In a traditional community, it is normal for people to invest effort and resources in things that benefit others, safe in the knowledge that everyone else is doing it too and the aim is group survival. When we talk about Pagan communities, we don’t usually mean groups of people who are dependent on each other in an ongoing way. What we get instead are a mix of economically driven interactions, and volunteer interactions.
In a traditional community, entitlement is part of the mix. You are entitled to partake of other people’s successes, creativity and resources. They are entitled to partake of yours. This is fine – it creates flow where good things move from those who have plenty to those who are lacking. Everyone contributes what they can when they can, and you trust that it balances out, and you take pride in looking after those who cannot, for whatever reason, look after themselves.
There’s no shortage of that same sense of entitlement in modern Pagan communities. We often feel entitled to benefit from the work of others, and can be resistant to paying them anything for that work. We make huge demands of our volunteers. All too often what we don’t have is a sense of responsibility to go alongside that entitlement, and this is something of a problem.
Sometimes it works out well – I think Mark Graham’s Druid Camp is a case in point here. There are people who buy tickets, and people who work for tickets, people who contribute to ticket sales such that they get paid. Rainbow, who provide the infrastructure, are also paid. There’s a real effort to make sure that no one feels exploited, that everyone gets a good exchange experience from the balance of what they are asked to put in and what is available to them.
However, I’ve been in plenty of other spaces where it didn’t go like this. Where working a ticket caused problems and wasn’t respected, so that volunteers ended up having to pay to participate. I’ve seen volunteers taken for granted, and I’ve seen outlandish beliefs about money being paid to people who, in reality, barely had their expenses covered. I’ve seen people charging outrageously for what they do, as well. I’ve seen people pay celebrants generously in relation to their own resources, and I’ve seen people think they were entitled to have that celebrant work for free – because we’re a community and that’s how it should be. I’ve seen people think the community owes them support and adoration, and I’ve seen people who deserved support not getting it.
Partly this is because we are not really living in tribes. Sometimes we like to use the language of tribe, but as we are not mutually dependent on each other, we don’t have a tribal relationship. We aren’t entitled to each other’s service because we are not obliged to provide service in return.
As individuals, we can pay attention to what we contribute – in any form, and what we seek in return. We can look at the flows of energy we participate in, and we can look at how that impacts on other people. To get this right as a ‘community’ all we need is for enough individuals to be thinking honourably and carefully about how energy and resources and opportunities and demands flow between people. (Borrowing Cat Treadwell’s famous battle cry) What are you doing?