Category Archives: Community

Druidry and Inclusion

It would be nice to be able to say that Druidry should have room for everyone. In practice, if you try and organise that way, not only will you exclude people but you will be most likely to exclude the most vulnerable and most marginalised people.

Dealing with abuse, aggression and actual threats drives people away. If you have the privilege of not being much affected by other people’s differing world views, you can’t assume that’s true for everyone. Dealing with prejudice and abuse – overt or covert – is at best exhausting and threatening, and at worst damaging and unbearable. People aren’t going to stay for that.

If you include the white supremacist, then when they start expressing those views, if you let them continue then you effectively exclude everyone who isn’t white. If you include the person who thinks all queer people are an abomination, there will very quickly be no LGBTQ people in the room. If you allow ableism, all the ramps in the world won’t get disabled people to stay in that space. If you want to be understanding of the gropy man who doesn’t respect boundaries, you will find women don’t stay in the space. If you allow some people to routinely talk over, ignore, undermine and otherwise treat people with disrespect, those mistreated people will leave.

I would rather include the people who wish to grow community, share fairly and treat each other with respect. If I have to exclude bullies, sexist people, classist people, racist people, and so forth then I’ll do it without hesitation. I’ve been the person who had to leave because they didn’t feel safe. If I’m in a place where I can call out the problem and give people a chance to learn and do better, then I’ll try and do that. But, I’m not going to sacrifice the wellbeing of someone who did nothing wrong for the comfort of someone who was acting badly. If someone has a problem with other people even existing, I don’t want those views in my space. They can do that someplace else, or ideally, they can sort themselves out. There’s a world of difference between not wanting people to exist, and not wanting people to bring their hate into your space.

Doing nothing is not a neutral choice. It isn’t the moral highground. There’s nothing actually Druidic about neutrality outside of Dungeons and Dragons games. Justice is part of the Druid path, and we don’t get justice by doing nothing. To have a just community we have to be willing to protect those who have least power from those who are controlling, aggressive, and unreasonable.

Willing to be uncomfortable

One of the most powerful things we can do to support each other, is be willing to be uncomfortable. It is key to listening with an open heart so as to fully take on whatever the other person is experiencing. If there are actions we can take that would genuinely help someone else, being willing to be uncomfortable with them will help us find those actions.

It is all too easy to act in a way that seems soothing, but has the effect of shutting people down. ‘There, there, don’t cry’ is not an act of giving comfort to a person in distress, it is about reducing discomfort for the person witnessing the crying. It’s a simple and common illustration. The person doing it probably does mean to be comforting, but doesn’t think through the implications.

Another common form – again probably well meant – is to reassure the person in distress. You’re ok, you’re doing well, it’s not that bad… Such statements are a real barrier to asking for help or even getting into the details of the problem.

In its worst forms, the shut down is deliberate. I’ve had people be really explicit about what they want me to do to make them feel more comfortable because they don’t want to deal with my distress. I’ve come to draw a line between well meant things that don’t work, and this kind of reaction. I can only have fairly limited and distant relationships with people who would prefer I shut up if I’m in distress. These are not people I continue to invest in.

It is a different situation if you are also in crisis and don’t have the means to support someone. However, my experience of people in crisis is that they are often the first people to move towards me when I’m struggling. It is my ill, wounded and struggling friends who are most likely to be willing to be uncomfortable with me when I need that. It has been my more well and comfortable former friends who were quickest to shut me down and tell me off.

It isn’t easy being open to someone else’s pain, but it is a powerful choice. It does get things done. It does far more good than vague reassurances or soothing noises. Being willing to hear, to try and understand, and to affirm the person in what they’re going through is a starting point from which better things are a lot more possible.

False Friends

Anyone can claim to be an ally, but some of the people making those claims are out there acting in ways that are harmful to the groups they claim to support. 

I’ve seen this most recently in the form of loud martyrdom. People who have a lot to say about how much they do for the cause. They’ve been hurt for it, bullied for it, silenced, cancelled… Everything they have to say is about what it’s costing them to do what they do. It puts them centre stage and almost entirely erases the actual needs and issues of the causes they claim to take interest in.

Being an ally is a choice. It’s about being willing to put your comfort aside for the sake of trying to help and support people who are uncomfortable. The person who centres themselves in that is either doing it for the attention, or has a skewed agenda. Often this goes with treating abusively the people you are supposedly an ally to but who disagree with you. Talking over and trying to silence people who – at least in theory – you are supposed to be standing up for, is a red flag. Whatever the cause, it’s something to be wary of. Telling people that you – the ally – know more about what’s ‘really’ going on than a person living that experience, is another red flag. 

