Category Archives: community

Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)


Needing People

Some people like to feel needed, but there are plenty of folk for whom saying ‘I need you’ is likely to induce some kind of panic. What they hear (I suspect) is more like ‘I need you to commit to doing certain things for me.’ I need you to bolster me up in certain ways. I need you to look after me, take responsibility for me, I will make work for you and suck up your time and energy.

We all need people. At a practical level, most of us need people to do the many things we cannot do for ourselves. We may never meet the people who grow and prepare our food, make our clothes, provide our electricity and maintain our roads but we need them nonetheless.

Humans are social creatures. We’ve evolved to work co-operatively and to live in groups. Many of us, if left alone, become lonely and miserable. Here’s an article about how loneliness kills. Meaningful human interactions are part of what keeps us sane and coping.

We all need people.

What if that needing isn’t about specific actions? What if it’s not about asking people to take roles and responsibilities within our lives? What if I can say ‘I need you’ and you will hear that as my need to have you, as you are, in my life. Not doing anything extra, just doing what you do and being who you are.

What if being who you are and doing what you do is wholly sufficient already? What if you didn’t have to go some difficult extra mile to be the sort of person who is needed? Then being needed wouldn’t be a matter of utility, just a recognition of who we are.


Poor Little Me

The Poor Little Me is a character from Hopeless Maine, inspired in part by Eliza Carthy’s song ‘Me and Poor Little Me.’ I started wondering what a Poor Little Me would be like, and thinking about possible examples. It’s a really unpleasant way of being, but in a rather passive-aggressive kind of way.

The PLM says ‘oh, poor you, that’s so bad, you must feel terrible. That must be awful, I bet its really getting to you, you must hate it, you must really be struggling there.’ At first it sounds like sympathy, and when we’re hurting, sympathy is welcome. After a while it sounds like pity – because they do it a lot, at very little provocation. Given long enough exposure, and it sucks out confidence and power, and you become this frail, useless thing and they become the big, powerful thing. Poor you.

Of course we can do it to ourselves as well – if we’ve internalised those voices, or we like to wallow too much. There are times when a good dose of ingratitude and self pity are necessary for getting life into perspective and taking action. The problem is taking up residence there. If you look at everything and see how it could have gone better and say ‘poor me’ for what you didn’t get, you’ll talk yourself into victimhood, despair and dysfunction.

In terms of dealing with the PLM as an inner voice, noticing it happening is key, and then challenging it. It’s important to deliberately look for the good in things as well as seeing what’s awry, this balance is essential to decent mental health. Often the destructive voices that live in our heads come from other places, so identifying whose voice it is can help with an eviction process.

In terms of having a PLM in your life, again noticing is key, because it will be offered in the guise of kindness and they will be ever so nice to you as they tell you how ghastly your life is. It’s very hard to protest or resist. The only method I’ve found is to step back. If rumbled, a PLM can become nasty – far more distressed that you could see them that way than they will ever be by the idea that they were making you uncomfortable.

How do we avoid becoming a PLM? Watch out for pity. Sympathy in a time of crisis can be supportive, but if it’s all we offer, it sounds like pity, and it also focuses the recipient on their woes. Make the effort to go further, offer something positive, encouraging or helpful alongside your sympathy. Act to empower the people you’re dealing with. Empty sympathy noises are easy – which is why we make them, so becoming damaging to someone else may be more about laziness than malice. Empathising and working out what could change things is a good deal more useful.

PLMing may happen to silence another person, perhaps with a feeling of justification because they keep going on about their woes. Yes, it’s terrible, poor you, you can shut up about it now. When it happens for those reasons, it doesn’t solve problems, or tackle a PLM living in someone else’s head, and it can isolate people who really are in trouble.

And if you’re curious about the PLM as a character, do click through to this blog post – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/salamandra-and-the-plm/


Illness and the magic thing

It’s important to talk about mental illness. Only by talking about it will we challenge the stigma, get rid of the inaccurate myths, challenge assumptions and improve things for everyone.

