Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 588 – Day 605)
You may be wondering if I have stopped being grateful. I have not. I wrote this piece ten days ago, but then I sat on it. So, here it is…
Today I visited Freemason’s Hall in London. I have to admit that I have walked past it for 14 years and never paid it much attention. I ran across a flyer about a year ago and thought that I should have a trip there one day. Today was finally that day.
It is a beautiful art deco building and while I prefer the style of early modernisme and art nouveau, I can appreciate the clean lines and curves of the art deco period. I love stained glass and the building is full of it. Having a tour of the grand rooms was delightful.
But I must admit that the idea of a secret fraternal society gives me the creeps. Perhaps it comes from spending so much of my youth in the South, in America, where attitudes can seem to remain fixed in another century. When my friends D, S and I went on holiday to my family’s place in northern Florida, in the late 1990’s, people had a hard time comprehending that the three of us were together because D and I are white and S is black. What might they have said or done if they knew the two boys were gay, as well? No, the idea of a fraternal secret society freaks me out.
While I understand how the Freemason’s society began as more or less of a guild, I don’t understand the function of a secret society of men, (most of whom have nothing to do with architecture, building or construction) today. I asked why membership is restricted by gender, in this day and age, and was told by the Freemason that “people get hung up on these things,” as though I ought to line up to have my uterus removed for being hysterical. It’s a private club, I was told. Equality laws only apply to public organisations. I found that interesting. I wonder what constitutes a public organisation? Does the fact that they claim gift aid from the UK government not blur that line a little? We moved on from my questioning…
I am not taking a shot at the Freemasons. There are plenty of restricted clubs in the world, and clubs for which you need to be nominated by existing members. But, as I reflect on my place in the world, I can’t help but feel a bitter taste in my mouth around the structures of society that maintain elitism and privilege. I believe in meritocracy and I believe in equal opportunity. I am, admittedly, an idealist. I belong to certain professional bodies, but entry is based upon examination and merit and I have to uphold the standards of the professions to maintain my membership. I am certain that being in these professions has helped me in my life. However, they are not exclusive clubs, they are open to all, who can pass the exams and fulfill the apprenticeship.
I suspect secret societies (Well, maybe not the dead poets society) in the UK simply perpetuate class systems and old boy cronyism. I struggled for the first two years that I lived in the UK. I had never encountered such strong class structures and people sizing one another up and deciding one’s worth and intrinsic value based upon where one attended primary school. I know good people and rather detestable people that have gone to state funded schools and to boarding schools alike.
I size people up, of course I do. But I watch people in good times and under pressure. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to start. But watch. They reveal their character, given enough time. And I am interested in associating with people of good character regardless of their status.
Okay, that is not entirely true…..I have to admit that I have never dated a man who earns more than I do, or has more wealth. Now, let me say…I am not wealthy. This has meant that I have never dated a man who owns a car (at least at the time I dated them). Thinking about it now, I realise this is maladaptive, if we believe that we are hardwired to find the best mate we can and to aspire to have a partner that challenges us to grow.
Do I have a need to feel superior to others that isnt reflected in a membership in an exclusive club? I don’t think so. I think this unconscious selection of partners comes from my experience of others’ marriages. I grew up watching women wither and die in unhappy marriages because, as a housewives, they were dependant on their husbands, financially.
Like most families of my generation, my father held financial power in our family, and later, I witnessed two of my best friends financially ruined by their husband’s vindictive divorce proceedings. I determined never to end up unable to leave a man who made me unhappy because I was financially dependant on him and never be in a position where he could financially ruin me if things ended.
Somehow, this has played out with always earning more than my partner. A man with money – unless we are strictly friends only – makes me very uncomfortable. This is unfair to a whole group of men, to dismiss them so readily. But, unlike those who seek to exclude others, I do recognize that the problem is in my own head. Because it is in my own head, I can unlearn my fear of men with money, still protect myself financially, and not dismiss them out of hand. I am not sure I could ever put myself in a position of financial dependance on another. And, I am okay with that.
Why is changing this important? From childhood, I have never been one to exclude others and I can’t abide snobbery of any kind. My prejudgement and aversion to a whole group of men is exclusionary.
I am in favour of community and by definition, community is inclusive, not exclusive. Social exclusion is, in fact, a form of deprivation. I would not like to be a part of any system that perpetuates another’s deprivation. I understand that we need tribes, and I find my tribe amongst those of a like mind. I’m okay with working to rid myself of any prejudices that interfere with being inclusive in that.
I am grateful that I got to go to the Freemasons’ Hall today. It has left me thinking about my very strong aversion to exclusivity. I am grateful that I grew up in a time and a culture that values meritocracy and I am grateful that I was born with above average intelligence and that my parents were able to help me with my education. It was a joy to meet my friend the Gov today for lunch, after my trip to the Hall and to share some of my thoughts and a pint of beer. The experience reaffirmed my own committment to Oneness as a concept and integrity, inclusion, community, egalitarianism and meritocracy as guiding principles. My service this week has been to challenge some of my own beliefs and look at the places where I still harbour discomfort with people different to me.
And the meaning in this? Well, I must admit that for even those of us who detest social exclusion and pre-judgement, we all have a blind spot. I have now identified mine. Having identified it, it is my responsibility to unpack my assumptions and to work to change the mind. It isn’t easy to set down our baggage. But only by doing that are we really free.
For what are you grateful?