The single most useful thing a would-be ally can do is simply to amplify. It’s so easy to do this on social media without centering yourself.

Age Gap Romance

This week there has been talk on Twitter about the age gap relationship in Jurassic Park. Laura Dern was in her twenties and Sam Neil was in his forties for the first film. The way in which age gap romances are portrayed in films is all kinds of problematic. I come to this as a person who tends to be more attracted to people who are older than me, and who is married to someone seventeen years my senior.

There is often an assumption in films that pairing older male stars with much younger women as romantic interests is fine. We don’t see as many older women in films and we certainly don’t see older women as romantic partners for men of the same age. It’s very rare indeed to see older women paired with younger men.

This kind of film pairing serves to erase older women and focus on younger women as pretty prizes for wealthy and powerful male characters. I’ve never seen an age-gap romance in a film tackle the kinds of issues that can come up in actual age gap relationships. I’m going to list a few.

Differences of expectation and experience. Issues around having children – an older woman with a younger man may not be able to start a family even if they want to. The realities of being a senior citizen with a young family. You probably aren’t going to get to grow old together. The younger partner is going to have a massive life upheaval at some point because being bereaved early is almost inevitable for them. Differences in energy levels, career stage, ambitions, desires.

There is an impact on how people perceive you and on what they think the age gap means. MILFs and gold diggers, dirty old men, cougars, predators, sugar daddies, toy boys – a lot of the thought forms around age gap relationships are less than complimentary. 

Age gap relationships can be exploitative. But then, any relationship can be exploitative, it’s not inherent in this. There may be reasons to be suspicious of someone whose ‘type’ is young and inexperienced and who keeps replacing their partners with younger people. It’s also well worth being suspicious of men who repeatedly leave ill, pregnant or menopausal women.

We need to think about the way in which young bodies are treated as toys and as prizes, in real life and in fictional depictions. It’s never ok to objectify people, to reduce them to their sexual attractiveness, to treat them as disposable, interchangeable or otherwise diminish their humanity. 

At the same time, no one should be stigmatised for getting into a relationship with a consenting adult.

To be dependent is human

I write a lot about community because I think too much solitary individualism has harmed us all. There are too many things that cannot be done as an individual, and too many things that are really hard to do alone. There are also a lot of things that we do collectively and then try to ignore. This is especially true around harm we’re causing – climate change is a collective problem and yet we focus obsessively on individual solutions.

How dependent should we be on each other? At what point does dependence become unhealthy? Do we prioritise independence too much? How does ableism inform all of this? At the moment I have more questions than answers. What bothers me is the way in which dependence is pathologised, and treated as a problem to solve. Too needy, too clingy, codependent, enmeshed… at what point is it reasonable to be worried about how involved people are with each other?

I think the simple answer to this, is when it becomes controlling. When a person feels justified in controlling another person so that they feel secure, or needed or whatever it is they get out of it. If dependence turns into wanting to make people do things, a line needs to be drawn. There’s a great deal of needing people that is possible without having to take over their lives.

I’ve never been a very independent person. I’ve never lived on my own and I never want to do that. I would always choose to live communally. I’m very relationship oriented and by that I don’t just mean romance. I’ve tried living off-grid, and it’s exhausting. I don’t want to independently produce all my own food, for the same reasons. I want to live in a community. I want to share resources. I want to give, and borrow and lend and be part of an ecosystem.

My whole state of being in the world is people centred. I’ve only ever been interested in ritual as a community activity. Shared music spaces have always been really important to me. I’m in conversations about communal crafting. I’m happiest as a writer when I’m co-creating. I move towards community projects whenever I have the chance. Reading books is the only thing I’m really invested in doing on my own. Even that isn’t truly solitary, it’s an interaction with the author.

Unless you really are off grid, in a yurt of your own making, growing your own food from your saved seeds and wearing clothes spun from your own sheep, then your life is full of interactions. Even if you live alone, someone made your shelter, your food, your clothes. Someone touched your possessions before you did. People got sick and died so that you could have cheap things. Landscapes were impacted by your diet. We’re in constant relationship, and the idea of independence is a fantasy that insulates us from knowing what kind of impact we have.

We’re all participating in exploitation, in degradation of environments and in the destructive nonsense of capitalism. Individualism is just a way of ignoring this. We are all held by countless relationships, most of which are invisible to us. I’d rather be dependent on my relationships with my friends than, for example, getting my emotional viability by buying new clothes on a daily basis.