One of the big problems with mental health is that we treat it as an individual issue, with little or no reference to how context impacts on wellbeing. One very significant aspect of context is the way in which other people react. I’m conscious that many of the same things hold true for chronic illness. Certain kinds of responses silence people who are suffering, make it harder for us to ask for help, and can increase distress, anxiety and alienation. How people react to illness can make ill people more ill.

The big one (I think) is the idea that if we only tried harder and/or did ‘the magic thing’ we’d be fine. What ‘the magic thing’ is varies, but it will be something the person we’re dealing with is sure is a fabulous fix for everything. We’re told we should be on medication, or shouldn’t be on medication. We should make more effort, or get more rest. We should stop eating a thing, or start eating a thing, or do yoga, or practice mindfulness…

The person who says ‘I’m really struggling right now’ is not helped by being told they need the magic thing to fix them. Not least because we’ve all tried a whole array of alleged magic things already, and they mostly don’t save us. When you’re down, and beaten and exhausted and everything is hard about the least useful thing to hear is that you should be making more of an effort with something. Fear of dealing with this silences people, encountering it can kick those who are already down.

The motives for how we respond to illness in others stand questioning. If we make a suggestion to someone else, we may feel that’s us off the hook. We did our bit. We have no further responsibility. We may believe that because we are well, that something we are doing is the reason for this, and not that it might just be luck. Belief in ‘the magic thing’ protects us from having to be afraid that we could be unlucky and get sick. It may also allow us to feel superior, that our cleverly doing the right thing is keeping us well while others fall and suffer because they aren’t making as much effort as we are. Being blamed for illness adds to depression, despair, and a sense of alienation.

There is a balance to find here, because information sharing is a good and often helpful thing, but unsolicited medical advice from strangers is often demoralising. The thing to watch for is the tone. Sharing in solidarity – here’s the thing I tried, this is what happened – can be really helpful. ‘You should do this’ has a very different tone. There’s a power imbalance in it, a disrespect for the person on the receiving end. An implied superiority on the part of the person dishing out advice.

Another way of silencing, dismissing and injuring people who are ill is to tell them off for it. People who are told that expressions of distress are basically attention seeking and not ok learn not to mention it. You’re just making a fuss. You just want to be the centre of attention. You’re playing the victim again. You’re such a martyr… Which begs the question of why a person who is suffering should not be able to say so? The answer is all about the discomfort of the listener being more important than the distress of the person who is distressed. When you are deep in depression or other illness, and the distress caused by saying so is deemed more important than what you’re going through – that really doesn’t help. It’s a massive blow to self-esteem.

Depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels right now. We won’t change that without changing the context in which people are experiencing things.


Grooming the human mammal

Mammals groom. As I type this, I’m sat next to a cat who is busily washing herself, with her tongue. For most mammals, washing means licking. For any non-solitary creature, grooming is also a collective activity with a community bonding aspect to it. I wonder when it was that humans stopped licking themselves, and each other. Clothes clearly have an influence. To lick a fellow human these days could only be understood as a sexual act, and certainly none of us would be likely to think of it as hygiene.

The grooming of fellow humans is also something we no longer do as a natural part of daily life. Parent humans apply water, cleaning products and brushes to offspring, until said offspring can do it for themselves. Those who cannot clean themselves are groomed by others, but this is often the kind of work we pay people to do in the context of care homes. We don’t mind paying for grooming, for haircuts and washes, for the treatments of beauty parlour and spa – if we can afford it, that is.

It’s interesting to speculate what human relationships would be like if we routinely groomed each other, with no sexual connotation, and no financial aspect. We know from other mammals, that connections are reinforced by this. I’m prepared to bet, based on how modern humans respond to hairdressers and spa days, that there are some considerable feel good factors attached to being groomed. In monkeys, grooming can also be part of the expression and reinforcement of social hierarchy, which is complicated for a creature like me, but I think it’s likely a better way of handling it than many of the alternatives. It certainly users fewer resources.

