Category Archives: Community

Good Friends

I think it’s interesting to ask what makes for good friendship. I expect a wide range of answers are available, as we all have different feelings and needs.  Is friendship a description of a relationship? Or might it be something we do for each other? You can choose to be a good friend to someone when very little is offered in return. You can choose to act as a good friend to someone in the short term to help them in some way – this may be someone with whom you will not have an ongoing relationship. How much give does friendship call for, and how much reciprocity?

While it can be tempting to think of friendship as an arena in which we can heroically practice the art of sacrificing ourselves for love, massively one sided relationships do not do anyone much good for the longer term. It can be really demoralising feeling that people stick around to help you because they feel sorry for you. A relationship based on pity, and on other people being heroic, is not a good relationship to be in. That kind of friendship can help a person feel small and stay put, or it can create weird power flows around who has the biggest crisis, the most problems etc.

For me, the most rewarding friendships are based on mutual enthusiasm – liking what a person does and how they do it, how they think and respond and how they are to be around. We don’t have to be doing anything for each other if we can enjoy doing things together. That in turn is underpinned by care and respect. I think highly of my friends, and over time, what they do justifies my belief in them. I care about them, I care about their successes and setbacks, their aspirations and challenges. I like to be cared about in these kinds of ways, as well.

There have been people along the way who clearly didn’t respect me or much care for me, and wanted me to know what hard work I was. People who have to tolerate me in some way or find me a struggle. I’ve no idea why anyone thinks that kind of self sacrifice is attractive. If you don’t like me, move on, with my blessings. I don’t need to be put up with. I don’t need people having to make a massive effort to cope with me. I’d rather be entirely alone than have that role in anyone’s life. Not that this has ever been necessary.

When we run on a scarcity model, it can be tempting to hang on tight to anyone who stops long enough to let us do that. When we imagine there won’t be many people we have anything in common with. After all, how many queer pagans with an interest in comics can there be in a small town like Stroud? (Plenty enough, in case you were wondering).  How many creative people are there in a small town like Stroud? (more than I can get to know). How many druids are there… and so on and so forth. For any of the things that matter to me, for any of the overlapping areas, I can find people. I don’t think Stroud is that exceptional. Interesting people are everywhere.

How much do we owe it to people to include them? How much do we owe it to each other to provide one sided care? How much should we make ourselves available as resources, and make what we have available? How much crap should we tolerate from each other in the name of friendship? There’s clearly no one right place to draw the lines here, but the act of drawing lines is important.

Humans are social creatures. We all have a need for care and contact. Draw your lines in the wrong place, give too much in exchange for little or nothing, and it will eventually wear you down.  No one is an infinite resource. Ask too much of the people around you and you’ll find they can’t sustain it. Accept too much of the shit and you’ll take damage. Dish out too much crap and people will move away from you. We all have hard times and rough patches, and we all need to be supported through those, but friendship requires balance. It calls for respect, for mutual concern, and for scope to take delight in each other. If we do not find joy in each other’s company, it isn’t going to function as a friendship.

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Calling out abusers

When you call out bad behaviour in others, a number of things may happen. A person who has made an honest mistake, or just been careless, will likely be upset but also sorry and remorseful. Decent people called out on their cock-ups tend to own it and try to deal with it.

Whether you’re responding to something done to you, or calling someone out over what you’ve seen them do to others, the results can be the same, although the consequences of that, in turn, may be different. Here are some of the most obvious outcomes and their implications.

The abuser denies everything. Frustrating if you’re an observer, devastating if you’re a victim. If you’ve been shouted at or hit, and then told that these things did not happen, it’s confusing and distressing. If you endure a lot of it, you may feel you’re going mad. Denying what happened is a form of gaslighting.

The abuser blames the victim. The victim in some way made them do it. Again, this is devastating for the victim, and may over time persuade them that they are responsible. It’s hardest on child victims who have no reason to know it isn’t their fault. If you are not the victim and you get this response, do think carefully about whether the person on the receiving end could really have caused what happened to them. It’s not an argument anyone should be comfortable with. Making victims responsible for the abuse they experience is a form of emotional abuse and gaslighting.

The abuser derides the victim. The victim is crazy, a drama queen, over reacting, a liar, making it up, fantasising, needs help. This is another form of gaslighting that will, over time, cause the victim to doubt their own sanity and judgement. They will complain less, and do less to protect themselves if they are persuaded that their responses are irrational and unreasonable. If the person challenging over abuse is persuaded that the victim is ridiculous, the victim gets less help and support. If everyone is persuaded that the victim is silly and makes a fuss, abuse can go on and nothing is done about it. Do not be complicit in this.