Community Spaces

One of the great things about libraries is that these are spaces you can be in where you don’t have to pay. Warm, dry spaces with seats and things to do, where you can be for hours, no questions asked. 

In the warmer weather, there are parks and green spaces – for some of us, at least. There are benches in the high street. However, for the greater part, your scope for community participation, social spaces, activities, entertainment and leisure all depend on your ability to pay to access the space in the first place. It means poverty increases social exclusion and with the cost of living rising, ever more people will be priced out of opportunities to meet people and to socialise.

There are people who are perfectly happy being alone. However, most humans are social creatures and suffer intensely from loneliness without enough human contact. Passing people in the streets and seeing them in shops is not an answer to social needs. It’s better when we can do things together, form bonds, share things and feel like we’re part of something.

Stroud has a great initiative on at the moment and I wanted to flag it up as an example of a good project. We have a market area in town, but for much of the time it isn’t used. It’s a mix of open space and partially sheltered space – well ventilated but ok on a wet day. This summer, the council are opening it for a lunchtime each week and inviting community music groups to perform in the space, and putting out chairs for anyone who wants to come along. Bring lunch. Bring children. Bring the dog. It’s all good. It’s free, and friendly and pretty safe.

These are the kinds of spaces we need. Spaces that invite participation, that create interest and that don’t cost participants anything.

Talking about pain

There are two major factors that will impact on how your talking about pain is understood. One of these is who you are considered to be, and the other is whether you fit into expectations of pain communication. This happens in medical settings and also in any other context where talking about pain might be a thing.

Women have a much harder time of it than men getting pain taken seriously. Black women have an appalling hard time of it getting pain taken seriously. If you are perceived as drug seeking, attention seeking or fuss making you won’t get your pain taken seriously – this can often affect people with mental illness and neurodivergence, or anyone else who might be stigmatised. Sexism and racism inform how people interpret expressions of pain. Anyone who experiences prejudice is likely to find that prejudice shows up when they express pain and results in minimising, dismissal and a lack of help.

How you express pain and how that fits with expectations has a big impact on whether you get taken seriously. There are two particular groups I’m aware of that suffer around this. Neurodivergent people don’t express themselves in the same way as neurotypical people. A monotone speaking voice, or not using your vocal chords in the expected way can go against you. People with chronic illness have similar issues – when you live with pain all the time you don’t go around crying and screaming over the things that would make normally pain-free people cry and scream. So you aren’t believed.

I’ve had plenty of first hand experience of saying ‘my whole body hurts’ and being met with disbelief. I can say that calmly, because mostly I communicate calmly. It happened to me while I was giving birth. I expressed my distress in a calm voice and no one took me seriously. I got most of the way to being ready to push with no support or pain relief as a consequence.

If someone is expressing that they are in more pain than they can bear, then how they express that should not be the most important thing. Pain relief is widely available in many forms. There’s nothing weak or immoral about wanting it. The only consideration should be safe dosage. And yet, all too often for too many people, pain is dismissed or ignored. Why on earth would it even make sense to judge a person’s pain on how it compares to pain some imaginary other person might experience? Why should how normal or credible we find someone’s pain expression to be – which is so subjective – be a measure of what help they deserve?

Oh, but some people make a fuss about nothing.

Why does that external judgement carry so much weight against reported suffering? Why does it even matter? Pain relief isn’t a rare thing, it’s not massively expensive. Kindness isn’t a finite commodity. It’s much more important to ask why some people are taken more seriously than others, how privilege informs this, and how we ignore the presence of our own prejudices and assumptions when we downplay someone else saying they are in unbearable pain.

Crime and Community

Last week when I posted about writing a murder mystery, HonourTheGodsBlog came in with some powerful comments. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve no first hand experience of how murder impacts on people. I was however a teen in Gloucestershire during the Fred West case, and that certainly had a widespread impact on many people in the area, not only those who were directly affected.

Crime is something we tend to treat as a very individual issue – with individual perpetrators and individual victims. It remains difficult to do anything about situations of negligence that harm people in more subtle ways. If a person steals because they are hungry, then framing the crime as the theft, and not the hunger has significant implications.

I’ve poked around in this as an issue before – it’s something I raised in the novel Letters Between Gentleman – which had a Victorian setting. The deaths of workers in factories and as a result of industrial processes was widespread, but it wasn’t considered to be murder. That’s a political choice with a lot of implications. We’ve seen considerable improvements in labour laws, but we aren’t currently looking at the enormous damage to health and quality of life caused by work stress and insecure work. It’s not like beating someone up in an alley, except that in some ways, it’s exactly like beating someone up in an alley.

