Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leaders and Followers


I was thinking of leaders and followers in light of the current health care debate in Congress ...

With the solid foundation of instruction gained in the Craft Lodge, the Master Mason begins his journey in the Scottish Rite with the Lodge of Perfection.

Many themes are utilized in conferring the lessons of the degrees of this Lodge including, an enlightened citizenry (4°-6°), an independent judiciary (7°), an economic order based on capital and labor (8°), the upper house of the legislature (9°), the lower house of the legislature (10°), trial by jury (11°), the chief executive (12°), and a constitution or fundamental set of laws (13°).

The lessons are set against the historical backdrop of the Old Testament; the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian captivity.

The Lodge of Perfection begins with the 4th degree and asks the question that strikes at the heart of the leader/follower relationship, “may one command who does not know how to obey?

Any study of leadership should wisely consider what it means to follow. In the Scottish Rite, a candidate learns first to practice obedience, silence, and fidelity as fit attributes for a follower. The type of followers that the Scottish Rite seeks are participants, actively engaged in the process and in support of the aims of the organization ...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Altruism vs. Benevolence


I wanted to share this paper that I wrote in criticism of a book called Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership – Casting Light or Shadow by C. Johnson for a class in leadership ethics. I think it makes some important distinctions between altruism and benevolence in light of current events.

“Advocates of altruism argue that love of neighbor is the ultimate ethical standard. … Our actions should be designed to help others whatever the personal cost (Johnson, Pg. 153).”

“It is obvious – historically, philosophically, and psychologically – that altruism is an inexhaustible source of rationalizations for the most evil motives, the most inhuman actions, the most loathsome emotions. It is not difficult to grasp the meaning of the tenet that the good is the object of sacrifice – and to understand what a blanket damnation of anything living is represented by an undefined accusation of ‘selfishness’ (Rand, Pg. 163).”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term altruism was introduced by the 19th century philosopher, Auguste Comte. By altruism, Comte meant that sense of sacrifice to society or taking the good of others as the highest good. In today’s society, most – lacking an education in philosophy and taking the publics’ word on the subject - take the term to mean a basic decency or generosity. The author seems to split the difference, whilst acknowledging Comte’s original meaning.

Unfortunately for the author, altruism is not the foundation of good will towards others. Altruism is incompatible with good will and love – and freedom. Freedom, at is most basic form, is the power to act without intimidation by others. Altruism requires the sacrifice of the individual to the collective. It is this requirement that makes altruism antithetical to freedom and removes it from any credible list of virtues.

Furthermore, the author uses the word “selfish” to describe the regard for one’s own welfare to the disregard of the well-being of others. This is a rather sinister twist on the original definition and shows the author’s bias and political view point. Pure “selfishness” is simply the concern for one’s own interests. The author seems to suggest that right acts are those taken to benefit others and wrong acts are performed to one’s own benefit (Rand, 1970).

Contrary to the author’s assertions that altruism is good for people, businesses and society in general, “altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his own life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others … it permits no concept of benevolent co-existence among men … it permits no concept of justice (Rand, ix).”
With all of this in mind, is there an alternative to altruism? Is there a cooperative method of dealing with people and businesses – one that benefits both parties whilst respecting their rights and differences? Certainly – it’s called benevolence.

Contrary to the view of the creators and editors of Wikipedia, benevolence and altruism are not synonyms. Unlike altruism, benevolence is completely compatible with freedom. Benevolence is a commitment to achieving the values derivable from life with other people in society, by treating them as potential trading partners, recognizing their humanity, independence and individuality, and the harmony between their interests and ours. Benevolence is thus clearly rationally selfish. It is not a sacrifice of one’s interests to those of others. Rather it reaffirms a positive view of human beings and recognizes the potential of humans (Kelley, 2003).

Of the many charitable groups that exist in the world, one can be singled out as purely benevolent – the Freemasons. Around the world, Masons give away over one million US dollars per day to various charitable causes, and each body within Masonry has it’s own cause. The Blue Lodge (the first 3 degrees of Masonry) supports the local public schools with donations of time and money. The York Rite offers free eye care to needy children and young adults. The Scottish Rite offers free speech pathology services to children. The Shrine Hospitals offer a multitude of free services in the communities that they serve. These are but a few examples. Local Masons also run the Midnight Mission, a downtown Los Angeles homeless shelter and service center.

At the core of each Masonic charitable enterprise, you will find the benevolent attitude of the individual contributing Mason – giving a portion of his wages as an investment in his community’s (and country’s) future. Each charity supports a central theme, supporting those in need with dignity and respect to both the donor and the recipient. The donor is free to give or not give. The recipient is free to receive or not receive – they have but to ask.

As a Mason, I have a certain sense of pride that the money and time that I give to the various charities I and my Lodge support goes to help people increase their capacity to live a free and independent life. The gift of sight to a nearly blind child (York Rite), the gift of language to a budding learner (Scottish Rite), the gift of freedom of movement to a crippled child (Shrine), and the gift of a free thinking mind (Blue Lodge) are all worthy investments. I agree with Steve O. (a classmate) when he said that if only the [altruists] would get out of our way financially (over-taxation), we would have more to give to worthy charities.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Judge yourself


The lecture of the 31st degree instructs the candidate to judge himself in the same light as he judges others, considering both actions and motives.

In the previous lessons, the candidate was counseled to lead and teach by example. Here he is taught to learn by observation and reflection. Temperance is also advised in setting goals; aiming for the best, but being content with the best possible. This lesson is featured as “Rule #44” in Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, “When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Language and Knowledge


I was thinking about the economy and people in need. With all the talk about uninsured people, I was thinking about Masonic charities and how they continue to deliver quality care without fee to the recipient - all without the help of government. In particular, I was thinking about the Scottish Rite's Language Centers that help children with speech problems. As my 20 month old son says, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," I can't imagine being a parent of a child who can't say "Daddy" or "Momma." It would just break my heart. Seeing the looks on the parents faces, having sent their kids though our program in Pasadena, makes my donations of time and money worth every cent.

In the 8th degree, the candidate learns that the progress of civilization and organizations is based upon the transmission of knowledge to subsequent generations. It is education that binds generations together. Without a commitment to education, no society or company can endure.

Question for reflection: What role does the use of language play in the transmission of knowledge? Can knowledge be transmitted without language?