The abuser minimises what was done. A blow becomes ‘just a tap’ a violent shove becomes ‘a little accident’. The abuser says it wasn’t as bad as the victim was making out – again this undermines the victim’s confidence in their own judgement and plays into the idea that the victim is making a fuss about nothing. Watch out for the use of the word ‘just’ in this context. Where the abuse is non-physical, this is even easier to persuade onlookers about. The victim is a snowflake, a drama queen, wants to be the centre of attention, has no sense of perspective, makes mountains out of molehills…

If you have heard about abuse from someone else, rather than seeing it first hand, there is a further thing to take into account when calling someone out: Bullies often play victim. If two people tell you that they are each is being bullied by the other, the odds are that one of them is telling you the truth, and the other is saying it to do more harm to their victim. On the whole, victims tend to be fearful and seeking safety while bullies claiming victimhood are likely to be angry and wanting retribution. Victims may be confused (for all of the above reasons) and not sure if it’s their fault in some way. Bullies are confident when they self identify as victims. The victim is the person most likely to be apologising and wondering how to fix things. If the bully is playing victim and the victim is the person who is saying ‘I think it may be all my fault, I’m afraid I’m a horrible person, I can’t get anything right’ then it can be all too easy to misjudge what’s going on.

Also, if someone is more offended by being called out than they are worried about the harm they may have inadvertently caused, they’re out of order.


Community and conflict

Most of us in English speaking countries do not live in tight knit communities where people depend on each other to survive. As a consequence, unlike most of our ancestors we can afford not to be too invested in the idea of community. When things go wrong, we can just move on to another space. What this overlooks of course is the deep feeling of unrootedness and un-belonging that comes from changing your social context to deal with conflict. We might not need our communities to survive the winter, but we do need them for emotional wellbeing.

It’s easy to see conflict in personal terms, and understand it purely as being about those directly involved. Two people appear to fall out, and so we take the moral high ground by not getting involved, not taking sides, not asking what happened. If one of the people involved pulls away and leaves, we shrug, and say it’s a shame, and carry on with life. We all bear the losses quietly, because this is normal. We all bear the impact of the original problem, directly or indirectly.

One of the things this does is to tacitly support bullying and abuse. If one person mistreats another and we all nobly sit on the fence and refuse to pass judgement, we enable misbehaviour. It is the victim who will be pushed out. The person who was acting out will do it again, and probably get away with it again. This is not in anyone’s interests and does not make for a good community.

If we recognise that all relationships are held in a wider community context, we can look at them differently. It does not seem so acceptable for a community as a whole to react to a conflict by shrugging its shoulders. It becomes necessary for the community to find out what’s going on, make judgements and take action. These may be small measures to smooth over troubles and build bridges. There may be larger moves called for to challenge unacceptable behaviour. It may be necessary to identify what is intolerable.

If someone bullies, exploits, abuses, controls or otherwise mistreats a person, it is not because of something inherent in the victim. It is because the abusive person is an abusive person. They can and will do that again. If a person lacks the experience, empathy or insight to navigate relationships well, they will keep having the same problems – either because they don’t hold the boundaries they need, or because they don’t deal well with others. Either way, it helps when the people around them respond to this and take on some responsibility for fixing it.

I’ve been in communities that shrug shoulders over conflict. I’ve watched people leave those spaces in all kinds of states of distress and discomfort. I’ve been the person who leaves. I’ve also been in spaces with people who take responsibility for the wellbeing of the community as a whole, and who wade in when things get difficult. I’ve seen problems solved, and people challenged in good ways, to do better. I’ve seen vulnerable people supported, and socially awkward people helped. I’ve seen confidence built, and boundaries fostered. I’ve seen wellbeing improved, and the communities in question grow stronger for making the choice to act in these ways.


Community and woodland

A healthy community and a healthy woodland have a great deal in common. Neither does well for existing in total isolation; threads of connection with other communities or woods are really important. A good wood has some diversity in it – different kinds of trees, a variety of underwood and undergrowth. It has birds and creatures. Equally, a good human community has diversity inherent in it too, but all too often what we do is connect up with people who are much like us – same age and gender, same class and education background, same sort of earnings level. We could learn a lot from trees.

One of the problems with tree planting is that you often end up with a wood where all the trees are the same age, and will all start to die off at the same time. It is necessary to thin out planted woods and allow young trees to come up after the original planting. A wood that will endure, has young trees growing in it.

