When a person gets into a position of leadership in a community, they don’t just make calls about what happens; they define a culture. Mostly, Pagans come to leadership by accidental means. Very few people consciously seek it, and therefore I think it’s justified to say that no matter how firmly you believe that leadership issues are not your problem… they are. You could wake up tomorrow and find a moot has fallen on your head. They do that.
Many pagans do not like to think in terms of hierarchy and power because it smacks of all the things that you probably don’t want to do. We don’t want dogma, or to be controlled, we don’t want to be told how to feel or what to think. This means that effects created by subtle, and accidental means get under the radar, we don’t spot them and they cause problems.
Let me give you some examples. If you run open rituals, and you always wait around for the latecomers, because you’re a lovely, inclusive sort of person, you can in fact make a massive problem. You are rewarding the late people and punishing the punctual ones. You are reinforcing the idea that it’s fine to be late. I’ve seen this lead to serious levels of unhappiness and disharmony. You get a culture of lateness, or a culture of resentment, or a lot of people stop showing up.
If you let whingers and complainers dominate discussions at the expense of people who are doing the work, you get problems. Of course you do this because you think everyone deserves a fair hearing and you take complaints seriously, but if you get someone for whom whinging is a hobby, you destroy the morale of volunteers and the whole thing falls apart.
You might want everything to be done only by consensus. That’s a classic of the well-meaning, inclusive pagan mind-set and all too often, it results in nothing happening at all.
Small things you do as a leader can shape how the community around you behaves. What you do defines what is normal and acceptable. That includes what you do when you’re tired, sore, pissed off and hungry. It is a lot to have to think about and a lot to carry, and one of the many reasons why people who do put themselves forward often choose to step back again after a while. It is bloody hard work to do it well. It is also well worth trying to be alert to all of this.
However, there’s scope for all manner of things here. If we engage with our wider community at all, we are all in a position to either support, or not co-operate with accidental culture failures of this shape. If we get a dysfunctional leader and we cooperate with the culture they make, we are contributing to that culture. It is all too easy to do, and I say that knowing perfectly well that I’ve done it.
The only answer I can see is to make sure, in everything you do, that you uphold your values, walk your talk, and hold firm against any culture that tries to encourage you to do otherwise. It isn’t always easy, but if we all do it, it will probably become more so. Never give a leader guru status, never give your power away to a teacher, or a public figure. Own what you do. It is when we mistakenly imagine that someone else is a ‘better’ pagan than we are, that we get into these things. Only you can walk your path. Only I can walk mine.