I think this is all part and parcel of the way we’ve tended to sexualise all forms of contact. We tend to see touch as sexual, and thus only accept it in the context of certain kinds of relationship – sexual, familial or paid for. The word ‘grooming’ is increasingly used to suggest preparing someone for inappropriate sexual contact. There are comforts we aren’t allowed to provide for each other, but are fine if you stump up the cash. Other ways of being are clearly possible.


Angels, Demons, and being human

When I blog about human eccentricities, I generally try and cobble together a body of anecdotal evidence, pertaining to other people aside from myself. It’s hardly science, but it does mean I can form a broader perspective. The pattern I want to comment on in today’s post isn’t one I’ve knowingly seen happening for anyone else, so if you recognise it, feedback would be especially welcome as there’s a lot I’m still figuring out. This is a pattern I’ve experienced repeatedly when dealing with an array of people over a period of years.

The essence of it goes like this. A person will accuse me, publically, privately or to others, of being something terrible. This is the ‘demon’ role. That I’m bullying has come up repeatedly for me, and is something I’ve done no small amount of soul searching over. I am, I have been told, demanding, unreasonable, unfair, a liar, a manipulator, a user. The same person will then expect me to behave like an angel – to be kind to them, patient, generous – perhaps do some free work for them, or keep doing the same things despite them having a go at me. I must not inconvenience anyone by expressing distress or resentment over the accusations. I must take it on the chin and be an angel.

Alongside this, where I’ve called people out for behaviour I have a problem with (often but not always the same people) my expectation is that they won’t be grateful for the feedback. One of the things I learned in a support group for domestic abuse survivors, is that abusers are abusive, and thinking they are going to change just gets you more hurt. Faced with someone I think is a liar, manipulator and so forth, I move away, because I expect them to repeat the behaviour. I’ve no experience of telling someone I think they are dreadful, and then being able to use that as leverage to change their behaviour to better suit me. Only someone whose inclination is to be kind and co-operative can be manipulated into giving more of themselves by being told they are awful. People who enjoy causing distress won’t be moved to change tack. It raises the possibility that people who cast other people in an angel-devil role are doing so for manipulative reasons.

I have my share of normal fallouts with people I care for, and I’ve worked many of those through over plenty of years. There are normal patterns to discord – often deriving from innocent misunderstandings. No one is being terrible, it’s just a case of figuring out what went awry, and fixing it. This is my default starting place, and I tend to find that when trading explanations with people who like me, all manner of things can be resolved.

Of course if you start from an inclination to blame, solving things is hard. It may be that those who want to cast me as both demon and angel simply want me to take total responsibility for what’s going on. I am the demon so it’s all my fault, I must fix everything and be the angel. In matters of honest human cock-up, even if the balance of responsibility lies with one party, the other party can do a lot to help by explaining clearly and listening, and engaging actively but without too much blame, in the process of figuring out what went wrong.

There’s a vast giving away of personal power once you start casting people in angel-devil roles. The person who is both devil and angel is the only person in a scenario who can fix things – I wouldn’t much fancy being the person who thinks they have an angel-devil to deal with. The person who steps up to work on resolution has far more power than simple blame can ever give them. However, if all you know how to do is give away power by making others responsible, it would (I speculate) be easy to then hate and further blame the person you’ve decided has all the power in a situation.

I must note this is not the same as a situation of genuine power imbalance – teacher/student, boss/worker, matters of financial control, or controlling behaviour. I have certainly seen people who had definite power in a situation treat the person they have power over, as the one in control, and that creates some very strange dynamics.

I have no great insights at this stage. What I do know if that a person thinks I can be both a devil and an angel, they don’t know me. They aren’t dealing with me as the human (flawed and striving) that I am. They are dealing with something they have imagined and wish to impose on me, and with the best will in the world, there’s not a lot I can do with that.


