Signposts, not gatekeepers

I wrote recently about gatekeeping and why I don’t much like it. There are of course better ways to do things. For the person who wants to improve standards in any context, it is better to be a signpost than a gatekeeper.

Rather than trying to keep the ‘wrong sort’ out, a signpost makes it their job to flag up what’s good. Signposts put themselves out there, because otherwise what use are we? We make it our business to know useful things and to share that information with those who come along. We don’t turn that process into a demand to have things done our way. All of my favourite bloggers operate this way and I am happy to say I can think of enough active signpost people that it doesn’t make sense to try and name everyone.

Putting up blog posts can be a way of playing signpost, but it works in person, too. Here’s an example I’ve seen repeatedly in folk circles: Someone comes along, new to folk. They may know a few chords on a guitar and a few songs, but the songs aren’t folk songs – most likely Streets of London and a couple of things by The Beatles. At this point a gatekeeper would tell them off for not doing proper folk, make them feel small, inadequate and unwanted. By this means, gatekeepers prevent communities from growing.

A signpost will make encouraging noises because they want this person to come back. They may ask the newbie if they know a song – any song the signpost thinks would suit them – or if they’ve heard a performer the signpost thinks is in a similar style. With encouragement and suggestions, the signpost helps the newbie find their way into folk and expand their repertoire. If they don’t engage, they may move on because there’s not a great deal of point coming to a folk club regularly if you have no interest in folk music, and that’s fine – that’s what open mics are for.

Signposts support their communities by helping new people come in and find their way about. They support and encourage excellence by gently pointing people towards things that would help. They encourage and build up, where gatekeepers discourage and knock down. A signpost wants more good stuff, where a gatekeeper wants the power to exclude and the importance of being able to say who crosses the threshold.

You don’t have to know much to start being a signpost. All you need to know is where to point people. In its own way, being a signpost is also a position of power because you’ll decide what to recommend and what to not mention, or discourage. Your opinions and preferences will inform where you suggest people go. A signpost can also be unfair and unreasonable, can exclude for reasons of power, or can mostly signpost towards themselves and the things they sell. The act of signposting is not itself proof of quality. But on the whole I’d still prefer a bad signpost to any sort of gatekeeper.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Signposts, not gatekeepers

  • lornasmithers

    Nice analogy. I have a strong disliking of gate keeping both within Paganism and poetry. I prefer to see myself as an opener of gates and doors so folks can pass through as they choose and wish rather than a keeper of them and also of a leaver or signposts along the way.

    I sometimes wonder what it is that gives gatekeepers the idea they should have that role, what they fear will happen if someone slips by with a drugged cake or a hypnotic song or it the crowds storm the gates…

  • locksley2010

    Thank you, this speaks to me on so many levels. And on a day I feel reconnected back with my Druidry, too!

  • Ryan Cronin

    This is so important. In my day job I work as a librarian, and there’s a whole shift in the profession towards being more signposts to knowledge and less gatekeepers of knowledge, and I really think that this is how power and leadership roles should be more like in all fields.

  • Friday Foraging 4 – Wrycrow

    […] Brown, who is one of the most prolific and also most thoughtful Druid writers I know. In her post Signposts, not Gatekeepers, Nimue discusses something that is central to both my Pagan practice and my “day job” […]

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