Category Archives: Community

Knocking people down

There’s no surer sign that someone is in serious trouble than them constantly wanting to knock other people down. It’s also a really difficult thing to respond to in a helpful or positive way. Inevitably, people who deal with their own pain by trying to hurt and attack others, are not attractive. There’s not much motivation to move towards someone who is behaving in that way.

I’ve probably learned most about this through parenting. Small children crave attention, and will do anything to get it. Thus being shouted at, told off and punished will function as an emotional reward for anyone who is otherwise deprived of emotional rewards. Children who are praised, encouraged and given attention more kindly will focus on doing the things that lead to the praise. Give a child attention simply for existing and you’ll end up with a relaxed and confident person.

Adults want attention as much as children do, and social validation is a huge motivator for a lot of people. I wonder how often people who seek attention through spite are doing so because they are still playing out the patterns from emotionally neglectful childhoods. I wonder how much of it comes from not being able to seek attention in healthier ways, and what kinds of tragedies might be playing out in the lives of people who have no good ways of seeking attention.

I see a lot of this sort of thing on Twitter. I’m currently seeing an unusual spate of it in the blog comments – I’ve had quite a few lonely souls rock up lately. They are clearly people who are in pain and who only know how to try and knock other people down. I don’t honestly know what to do with any of them. This isn’t really the ideal space.

Everyone needs opportunities to be recognised and appreciated. Many of us seek that through paying work, through service and volunteering – which can be a decent enough answer. Feeling valued is vitally important for most people’s mental health. Praise and affirmation help people feel better about themselves, so creative outlets can also offer excellent opportunities for lifting and encouraging people. I used to spend more time running supportive spaces, and perhaps that’s something I should invest more time in. 

What I can say is that if you’ve got a project, a piece of writing, an idea… and you don’t have a platform you can use to put it out there, I’m always open to taking relevant guest blogs. If you feel like there’s no point being creative because it isn’t going anywhere, then I’d be glad to offer you some space where you might find an audience for your work. This is open to anyone reading.

Knocking other people down can feel powerful in the short term. However, it doesn’t answer any needs in a meaningful way and it does not lead to social recognition or feeling valued – it may well push the other way. If you need to be seen, to be heard, to feel valued and respected, then there’s far more to be achieved by putting something good into the world and asking people to respond to that. If you’re reading this and struggling, and in need of support and recognition, and if I can help with that by making this blog space available to you, then I’d be delighted to do that. Leave me a comment, or drop me an email – brynnethnimue at gmail dot com.

Creating Safety

If a community space is to be inclusive, it has to feel safe for everyone. Most of us do a decent enough job of making spaces that feel safe for people who are a lot like us. We start from what we know, which means our own requirements for feeling safe inform what we think everyone else will need.

The more privilege a person has, the less insight they are bound to have into what less privileged people might need. This can be a major barrier to creating safe space because it is so often the people with the most privilege, power and resources who get to define community spaces in the first place. You need resources to run anything, which automatically influences the whole situation.

Well meaning people can make a terrible mess of this sort of thing. The vast majority of humans start from the assumption that they are good and that what they do is also therefore good. Flagging up sexism, racism, ableism… does not reliably go down well with people who are sure that what they do is fine. It’s not uncommon to find the people who are in places of power acting as though they have been attacked when someone tries to flag up the shortcomings.

To make people feel safe, we have to be willing to listen to why they might feel unsafe in the first place. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable, because without being open to that discomfort we’ll hang on to our privileges and we won’t improve anything. We may have to lay down our prejudices and assumptions. So often, lack of safety starts with someone saying what they think of ‘that sort of person’ while oblivious to the presence of exactly that sort of person in the room. I’ve been the only pauper in the room when affluent people had things to say about the ignorant and ungrateful poor. I’ve been subject to casual sexism and to ableism. I know there’s plenty out there that’s far worse.

