same purpose – being conscious together. There was no differentiation when we became ensouled – all matter is one – everything that has breath has soul. Who is even to say that rocks do not breathe in their own way? I digress… All living creatures serve the same purpose, as Steiner said, and that is to be permeated by Soul. No race, gender, or any other segregating characteristic were used to determine who would get a soul and who would not. If all are the Word, the divine Logos, then all are one.

For every Freemason, the call of unification is strong. It is challenging. It is like breathing new air. It is our purpose to erase the lines that divide – in all things. There is one humanity, one country, one earth, one everything. If it is all made of one Logos, it is one. Single. The sum of all the parts. Solidarity.

From an 1888 edition of “The Esoteric” magazine, we find the following paragraph from another book titled “Mysteries of Magic,” by Eliphas Levi.

“According to the Kabbalists, God creates eternally the great Adam, the universal and perfect man who contains in a single spirit. All spirits and all souls Intelligences therefore live two lives at once; one general which is common to them all and the other special and individual. Solidarity and reversibility among spirits depend therefore on their living really in one another -all being illuminated by the radiance of the one, all afflicted by the darkness of the one. The great Adam was represented by the tree of life which extends above and below the earth, by roots and branches. The trunk is humanity at large, the various races are the branches and the innumerable individuals are the leaves. Each leaf has its own form, its special life and its share of the sap but it lives by means of the branch alone as the life of the branch itself depends on the trunk.

The wicked are the dry leaves and dead bark of the tree. They fall, decay, and are transformed into manure which returns to the tree through the roots. The Kabbalists also compare the wicked or reprobate to the excrement of the great body of humanity. These excretions serve as manure to the earth which brings forth fruits to nourish the body thus death returns always to life and evil itself serves for the renewal and nourishment of good.

Death thus has no existence and man never departs from the universal life. Those whom we call dead still survive in us and we subsist in them; they are on the earth because we are here, and we are in heaven because they are located there. The more we live in others, the less need we fear to die.”

A Freemason will find these words intimately familiar. To live in Service, to humanity, not in subjugation, is our purpose. The more we live in others, the more we live in Solidarity, the perfecting of humanity continues. What can be more perfect than becoming the One we were meant to be? This quote above implies that Solidarity extends to not only the living on Earth but to those that have passed to another realm, whether we call it heaven, Nirvana, or even Hell. We are all connected, and life is never ceasing. We take our influence, in some measure, from them – by legacy or intuition – and continue to make them manifest in this realm.

“We are all members of one body and the man who endeavors to supplant and destroy another man is like the right hand seeking to cut off the left through jealousy. He who kills another slays himself, he who steals from another defrauds himself, he who wounds another maims himself; for others exist in us and we in them.”[iv]

Earthise_Apollo8We must, as a species, learn to place ourselves within the life of others else we cease to grow. This work is not for any form of personal gain, no glory, no splendor.

It is truly for in the service of all human beings – what we were, we are, and we will be. If everyone isn’t beautiful, then no one is… Beauty is a way to see the world, not to judge it.[v]

Finally, from Joni Mitchell:

“In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the Earth
Taken Coming back from the Moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all[vi]

This is solidarity.


[i] Hidden Life of Trees, Wohlleben, Peter, March 2018
[ii] Transnational Solidarity: Concept, Challenges, and Opportunity, Helle Krunke, ‎Hanne Petersen, ‎Ian Manners – 2020, from a 2012 article, referenced on June 6, 2020
[iii] Rudolf Steiner, The Logos and The Word, from The Essential Rudolf Steiner, Google Books, accessed June 1, 2020
[iv] Solidarity, The Esoteric, “Mysteries of Magic by Eliphas Levi,” September 1888.
[v] Andy Warhol, Quote
[vi] Joni Mitchell from the song “Refuge of the Roads”

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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