The Romans gave us the tale of Druids going out onto battlefields and ending the fight. Far too many modern Druids, especially those arguing with each other in social media spaces, manifestly lack for diplomatic skills. Further, there doesn’t seem to be much inclination to foster them, either. Online debate is all too often about point scoring, hammering your opponent and showing off how clever you are. I’ve dabbled in at as well, although most of the time I try not to. I just can’t resist piling in when someone gets sanctimonious, smug and self important because usually such people spout a lot of nonsense. Still, it’s not something I’m proud of, but its important to flag that I’m a work in progress on this issue.
For Druidry to grow we need to be able to flag up what is bloody stupid, inside our own community and beyond it. We need to be able to challenge each other, and everyone else. We need room to disagree and even to argue. However, too aggressive and abrasive a culture will wound and discourage. It favours the loud and smug, and is more likely to harm the gentler, more reflective person – to my mind that’s the exact opposite of what we need. Draw battle lines and people will dig in, and cling harder to their opinion and be less open to your reasoned explanation of why, exactly, it sucks. It takes diplomacy, and more surreptitious approaches to engage people with ideas that they do not initially accept. We could use more diplomacy.
Diplomacy is not tacit support of wrong things. It’s not appeasement, or taking the easy option. Diplomacy is not refusal to challenge or peace at all costs, but it is a quest for the smoothest, gentlest and at the same time most effective way through issues of conflict.
There are two critical balancing acts around diplomacy, where too much and too little are equally counter-productive.
The first is around truth. Too much truth can turn into a form of psychological violence. The internet has too many folk who use ‘brutal honesty’ as a thin veneer to mask cruelty and sadism. We need to be honest about the right things – identifying facts from opinions, recognising dogma, recognising that others are entitled to different opinions and beliefs when the foundations are as good as anyone else’s. The thing to avoid, and to refuse to co-operate with is the ‘brutal honesty’ that abuses the person as a person. ‘I’m just being honest by pointing out that you are stupid and worthless’ is not the kind of honesty we need, and probably lacks for truth anyway. Insufficient truth obviously doesn’t work either. Somewhere in the middle is useful truth.
The second critical balancing act is around kindness. On the whole the world needs more kindness in it, not less. Learner Druids will learn more from kindness than from being humiliated and put down. People who make honest mistakes or have been misinformed will be more likely to recognise that if the transition is handled with kindness. On the other hand, too much kindness doesn’t challenge people at all and lets them stay where they are, no matter how toxic where they are is for them. It is not ultimately kind to let a person carry on harming themselves, but it is easy.
Balancing truth and kindness in our interactions is a moment to moment, word to word sort of enterprise. It is not easy. It requires a lot of attention to detail and nuance, and to the language and responses of the intended recipient. Diplomacy does not give the practitioner as many opportunities to be publically smug and self important – and while that’s a good thing, it’s also a tough thing for the fragile human ego that craves attention. Diplomacy isn’t any easy path, but we could use a good deal more of it within Druidry, and a great deal more of it in the wider world.