Anyone who has the power to create safe space, and chooses to perpetuate things that are unsafe, needs calling out on it. It helps a lot when the people who do this are the ones who have some privilege to work with. Please support your less privileged friends by listening when they raise issues and by not accepting the excuses of your more privileged friends. Or co-workers. Or family members.

If you hear something by way of feedback that makes you feel uncomfortable about your own behaviour, please take the time to at least think about it. No one enjoys being called out, but swallowing enough pride to be able to learn and do better is an honourable choice worthy of respect. Doubling down on your scope to make other people feel unsafe is never a good choice.

Making connections

Recently I saw someone blithley professing on the internet that they don’t want to make online friends with people they don’t know in person. It’s a common enough thought, but also a problematic one.

First up, the definite ableism and potential classism. There are a lot of disabled people who can’t get to events and meet people in person first. The internet is a social lifeline. We should respect that and not refuse to connect with people who have no options about how they socialise. On top of that, for many people poverty is a real barrier to being out and about in person, and I don’t think we should require people to be wealthy enough to have a social life in order to be open to having them as friends.

I belong to a number of communities that are not defined by where I live. There are a handful of steampunks in Stroud, and far more online. The same is true of Druids, Pagans, folky people, authors, and so forth. I’m much more interested in connecting with people I have something in common with beyond happening to live in the same place.

Making friends online is only problematic if one or both of you are misrepresenting yourselves. It can be tempting – especially for those of us who are also selling ourselves as a product – to be misleading. It can be tempting even if the internet isn’t part of your job, to paint an unrealistic picture of yourself. We all want to seem exciting and on top of things, and if you take that too far you can end up seeming like someone you are not.

I’ve certainly had the kinds of internet relationships that didn’t work because the other person was faking a lot of things and/or assuming that was true of me. Some of those people I also knew in real life. With hindsight, it’s obvious that the fakery wasn’t something peculiar to the internet. Many people invest a lot of effort in appearing to be things they are not. When the mask finally slips, all bets are off.

Sometimes the mask slips and what you find underneath turns out to be more complex and wonderful than you could dare to hope, of course. Sometimes who a person pretends to be is much smaller and tamer than they really are.

I’m entirely open to online friendship. I have friends around the world, some of whom I’ve been able to meet in person, which has been great. I’ve started friendships online and grown them in person. I’ve met people fleetingly at events and done the real relationship stuff with them via social media. If you are real, then your interactions are real and the medium you use is of no consequence.

Finding courage

Back in the summer I started asking questions about the nature of courage. I’ve struggled with fear, anxiety, terror and paralysis for years. I used to be a much bolder person, more willing to take risks and to trust my instincts, and I’d lost that part of myself.

Recent months have taught me some things about courage that it might be useful if I share.

It’s far easier to be brave when other people support you with their belief. When other people invest you with their trust, faith, confidence and things of that ilk, it’s easier to hold some sense of being worth that. It’s also easier to be brave for other people than as some kind of solitary project. Humans are communal creatures, and community can bring out the best in us. Being heroic for someone is considerably easier than just trying to generally speaking ‘be heroic’.

The other community aspect is that being brave on your own is exhausting. Being brave as part of a community means taking shifts, propping each other up, hauling each other through things and not having to be brave about bloody everything all of the time. Courage as a community project is way more sustainable because the courage can continue far beyond what any one person can manage or carry. If someone is able to be brave, there’s scope for everyone to keep moving, often. We can take it in turns to be bold for each other.

Courage is not of itself all about fear or challenge. You don’t have to be afraid first to be bold in meaningful ways. Courage is a state of readiness to act, to risk, to jump, and to be informed by your sense of honour. It takes courage to live with honour. Without courage to enable you to manifest what you believe through your actions, honour is just a nice set of ideas. Courage is more than a principled way of living, it’s part of what gives a person the willingness to be active in the world.

