Comfort or challenge?

How do we handle communal Druid situations? Do we tend towards the intellectually challenging approach, or the emotionally compassionate approach? I come into contact with both, and with critiques of both.

Online spaces tend to be more cerebral, inevitably. We’re dealing with words and often have little insight into the feelings of others. Spaces of challenge are great when you’re developing your philosophy and want to test ideas. They can be good places to get pointers for study, if the quality of information flowing about is good. This is my first issue with challenge spaces – any idiot can do it, and a lot do.

Knocking someone down requires neither skill nor knowledge. A willingness to shout abuse is all that’s needed. Where the aim is to win, to be right and to prove superiority, challenging spaces can breed misinformation and self-important rubbish. The more someone wants to shout their ultimate truth at you, the less helpful a space tends to be.

Safe spaces full of group hugs and warm, fuzzy noises tend to seem lovely, and nurturing, but are not without their critics. Accusations of people vamping energy off others by manufacturing distress, are common. Safe spaces, it is said, perpetuate fluffy nonsense and make it impossible to challenge stupid thinking and misinformation. If we aren’t allowed to challenge each other, how can we grow and learn?

Both approaches when undertaken well can make for excellent spaces, and either can be done badly. In both instances I think it comes down to care and respect. Challenge spaces all too easily become shouty spaces due to a lack of these two features. Challenge spaces tend to attract people who want to be listened to, and once you’ve got someone who cannot bear to be disagreed with, things can get nasty. Ironically, what the angry troll of the challenge space probably needs is a safe hug in a comfort space where everyone is nice to them.

Compassion is not essentially complicit. We can be gentle with each other without agreeing in all things and without creating spaces where the only way to get validated is to be bleeding. If we’re doing comfort spaces, it’s important to do that same warmth and compassion when there is no drama. If hugs are available without tears, you don’t get a culture of wound waving.

Often in challenge spaces, we do not challenge all out rudeness. I’ve seen sexism and other forms of prejudice demand a space because “they are entitled to their opinion” and challenge spaces can be curiously unwilling to tackle that kind of ‘diversity’. And yes, comfort spaces don’t always push people to make the changes that would solve problems, and that’s not actually a manifestation of care and respect, either.

We are all our own priests and priestesses. That means anyone who self identifies as a Pagan is responsible for their own path. We are not responsible for each other’s beliefs and ideas or for each other’s choices. The problems start, in comfort and challenge spaces alike when we try to transfer responsibility in some way. If I have to make you think the way I do, I’m claiming responsibility for your path. If you all have to be responsible for my emotional wellbeing, I’m abdicating responsibility. We interact as fine, interconnecting threads of influence, and the best thing we can do with this, most of the time, is to express our own beliefs and ideas through our actions. There’s no point shouting abuse at the person you find rude, or having a big, melodramatic meltdown at the person who you find over emotional. If we demonstrate how we want things to be, if we don’t feed the situations we claim to have problems with, and if we politely offer alternatives, many of the imagined problems will simply go away. That might make the real issues around those occasional genuine predators and actual bigots easier to spot and deal with, too.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. View all posts by Nimue Brown

One response to “Comfort or challenge?

  • angharadlois

    Wise words as ever! Curiously enough, I have just been at an all-day training session on just this issue (albeit work-focused). It was a very thought provoking day, which made me reflect on just how complicit I am in allowing this behaviour to continue through staying silent when I notice something wrong. I have always tended to slip away quietly from groups when they reach the self-destruct phase, being broadly suspicious of humans in general, but in recent years my spiritual path has led me to consider my responsibility in creating positive communities.

    I have been particularly pondering the social side of the druid network, which kind of went a bit… wrong… when I first joined up in 2007/8, and seems to have had a small but solid rennaissance in the past few years. It strikes me that in its former incarnation, it was almost too personal – debates seemed to be more about individuals and their choices, and less about what it means to be a druid in this world. The current social site is much more strongly focused on druidry, to the extent that it was in danger of becoming quite dry, but somehow we have managed to strike the right balance between open, constructive sharing and questioning of ideas – particularly in the talking stick threads. I think we learn a lot from each other in the process. Of course, it may just be the case that we’ve been very lucky with membership, and have not yet had to put our community to the kinds of tests mentioned above…

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