Communities are the same. From school age onwards we’re encouraged to associate with people the same age as us. It means we grow up without access to the knowledge and experience of older folk and once we get older we may have little sympathy for the struggles of younger folk. If we live in an age-segregated culture, we may even have a sense that there’s inter-generational conflict. Perhaps at the moment there is, there’s so much abuse heaped on millennials.

Age-based human communities don’t endure. The spaces I like most are all-age spaces. You can show up with a kid in a pushchair, you can show up as a teenager and young adult, you can be there when you’re middle aged, and when you’re old. I like the atmosphere of spaces that have a broad mix of people in them. It’s a significant part of the attraction of steampunk, for me.

I go to too many events where those present are retired and very middle class. Often my son is the only teenager in the room, having grown up being the only child in the room at many events. Some of it, no doubt, is about disposable income and spare time, but we should be making spaces more accessible for people who work, have children and/or have limited funds. If a space looks old and middle class, it can be immediately unattractive to people who don’t fit. It can be hard being the one visible oddity in a room.

I don’t know how trees feel about other trees. People seem to find comfort and solace by being around similar, likeminded people. As we huddle into spaces populated by people who seem a lot like us, what we fail to notice, is that a great many other people who don’t superficially match, are also a lot like us.


Contemplating Resilience

It looks increasingly like ‘resilience’ is going to be a key word for me in all sorts of ways. I think it’s an essential part of making change, and I think it’s something best handled at a community level, not a personal level.

How do I approach things that are fragile and help them become more robust and survivable? It’s something to consider with regards to the people around me. It’s a question for social groupings, for businesses I am involved with, for volunteer outfits I’m working with, and for the place I live. It’s a wider question for us as a species and I expect that exploring resilience on the small scale will lead me to a lot of thoughts about the larger scale, too.

It’s not the first time in my life I’ve moved towards a concept that will define how I go forward. It may be the most conscious I’ve been in doing that. Without resilience, everything else becomes harder and less likely. If I can help develop coping mechanisms, support systems, more dependable and enduring structures, I can keep good things keep going. I can help good people keep going.

How do we fairly share resources? How do we support each other, practically and emotionally? What are we willing and able to pay for? What can we do if financial support isn’t an option? How can we think and act more collectively for the common good rather than feeling isolated and powerless? These are questions that open the way to more resilient ways of being. Asking what we can do for each other that makes things better is the heart of how we achieve greater resilience.

What can I do? In some of the specific situations I’m looking at, there are practical things that need to change to achieve greater resilience. Too much knowledge and responsibility shouldered by too few people. In some of the situations, the key is cash flow, and getting money moving in better ways will increase the amount of resources available and put a number of people I care about on a better footing. I need to work differently so that others will be better paid, and I’m fine with that. Selfishness is very much at odds with resilience, it isolates us and encourages us to compete rather than co-operating, which in turn makes us all more vulnerable.

What can I do to help the people around me be more emotionally resilient? This is a tricky one. It brings up questions of how much care and energy is invested in whom, and who I am willing to feel responsible for. Factoring my own resilience into the mix, I just can’t afford to invest too much of my energy in people who take a lot and put very little back in. When I look at how best to deploy myself as a resource, the most immediate answer is that I can’t really afford the people who see me only as a resource to deploy, because that undermines my own resilience. Depression and anxiety make me less effective. Exhaustion increases my risks of depression and anxiety. I need to learn how to attach my own oxygen mask first.


When inclusion excludes

In theory, inclusion should be the default setting, but in practice often when you choose to include one person you can find you are excluding another. Here are some examples.

If you include someone who has acted abusively, you exclude their victim, who may feel they have no choice but to quietly leave.

If you include someone who takes up a lot of time, energy or other resources, you may exclude people who needed a share of that, but who are less overtly demanding.

If you include people who are always massively late, you may frustrate, demoralise and ultimately lose the people who turned up in good time and good faith.

If you include someone who is vocally intolerant and bigoted, you may well exclude people who find that behaviour unbearable.

If you include people who are exploitative and there for what they can get you exclude people who cannot afford to be treated as a resource in that way. This includes issues of emotional labour.

What happens all too often is that people who make the most fuss, who are most demanding and most able to assert themselves get what they want out of situations. It is the people who are willing to be emotionally manipulative who will demand a place for themselves even when they manifestly do not deserve one. It is easy to end up excluding quieter and less demanding people who vote with their feet when faced with things they can’t bear. Those exclusions may be invisible – it seems like they’ve just given up or gone away, not that they have been driven away.

What we include, what we tolerate, and who we allow informs who we don’t get to keep. It can be easy to lose sight of that. A community is the sum of its members, and when we prioritise the ones who are most demanding, the cost may not be immediately apparent.