It is much easier to be courageous when you can see yourself moving towards something. Without vision, without a sense of direction, what is there to be courageous for? Granted, you can fight to keep going and fight to survive, but when that looks like more of the same, pointlessly for as long as you can bear to live, it is hard to keep courage alive in your heart. We can’t always be fighting against things, that leads to exhaustion and despair. For courage to thrive in your heart you have to have things you are fighting for. It is not enough simply to resist.

I’ve been re-building my courage in recent months. I’ve had help. There are things, people, possibilities and opportunities I want to move towards, and that’s meant changing how I act and how I relate to the world. There are people who definitely do need me to be stronger and more courageous for them, and that’s been a huge source of inspiration. There are people who will hold me when I don’t have it in me to be bold, and who help me get back on my feet when I lose my confidence. 

The more I look at these issues the more convinced I am that community is a key part of everything that I want to do differently. I’m my best self through my relationships with other people and I have most to offer when I don’t feel like I have to somehow be and do everything.

Asking for more

Everyone I know is up against it, one way or another. I don’t know anyone who isn’t hurting, anxious, exhausted, ill, overwhelmed or terrible combinations of those things. Faced with that, how can anyone ask for help, or for more than is already being given to them?

I’ve been doing a lot of rethinking around all of this in recent weeks. I have a long history of not being very good at asking for emotional support. However, I note that I get a great deal out of feeling useful and like I can make a difference. I also note that this is true for a lot of other people as well.

Small things can make a great deal of difference and most large things depend on a lot of small things underpinning them anyway. So, getting the small things right gets a lot done. When life seems overwhelming, those smaller actions can seem far too small as responses, but they aren’t. A genuine smile full of warmth and friendship can change everything. Small acts of care and kindness, of attention and listening aren’t hard to give, even for a person who feels sorely depleted. Exchanging small gestures of care and support we can keep each other going.

I’m finding that being really specific about what I’m asking for helps. Most often what I need is reassurance that the other person is ok with me. Sometimes what I need is a hug, or some feedback. I can be very wobbly, and very much helped by small interventions. I’m very much in the habit of toughing things out, but that doesn’t help me much and I’m not sure how much it helps anyone else.

Some people are of course needfully possessive of their time and resources. Asking for more when a person has already made some firm decisions about where their boundaries are and what they can give, doesn’t go well. But not everyone is holding tight boundaries. For some people, the opportunity to help can be a good thing. Some of us need to feel needed – this is definitely a thing for me and I tend to respond well to opportunities to be helpful. Some people need to feel wanted – in fact the majority of us need social affirmation and things that help us feel we are part of something bigger. Asking for help can be a way of meeting another person’s social needs.

I’m more likely to pull away and disappear if I need something different from someone I am not close to, than to ask for help. I have tended to assume that’s the better choice, and I have come to no conclusions about whether to rethink that or not.

Asking for help creates the opportunity for developing community bonds. What can look like taking from one perspective can seem vulnerable and generous from another. If we are able to collectively soften our edges and move towards each other what happens is not an increasing of each person’s exhaustion. Instead we can have mutual support that makes everyone who leans in feel that bit stronger and more supported.

Druidry and community

When I first came to Druidry some twenty years ago, part of the attraction for me was the social aspect of it. Groves and Orders, open rituals, music and those first online spaces. I was in an area where a fair bit of in-person stuff was happening, and able to travel further afield sometimes to connect with other Druids.

The social side of religion is an important aspect of it for a lot of humans. Many of us long for a place to fit and a community to be part of, and many of us find those vital social connections through our spiritual lives. It’s normal to crave approval and validation, and religions generally give people opportunities to prove their devotion.

Community has the capacity to amplify things for us. When people bond together around good causes and the need for positive change, this can truly bring out everyone’s best qualities. It’s easier to be your best self when you get social approval for your generosity and kindness. Getting involved with a fundraising activity where a lot of people come together to do something good is affirming, and encourages you to do more of that thing.

