Individuality vs. Togetherness
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.
12 responses to “Individuality vs. Togetherness ”
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Michael, my favorite Jedi, this is such a rich post with so much to consider. I was struck by this sentence: “As leaders we must investigate our tendencies and orientation toward either hyper individuality or homogeneity.” How would you suggest a leader find that place between the two extremes? I’ve found that leaders, myself included, always believe they are in a balanced, nuanced, and correct position, even when they are not. To be more specific, you reference the example of Deep Waters and lack of desire to expand. You make your reasons for expansion clear. Is there a scenario where an organization rightly does not expand? If so, what would guide that decision for you?
Roy, great questions. I’m reminded of a quote that references the idea of when “life become ripe.” There comes a point where fruit must fall from the tree – it the seed is to live, it must die. I think different seasons call for responses on the spectrum of individuality and homogeneity, and the way to know when a shift is needed, is to look at if the fruit is starting to fall? If so, then movement is likely needed. Otherwise it may die on the vine. Does this resonate at all?
It sure does resonate and I agree with you. It also seems to argue to defining success before beginning. I feel that in ministry, many times we throw something at the wall and whatever sticks, we call success.
Whoa brother, always fun (and challenging) to read your posts! As I was reading I was thinking, “Michael is a change agent” and challenges the norms around him. And then, you summarize with this provocative thought: “The need for dopaminergic leadership, and the held tension of individuality and togetherness seems to offer a template for the way forward.” Perhaps you are that guy, Michael, for this Board!?!
Eric, Thank you for this. I spent much of today thinking about this in both the context of Deep Water and in the Oregon Conference of the FMC. I feel a lot of joy and sadness at the same time thinking about my way of being in the world. I feel the dopamine and the H&Ns working together these days! Where do you find yourself in your leadership living in this tension between individuality and togetherness?
Of course, me being identified as the polar opposite of you, I go right to the practical — all I want to do is strategic operations & planning activities with your board as you navigate this changing season. Such a challenge to navigate the differences between missional drift versus transformation many times. I’d love to hear more about how this process continues for you and the others on the board. Sounds like there are several opportunities, but perhaps Deep Water is not meant to take hold of all/some of them? Or are they?
Yeah I don’t know if it’s entirely clear how the mission is shifting, but I think the energy is moving from the old mission. Part of the difficulty in discernment is that we are a highly in-person community, but we have not had an initiatory weekend since February 2020. We actually have a board meeting today, which I think will be enlightening. However, I like your idea of an outside strategic consultant. What are your initial thoughts?
I’m always in favor of organizations bringing in an outside consultant to help guide a process of strategic planning. It often alleviates any group-think mentality or lack of participation that can happen if someone within the organization is leading it. If you need a specific recommendation, I’m happy to send my top one over to you.
This is actually helpful to think through. The big dynamic is that the founding board members are in major life transitions – newborn child, possible cross-country relocation, retirement, to name a few. The organization is grown several times beyond where it started, but I’m the first board member added in 15 years! I think a consultant would pull some things out that are too close to see. I’ll reach out if this gets traction.
Michael: It was interesting to read how Friedman speaks to your current situation with Deep Water. Truly, the only thing that stays the same is that things change. We have to constantly be learning, growing, evolving. Christians should have an easier time with this because we know we are being conformed into His likeness. In Christian parlance, evolving is sanctification, an onward and upward trajectory to share in the fullness of God himself for eternity. But change is hard for everyone and the last sentence of your post does a good job of showing the way forward for everyone. Nice job.
Thanks Troy. I like the connection you make with evolution and sanctification. Theological question: If sanctification is being conformed to Christ’s image, what happens when our image of Christ is transformed? This seems to be an underlying tension in the Gospels – the Jewish people assumed God to be a certain way, but Jesus comes along and “fulfills” that image. Likely this is what killed him. What does differentiated leadership look like in a time of theological reformation?
Michael I appreciate you highlighting this facet of Friedman’s work. The tension between individuality and togetherness is actually an urgent and ever pervasive topic that ought to be on every leaders radar. Although Friedman was Jewish I found his intertwining of this subject throughout the book very Trinitarian….separate but of one.
I wonder if you might reflect on his conversation about the maps of the brain and malignant cells as a balance to your evaluation “I disagree with Friedman in that human relationships involve more than survival of an organism”? Does the trajectory of his argument being in the context of a “Hostile Environment” inform his chapter 5?
How do his tensions for leadership during crisis on page 260 help or hinder your own understanding of leadership with Deep Water?