Individuality vs. Togetherness
This blog post focuses on what Friedman calls fallacies of self by charting leadership philosophies on a spectrum between autocracy and individuality. Friedman begins with a fictitious dialog between the earliest known organisms known to creation: the eukaryotes and the prokaryotes. The eukaryotes are are multicellular, adaptive and likely dopaminergic; they value individuality and evolution. Likewise, the prokaryotes are single-celled organisms which value oneness and cohesion. Friedman asserts that it is the eukaryotes which evolve to become humans, animals and advanced vegetation, while prokaryotes are simply the bacteria and algae swimming around the ocean. Ultimately it is the eukaryotistic orientation, which has brought about life as we know it today.
This opening metaphor offers clear insight into organizations and communities that choose togetherness to the exclusion of individuality. Within anxious systems, those seeking individuality and differentiation are labeled as foolish, inflexible, hostile and obsessive. Friedman writes, “The illusion underlying this […] barrier to well differentiated leadership is the facile “peace over progress” assumption that communities will get along best when everyone stopes being “selfish” (162). Peace at the expense of conflict and change is the basic orientation of prokaryotes who believes that survival is found in staying put rather than venturing out, innovation, and change.
Friedman asserts we must be willing to “venture into harm’s way” (161). Of course, harm’s way is a matter of perspective. For the collectivist, harm’s way is the path of individuality and change. For the Individualist, harm’s way is the path of stability and rootedness. As leaders this requires a tension to be held between the opposites of individuality and togetherness; between autocracy and abdication. Friedman argues, “For life to continue to evolve, all newly developed forms of togetherness ultimately must be in the service of a more enriched individuality, and not the other way around” (169). I think this is true from a purely darwinistic, evolutionary point of view – for a species to biologically survive, all forms of community are pragmatic for the purposes food, shelter, mating partners, ect. However, I disagree with Friedman in that human relationships involve more than survival of an organism. He utilizes the analogy of the formation of the thirteen North American colonies to assert that togetherness ultimately serves individualism. He writes, “Therefore, when leaders anywhere in America work to preserve individuality, their own or others’, they stand on two traditions: the process that gave rise to our nation and the process that gave rise to our species” (164). I feel this assertion assumes a narrative of evolutionary supremacy. It would seem that such American exceptionalism is certainly more questionable in the United States today than when Friedman wrote these words.
As leaders we must investigate our tendencies and orientation toward either hyper individuality or homogeneity. Perhaps this is where the dopamine desire circuit and dopamine control circuit come into play; where the need to progress forward is valued, yet such progress is done with intension and purpose.
How this relates to my context?
Currently, Deep Water, the organization for which I am a board member and the treasurer, is undergoing a time of change. I see it written on the wall very clearly. However, there is significant centrifugal force keeping it from evolving or even knowing it needs to evolve. Though we are an affirming community, and a number of our board members are gay men, Deep Water’s origins are rooted in an evangelical framework and have traditionally limited to men only. However, with the 250 men who’ve been through our initiatory weekend, many women (spouses, friends, family) have expressed interest in a weekend solely for them. The board supports a women’s weekend and we even have a weekend booked for November 2022, there is not a desire to evolve Deep Water from a men’s community to simply a community for people seeking healing. Along with this, we are currently unable to invite non-binary and transgender individuals to step into this work.
The prokaryotic philosophical spirit aims to keep Deep Water as a biologically male only community. As Friedman would suggest, this move is to create safety rather growth. Those board members who facilitated the inception of Deep Water, did so because they wanted to be a part of a community that met their needs and the needs others like them. This mission is rooted in a particular time, and addressed a specific need. However, the cultural moment has shifted and the needs of a pandemic-ized and post-Trump generation, are vastly different and rapidly evolving. The need for dopaminergic leadership, and the held tension of individuality and togetherness seems to offer a template for the way forward.