It’s worth giving some thought to the things your Druid community focuses on to make sure that aligns with the qualities you want to develop in yourself. Some groups are very much focused on ritual and spiritual connection while for others coming together in the same place will be primarily about performing and sharing creativity. Online spaces are often more focused on learning and thinking, which works well for the more philosophically minded. Moots are good for people seeking to meet their social needs and can be particularly valuable for folk who are otherwise solitary.

The key really is to find a space that answers your needs. Sometimes it works to go into a space and ask for there to be room for more of the stuff that speaks to you. And so it is that moots sometimes develop open ritual groups, and ritual groups spawn study groups and moots end up with a lot of bardic content, or a whole table full of philosophers. All of these things are valuable.

The social side of Druidry allows us opportunities to be inspired and uplifted by each other. It may motivate us if we have people we want to impress, or delight. I know there are a lot of arguments out there against the idea of anything that looks like ‘ego’ but I’ve read enough mythology to feel that there’s plenty of room for bombast and good kinds of showing off, and that these things are only at odds with being spiritual if you’re part of something that teaches you it is good to be humble. Feeling socially recognised and valued isn’t a non-spiritual state and feeling validated by our communities can do a lot to help us work on things we find challenging.

Body Positivity

How most of us feel about ourselves is very much informed by the feedback we get from other people. We’re also all very much influenced by our family backgrounds and by the cultures we live in. 

There are multiple large industries that make their money out of persuading people that their bodies aren’t good enough. We’re sold stress and insecurity, and then we’re sold the products that might give us some respite from that unhappiness. Except the products never work and someone meanwhile is inventing a new thing to feel inadequate over.

Humans get older. We aren’t all pristine and shiny like newly made plastic toys. Life impacts on us, and it would be a kinder, happier world if we could just get on with being how we are, without fear of shame or ridicule.

Which brings me to this lovely song and video from Madam Misfit…

Let’s lift and encourage each other where we can. Celebrate the bodies we have, and appreciate the people around us.

You can’t get this wrong

I am by nature a worrier. I suspect I’m more inclined to take responsibility for things than is good for me, and too slow to ask people to up their game when it might be better to do that. There are always new things to learn. There’s so much around interaction between people that is informed by each person’s individual history, expectation, assumption and so much that we can improve with simple approaches to taking care of each other. So, this is a post about mutual care and support.

I had a remarkable lesson around this recently. I was exploring something where I felt out of my depth, and one of the people I was exploring with said ‘You can’t get this wrong.’ It was a liberating and empowering moment. I’m perpetually anxious about getting things wrong, and being offered space where that explicitly could not be an issue was really powerful for me.

I’ve held this kind of space for other people in singing workshops. There’s a chanting technique I like to open with where there is truly no way of messing up. I know how reassuring that is to hear – you can’t get it wrong, and how that kind of safety creates space to explore and experiment. It’s impossible to learn without feeling you have at least some space to safely make mistakes, and no one should be pushed straight into unfamiliar things where they have to get right first time things they have no experience of.

While hearing that you are in a space where it is safe to make mistakes is good, the idea of not being able to get things wrong brings up something deeper. It’s a validation that whatever comes from you is good and welcome. Even if that only applies to a specific situation, that reassurance can still be really effective. Humans can be judgy creatures and many of us are wired to fear humiliation or anything that might compromise us socially. Most of us need social validation and affirmation that we are good enough. 

‘You can’t get this wrong’ turns out to be the most powerful affirmation I have ever heard. Unlike far too many of the affirmations I’ve run into, it doesn’t push my inadequacy buttons or make me feel like I’m being lied to. It is of course vital to only use it when it’s honestly true, because telling someone they can’t get it wrong and then deciding that they have got it wrong would be a devastating judgement.

I will be looking for opportunities to use this idea. Sometimes it might need a little framing. So long as you do X – where X is easy and doable – you can’t get this wrong. If you’re making an altar, so long as it’s physically safe, there’s no way of getting it wrong. You can’t get prayer wrong. You can’t get communing with nature wrong because all you have to do is try and there you are, doing it.