We don’t treat wage theft by companies with anything like the attention we might give to someone who stole from the till. Politicians don’t end up in court when their policies cause people to starve to death, or freeze to death, or die homeless on the streets. Even when the lines of cause and effect are perfectly clear, we don’t treat these deaths as crimes or as murders. We’re more likely to take to court someone who killed accidentally and do them for manslaughter than we are to challenge someone whose policy has demonstrably killed multiple people. 

The difficulty is that murder is framed as the intentional killing of a specific person. We aren’t really set up to deal with the deliberate killing of non-specific people. We’ve got international laws about doing it based on race, but nothing to hold to account someone whose deliberate and knowing choices result in the deaths of thousands of elderly people in care homes. 

No one should be considered disposable

One of the hopeful things to come out of France re-electing Macron as president, is his promise that ‘no one will be left by the wayside’. France, like many countries, is facing a cost of living crisis. I am in no doubt that this crisis is fuelled by the way politicians have pandered to the desires of the unreasonably rich. 

Nothing drives people to political extremes like poverty does. The rise of the far right at the moment has everything to do with the widening wealth gap, and the way in which far right politics offer simple solutions to slightly more complicated problems. Rather than deal with the inequality, the far right encourages people to hate and abuse minorities, misdirecting justified rage towards people who are not the cause of our problems. Moving towards the right in this way means giving more power to those who are invested in further widening the wealth gap.

When more extreme groups get political traction, the result can be that previously more moderate groups move towards them. This has certainly happened with the Tory party in the UK, who may have successfully dealt with parties like UKIP by moving into their territory. Leaving the EU has made us a nastier and more racist country, as our treatment of refugees clearly demonstrates.

I hope that Macron is serious about tackling inequality. I hope that we will see moves towards fairness as a way of responding to the rise of fascism. People don’t make good choices when they’re under-resourced and scared – those conditions make all of us more vulnerable to manipulation and less able to make good decisions. We all need food, shelter, and basic security, and we urgently need political approaches that are about dealing with basic needs rather than treating most people as disposable for the sake of the profits of the few.

Billionaires are not successful people. Billionaires are total failures. They are people who have taken too much and do not know when to stop. Their compulsions are toxic to all life on the planet. To have so much when others are suffering, is a state of failure. That some people have been allowed to skew everything so badly, is a situation of political failure. That we treat these disasters as success is a collective failure of understanding and compassion.

We urgently need to do a lot better.

Masks and Authenticity

We all wear masks some of the time. We adopt ways of being that are necessary or appropriate for the roles we are performing. Who you are as a family member is probably not who you are at work or when you are socialising. These kinds of masks can be effective, protective measures that help you get through aspects of your life. They can also be exhausting burdens. Too much time feeling fake can undermine your sense of who you are and crushes your spirits.

To what degree do we become the people others expect us to be? Are we playing out roles we have chosen, or ones we’ve been cast in, perhaps even without our knowledge. Handing out roles is one of the ways in which families pass trauma through generations. Family stories can sorely limit who you are allowed to be and this can be incredibly damaging.

Are you playing the part of ‘cog’ in the theatre production Crushed To Death By Capitalism? Are you playing a role based on how your society views your gender or sexual identity? Who are you allowed to be? What is forbidden? How much of yourself do you feel obliged to hide?

How much room do you give other people to be authentic with you? Are you using techniques like minimising, or toxic positivity to stop people sharing anything that might make you uncomfortable? Do you punish people for not knowing things, for being anxious or for getting things wrong? If you do, then they have to learn to be dishonest with you around anything difficult. How do you treat other people when they act outside of their designated role? Do you have room for that, or do you want everyone else to stay in their neatly labelled boxes?

Many adults seem to me to be involved in a great deal of pretending. They dress the part, learn the lines, collect the correct props. They do what they are supposed to do according to the people around them. Where the props and costumes are expensive, many even imagine that the performance makes them important. That they have more rights than other people. That laws do not apply to them. Some of these make-believe games are seriously out of control.

Authenticity is not something we can pursue solely as individuals. It’s something we have to do collectively, making space for each other to be real as well as questioning when and how we fake things. Sometimes it’s ok to fake things. Sometimes the job requires pasting a cheery fake smile on your face and making other people comfortable. But we should think carefully about the roles we ask other people to perform.