Understanding and forgiveness

For me, forgiveness is a difficult idea. It so often means accepting what a person did and undertaking to move on from there without asking anything of them. It often comes entirely from the person who is forgiving. I have trouble with it because I see it as facilitating poor, and deliberately bad behaviour. Abusers depend a lot on eliciting the forgiveness of their victim. How many chances do you give to a person who says they won’t punch you again?

As a short term measure, and frequent solution to all things, I can do understanding. In situations of honest human cock-up, understanding is often all that’s needed. We all mess up. We all get tired and make mistakes. We all get overwhelmed and handle it badly. We all want, need and feel things that aren’t perfectly convenient to the people around us. A little time to listen to each other, and what could have been taken personally can be eased through understanding. I’m a firm believer in cutting other people slack. I have to ask for slack to be cut a lot when I’m ill, swimming in hormones, unable to concentrate and so forth.

Even when you’re trying to do empathy and be alert to other people, we all see life from inside our own bodies. We feel and experience from inside our own skin and that gives each of us a perspective. What happens to a person is always going to feel personal. It’s a natural default to understand everything on those terms. It takes effort to empathize, to imagine the same scenes from other angles. But, where we try and meet each other half way, we can do this. We can understand the regular human crapness that does not need taking personally, and through that, we can be kinder to ourselves and to each other.

When we understand each other, forgiveness isn’t required. We see how the other person got to where they were, we empathize, and we can let go. When we refuse to meet each other half way, when we can’t understand what life is like for the other person, it’s then that we might need to forgive them. The trouble with forgiveness is that it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t require a person to change so they don’t need forgiving, and it doesn’t require the person forgiving to learn empathy, and this doesn’t create a good trajectory.

For me, the time to take forgiveness seriously, is when there is real change involved. If I can’t deal with something by understanding it, if I can’t accept the damage done, I won’t enable someone to keep behaving in a way I have a problem with. However, the person who comes back and owns the mistake is worth taking seriously. The person who is demonstrating that they can and will do differently deserves another go, if I can find the resources to support that. Forgiving someone who has put something behind them and is now doing differently can help reinforce the change. It’s a very different process to forgive the past, and let it go, than to forgive something you have every reason to suspect is just going to happen again sooner or later.


Danger signs in human relationships

How do you tell when a relationship has crossed a line and become genuinely toxic rather than merely uncomfortable or challenging? When you’re in the thick of things, especially if it’s impacting on you emotionally, it can be hard to make good decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. To further complicate things, a deliberately abusive person will try to persuade you of their world view in order to keep abusing you, and that can make things incredibly confusing.

Here are some things I think it’s fairly easy to spot even in emotive situations. These are danger signs. The amount of them and the context will of course matter, and people in crisis can flail about in horrible ways and still deserve our sympathy, but on the whole if it looks like this, be very careful.

Double standards – rules for you that do not apply to them, and/or entitlements they have that you are not allowed.

They can only be right and you can only be wrong unless you totally agree with them and do everything on their terms.

Not being allowed to express any kind of pain or discomfort. If you are punished, verbally or physically for expressing pain or discomfort, this is a very dangerous situation. Leave it carefully – leaving is when abusers are at their most dangerous.

De-personing you – not allowing you to think, or feel anything that isn’t agreeable to them. Refusing to hear you if you express something that doesn’t suit them. Rubbishing your opinion. Minimising your distress by telling you that you are over reacting, making a fuss, that it’s drama and attention seeking. Being very quick to dismiss you. Decent people tend to be slower to complain that other people are doing drama.

Attributing things to you that are of their making – ‘you made me angry’ and ‘you made me hit you’ are classic examples of this, but it can be more subtle. For women, the effect our bodies have on male bodies is something we are routinely blamed for and made responsible for. There’s a limit to how responsible you can be for the effect you have on other people, and this stuff is definitely on the other side of the line. Also, the same people will not take any responsibility at all for the impact they have on you, even when we’re talking bruises. They will treat these things as comparable – their anger and your bruise. Either you’ll find that if you can be heard, everything they feel is then blamed on you using that as the justification. Or, if you can’t be responsible for how they feel about you, they can’t be responsible for anything either. It’s twisted and difficult to sort through. Watch out for un-nuanced, binary thinking in which one thing is taken to mean another.

Changing the story. Now, we all change stories as our understanding of a situation shifts over time. It becomes a danger sign when the changes are rapid, illogical, contradictory, if you are clearly being lied to, and then lied to in a different way to cover the first lie, and when you are expected to go along with the ‘truth’ that the other person has at any given moment and they get angry if you can’t keep up or make sense of things. This is a mind game, and a form of gaslighting. If they treat you like you are crazy for not being able to make sense of their shifting story, it is definitely gaslighting.