All too often it can seem like the struggle inherent in something proves its worth, your worth, your seriousness and devotion. I’m going to be giving a lot more attention to looking for things it isn’t possible to get wrong, and hopefully I’ll be back to talk about this in more depth around specified opportunities to not mess up.

Protecting your community

One of the most important things for me, when it comes to being part of a community, is being understood. There’s something wonderful and nurturing about not having to explain parts of who you are. Feeling supported, welcome and like you make sense is good for mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Being on your own with an issue, a need or a feeling is a lonely place to be. Modern urban humans are each surrounded by a great many other urban humans, but that can increase loneliness rather than offering respite. No one sees you in a crowd. You are not understood, and the need to be understood is a life-affecting one.

During my volunteering years, I met a lot of people who had just found Paganism, and talked about it in terms of coming home. Some of this is about the path itself and finding relief in a spirituality that makes emotional sense to them. Some of it is about finding a community. 

Being able to talk to people who are capable of understanding you is a wonderful thing. When you have feelings about magic, nature, old gods etc, you can feel disconnected from the regular world. Meeting people who can relate to that is liberating.

Sometimes however, community comes at a price. The desire to belong can put a lot of pressure on a person to fit in with things. We all need community and safe spaces, so what do you do if the price tag on being a member of a community looks problematic? How much do you ignore to protect your access to space you desperately need? What are you willing to enable in order to be able to belong? 

Along the way I’ve ended up in some spaces – Pagan and otherwise – that weren’t especially healthy. Not spaces that were dangerous or super-toxic, but certainly places that had issues. I stayed longer than I should sometimes because I so desperately wanted to belong somewhere. No doubt most of us have seen people getting hurt, used, exploited, manipulated and compromised because they needed to be part of something. And sometimes when we’re part of the group causing the problem, all too often we turn away from that abuse and pretend not to see it because we don’t know how we’d survive without this precious community space.

Abuse happens when people put their need to belong ahead of the need to create genuinely safe space. It happens when vulnerable people feel emotionally rewarded by abusers when they let them get away with stuff. It happens when people with low self esteem can’t imagine they deserve better treatment. It’s important to keep an eye on who, and what we sacrifice for the sake of protecting our communities. It can be hard to admit when you’ve got into something that isn’t good. No one wants to believe that the space they love is harmful, but refusal to look at that enables bullies and predators.

What is a complex society?

I’m currently reading Ancient Jomon of Japan by Junko Habu, and it has brought to my attention a massive issue about how we think about societies. When it comes to prehistory, people are often interested in the markers for things like civilization, and complex society. What are the key indicators of these things? 

There’s a school of thought that says you’ve got a complex society if it’s doing more complex things – material culture, food storage and more involved subsistence strategies would be obvious examples of a more complex society, and all of those things could be true of hunter-gatherers.

However, it turns out there is also a school of thought that defines complex societies in terms of hierarchy and inequality. This might be a bit out of date, the book I’m reading comes from the 1990s, but even if this isn’t a contemporary issue, the impact of it stands some thinking about. What happens to our sense of both the past and the present if we define complexity in terms of inequality? It is so limiting and distorting to see things like hereditary privilege and the exploitation of labour as defining signs of social complexity.

Given that we tend to value ideas of complexity, associating them with development, sophistication and civilization, defining more egalitarian societies as less complex has a lot of implications. It means we are bound to miss things about historical societies that don’t seem to fit this model. It is also bound to inform how we think about ourselves now.

Societies that depend on cooperation rather than dictatorship must, surely, be more complex and nuanced? It takes a lot more communication and effort to work as a team than it does to have someone in charge telling you what to do. I feel that recognising our fundamental equality as living beings is a good deal more sophisticated than deciding some people are born special and therefore should be in charge. I find the idea of inherited power barbarous and loaded with superstition. 

As a Druid I am drawn to looking at how we imagine ourselves and how the stories we tell about humanity shape what we do. I think we need better stories.