Living with Bimbles

Bimbles are creatures from the third book of the awesome Matlock the Hare series, but they are also a truth. When a person has a plan, bimbles will latch on to them, get in their way and slow them down. The bimble in your life needs you to stop when you are busy and hear a story you have already heard about a problem they won’t try a solution for. They need to regale you with a blow by blow account of what they saw on the telly last night. They will respond to the thing you are actually doing by wanting an indepth conversation about something similar they had once thought of doing. Online they’ll drown genuine issues in a swamp of maundering over the most trivial details. “But you said he was wearing a green hat when he did it, and clearly it was a red one.”

Much of it, no doubt, is motivated by boredom, loneliness and a desire for attention. However, one of the things that really sets a bimble apart from someone who is merely bored or lonely, is that the bimble has to be the most important person in the conversation. They aren’t doing much of interest, and will use their banality to undermine your enthusiasm. The White Wolf Changeling game used the term ‘autumn people’ to identify a similar trait set. Terry Pratchett talked about it in terms of the crab bucket. Banality that cannot bear the presence of genuine energy and activity, failure that cannot bear success, will try to smother it. It’s useful to have terms for these things and to be able to identify the habits of the archetype.

So, let’s imagine that you are working on something. The something in question is wild, radical, creative, innovative, life changing and big. The bimble will respond to this by trying to take energy from you. They will be quick to say how pointless, futile and silly your plan is. They will bring you down to earth with a bump, confident they are doing you a favour and then you’ll get to hear a long story about how the cat was sick on the rug last week, and they had to clean it up.

We are all obliged to deal with mundane reality. It’s an essential part of life. The trouble is that for some people, it’s only the most banal and repetitive things that have reality, and anything else, anything with a dash of change in it, looks like a threat. At the very least, the bimbling routine protects them from having to know about what you were doing. It helps them maintain the belief that change doesn’t happen. It leaves them feeling in control of their space.

A small dose of bimbling doesn’t do anyone any real harm. The problems come if the bimble is part of your household, workspace, or social network in a way you can’t avoid. A bimble who is in your life in an ongoing way will be an ongoing obstacle to anything and everything. My guess is that they try to keep others powerless and passive as a way of dealing with their own powerlessness, but if you want to get anything serious done, avoiding the bimbles is an essential part of the process.

More about Matlock the Hare here – http://www.matlockthehare.com/

 


Those who remain

A bit back, I spent some time exploring possible alternative story shapes to the hero’s journey. At the end of the journey, the hero comes back with the new shiny thing – be that an object, a power, or an insight. Then the hero has to persuade the rest of the tribe that the new shiny thing has value, and sometimes, this is the hardest bit of the whole journey. Can the tribe accommodate the hero’s experience? They probably can’t understand him, they may resist change, or resent his ideas.

I think it’s worth pondering the journey of those who remain. For a start, if no one stays put, there is no closing act of the hero coming home. There is no home to come back to. The tradition and resistance the hero might struggle with, is also the thing that will hold his innovation ready for some future hero to have a problem with it.

Those who remain may have made heroic journeys at some previous time. However, those who remain as a choice, who make their journey through the same landscape day by day, still make a journey and their role is an important one. To be honest, this is a role I identify with far more than that of the wandering hero. My inclination is to stay, to put down roots, craft community and have a space for the wanderers to come back to.

Staying does not oblige me to resent those who travel. I do not have to be jealous of their journeys, nor need I feel threatened by them. I can be open to the stories and insights they bring back, and I can listen and bear witness when they reach the end of a particular journey and need to unload. For me this is not a hypothetical thing. As we develop a tribe in the valleys of Stroud, I notice that many of my people are adventurers, going forth repeatedly into the world to make their journeys and coming back with tales to tell. Not usually the world altering revelations of the official hero’s journey, but change nonetheless.