This is by no means a definitive list, but I think it’s a useful place to start.


Freedom, responsibility and community

I ran into existential philosophy in my teens, and with it the idea that you can only have freedom in so far as you are willing to take responsibility. It’s a notion I’ve carried with me into everything I do. What it gets you, is a very different sense of what freedom even means.

All too often, people take freedom to mean selfishness and the scope to do what one will, act on whims, run off alone and generally be antisocial. Now, I’m very much with the wiccans on this one – an it harm none, do what you will. Freedom without being alert to harm is not any kind of good at all. Freedom that doesn’t care about harm easily turns into abuse and exploitation. We can think about how big companies treat the planet and living things. We can consider the freedoms the rich have and who pays for those.

There’s a lot of noise in politics at the moment about the way in which those who have should not be called upon to support the have-nots. Freedom from social responsibility for the rich is not something I understand. When it manifests, it is framed as a good thing for those being relieved of their responsibility, but what does that do? What does it mean to feel no responsibility for anyone else? No duty of care? No ownership of the suffering of others?

When we undertake to be responsible for each other’s wellbeing, we create community. When we are willing to care enough to lift up those who are less well off than us, we increase the amount of good in the world. When we see ourselves as involved with and invested with the lives around us – human and non-human alike, we are rewarded by our own sense of connection. The person who engages and takes responsibility is never alone. The person who can only care about themselves can only seek comfort in wealth and material goods, and these things do not provide comfort.

Rather than talking about freedom from responsibilities, we need to explore the very different kind of freedom you get by taking responsibility for other lives. It is an honour and a blessing to hold that kind of responsibility. It is a place of power and openness, and it lifts the person who gives as much as the person who receives.


Rainbow related awareness – a guest blog from Suvi

On facebook earlier this week, Suvi shared a post of things that they, as an intersex person, wanted the world to know. I offered Druid Life as a platform (this is something I am always happy to do, get in touch if you need to borrow the space.) For anyone not familiar with the term, intersex people are born with mixed sexual characteristics. I’ve seen estimates of around 2% of the population affected by this. Surgery to ‘normalise’ their bodies to one or other gender is usually carried out in infancy, with little regard to internal organs or how the child might self-identify.

Over to Suvi…

I have no physical sense of self or desire to make that connection

Puberty is bad enough; second puberties really suck

The secret we carry leads to our complete isolation

I have never been able to undertake any gender specific activities of either gender including sports

I’m inhibited, a mass of numb physical scars

I want to run away

Relationships with those of the gender you have been forced to conform to are difficult as faced with a body that looks nothing like yours. Normally they freak out and run away.

You avoid mirrors; outward appearances are very outward

If you can never live up to expectations of your parents; you don’t feel like you are loved

Desperation to be loved makes you very vulnerable as a young person and can lock you into abusive relationships; terrified that no one else will want you

Any manipulator can use the no one else will want you card; employers will use it against you too

Then, for many we don’t exist. That is until we have to fill in a form with gender boxes; we get caught up in every piece of red tape going. Until recently (in the last 5 years) we had no human rights. Tick the box ticked on your birth certificate they say; mine says “undetermined”

Trans and intersex are not the same thing; they want surgery and can’t get it, we don’t want surgery and have no choice in the matter. Apart from in Malta where intersex surgeries are illegal.

That said intersex people can be trans if they identify as male or female gendered and not amalga-gendered. Currently 10% of intersex people identify as trans. All of us have little choice but to be mis-gendered by those who don’t know us, and most of us play binary in public to avoid assault. Verbal and physical violence against intersex people is horribly common.

Intersex is not a sexuality. We are on the rainbow as due to being intersex the sexuality or sexualities we do have are going to be queer. Yes; we can have sex. No, we can’t have children.

If we have been operated on as babies or small children we are most likely to have been lied to. As have our parents. Trying to get any truth out of the medical establishment is like trying to get blood out of a stone. It was only confirmed in January that my condition (though I’ve known for decades) only affects boys; up to then I was told I was a girl and it was my fault I looked and felt differently. You would think though that having a prostate gland would be a give-away.

Please could we be included in the legalisation our existence is used to justify. Australian intersex folk can marry who they choose and Scotland to her credit is working on it. But nowhere else can we marry.

Could the world get over bathrooms please; if you have one in your home its unisex

My sign for Pride this year and no its not original, but very apt will say: Ugh, where do I start?