Many good things happen when we can embrace the domestic side of this story. The tribe the wandering hero returns to need not be resentful and unable to understand. The tribe may be full of people who have also wandered, and so do in fact get what it means to go away and come back again. Being the tribe, being the bit that stays at home need not be equated with narrow mindedness or disinterest. We do not have to be the final challenge to be overcome on a hero’s journey. We can thus point the way to the possibility of heroic journeys that are not conflict orientated, and that do not have to be struggle at every turn.


Joining Special Branch

I admit it, the name lured me in. Do you want to be part of Special Branch? Yes, yes I do.  So here we are at the start of a whole new adventure.

This summer I put down a number of volunteering things I’d been doing, because they weren’t working – all kinds of reasons. Volunteering is like any relationship; you rock up all shiny eyed and excited at the beginning. Sometimes you fall out of love with them. Sometimes you change, they change, you grow apart, your needs change, their ideas… sometimes there are personality clashes. And that’s fine, because it’s human and real and it can be gently put down and life goes on.

Service is important to me. Volunteering has always been a part of my life. Not volunteering hasn’t felt good, although I needed time to draw breath and figure out how to move forward, with so many things going so wrong in so many ways, it’s overwhelming. Conscious that I can’t wade into every fight, I’ve been looking for a place to stand that makes sense to me.

I’ve been a member of The Woodland Trust for something like a decade. It’s been a happy relationship. I give them money, they send me a nice magazine, and every now and then they win something, a wood is saved, land is bought and allowed to regenerate… and I feel good about being a tiny part of that. So, when they announced the idea of Special Branch, I got rather excited. What they were looking for are people willing to campaign online. But it gets better, because what we’re talking about here is soft campaigning.

I’ve done a few turns at harder activism. The sort of work where you go in and fight your corner, and push, and protest. It burns me out emotionally. I expect I’ll keep doing bits and pieces of that when it’s needed, but I can’t live there. Soft activism, by contrast, deeply attracts me. It’s about building ideas and getting people engaged. It’s about stories, and, for these purposes, connecting people with trees.

And really, if as a Druid I wasn’t a bit excited by the idea of trying to softly engage people with trees via stories and other forms of creativity, something would be wrong!

One of the consequences of this, is that I will add more tree related content to the blog. I’m always looking for new threads of ideas to explore, and this should be a very natural match for the other things I get up to. Turning my love of trees into something that can serve the trees seems like a very sustainable way forward for me. It will not solve all the world’s ills, but I firmly believe that a culture that is considerate of its trees will likely also do a better job of taking care of its people, so, here we go…

Tempted to follow suit? there are loads of ways to get involved, more information here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/


Cat Treadwell

I’ve known Cat Treadwell for long enough that I can’t remember when and where we first ran into each other. We have a lot of things in common in our history – The Druid Network, The Pagan Federation, Druid Camp, writing for Pagan Dawn and Moon Books, being a Druid blogger… Somewhere, many years ago, one of these things first brought us into contact with each other.

Cat is a very lovely person who I think is a great example of a Druid Priestess. She does a lot of celebrant work, and prison ministry, she teaches and writes, and lives her Druidry and shares that experience. I have met her in person and she’s someone I would very much like to spend more time with.

This is a video of Cat Treadwell talking for a recent PF Disabilities Team online conference. Here’s she’s talking about mental health and ritual.

This is her blog – https://druidcat.wordpress.com/

Cat is the author of two titles (at time of writing this.) A Druid’s Tale grew out of the above blog, and is all about her life and work. it’s a lovely expression of being a modern Druid and what that means in practice.

Facing the Darkness offers stories, tools and inspiration to help those suffering from depression – all from a Pagan perspective. My other half – Tom Brown – did the cover for this one.

If you’re not familiar with her work, do look her up, she’s out there in social media land, her books are all the places you can get books, she does talks at events sometimes as well.