Tag Archives: Community

Confidence and Community

Nervous people are less likely to try things. People with low self esteem don’t take risks so easily and may not put themselves forward. Sometimes, what it takes to lift a person so that they’ll take a chance and have a go, is heartbreakingly little. 

I’ve seen this across all the spaces I’ve worked in. Giving people the smallest boosts to their confidence can have huge consequences. Just letting people hear that they’ree good enough, welcome, acceptable, that their contribution is valid can be enough to change what they’re able to do. For anyone leading a space, handing out praise is a powerful choice that invariably brings greater engagement and effort from people.

This is something we can all do. Taking a moment just to acknowledge what someone else did will help boost their confidence. ‘Thank you’ gets a lot done all by itself. Telling people what you liked about what they did will boost their self esteem. The more we build that for each other, the more can happen in a space – be that a moot, a learning circle, a closed ritual group or anything else of that ilk. It applies just as well outside Pagan spaces, too.

Giving positive feedback also has a really interesting impact on the person doing it. It’s a powerful thing, giving praise and encouragement to someone else. If you want to lift your own confidence, then offering encouragement to someone else is a really good way to do that. Of course it also tends to lead to positive interactions. People liking each other’s stuff is a good basis for friendship. If you’re a shy and socially nervous sort of creature and assume that the people who do stuff you love won’t care about your opinion… I can promise you that anyone who appears to be a functional human being responds with delight to being told someone liked their stuff. There are exceptions but they tend to be self-announcing and a bit of observation will flag them up.

When we support and encourage people, more happens. A ritual where very few people feel able to speak or take an active role is a much poorer thing than a ritual where everyone is engaged and feels able to give of themselves. It’s the same in social spaces and creative spaces. The more able people feel, the more good stuff happens. The things that we can do to be part of that are fairly small and startlingly effective. Finding the courage to approach someone and say that you liked what they did is so powerful.

On the creative side, the vast majority of people – even the ones you’ve heard of – are struggling to make things work financially. Second jobs and/or poverty are normal. Most creative folk aren’t in it for the wealth! Which means that positive feedback is precious, and can be the difference between someone keeping going and not keeping going. So if you ever have an opportunity to tell someone whose work you love that it means something to you, get in there. You could be the difference between them keeping going and giving up.

And just to reassure you, this isn’t a thinly veiled request for positive feedback. Those ‘likes’ people leave here on the blog posts day to day are always helpful for keeping me cheered and motivated. I’m currently in good spirits about my creative life, there are lots of good things going on. 

Holding Boundaries

I’ve been slow learning how to hold good boundaries. As a younger person I lacked for confidence, which leads to the urge to be a people pleaser in the hopes of being welcome and acceptable. The idea of needing to earn a place can make it hard to say ‘no’. However, as my life has filled up with kind and lovely people willing to accept me as I am, I’ve got better at recognising the more exploitative spaces and simply leaving them.

These days I don’t have a hard time recognising when strangers are out of order, and I don’t give people who try to violate my boundaries much room. Sometimes, however, holding boundaries is much harder than this. 

A boundary isn’t just a personal issue. We all need to set them where we need them, and most of the time a boundary should not be open to negotiation. Ideally, we should be trying to respect each other’s boundaries as a collective effort. However, this gets complicated when someone you care about is unable to hold good boundaries for themselves. It’s an issue sometimes in working relationship where those with power may routinely try to violate the boundaries of the people they have power over. It’s certainly something I’ve had to explore as a friend, as a lover and as a parent.

Boundaries are better held collectively. As with most things, when we stop treating it as an entirely personal issue and square up to it collectively, a lot can change. In the workplace, unions are the obvious answer to boundary violation and collective action can stop those kinds of abuses. A bit of worker solidarity can go a long way even without anything formal in place. 

It can be tempting to ignore boundary violations when they don’t affect you. Scapegoating, blaming and picking on people can provide a kind of social bonding for groups, where resisting that can line you up to be the next victim. Resisting can be difficult. I think in Pagan spaces we need to be alert to the people who use power to compromise others. There are too many stories already about people who have abused their power. Push back at the first signs of boundary violation and we are less likely to get people in positions of power who feel entitled to ignore other people’s boundaries.

We can and should hold each other to high standards. Not just around our behaviour, but also around our expectations. If we normalise boundary violation, we enable it. One of the things I learned the hard way some years ago, is that if I let people treat me unethically, I’m enabling unethical behaviour and if I can resist that, I prefer to. I think it’s important not to make people who are in difficulty responsible for solving problems, but at the same time what I choose for myself is to push back where I can.

We can lift and support each other by recognising where their boundaries are threatened or violated. Even if it doesn’t seem safe to push back, saying to the person being affected that what’s happening to them isn’t ok can be a great help. The kinds of people who like to violate boundaries tend also to blame their victims or come up with justifications, and that can really wear people down. Acknowledging that the problem is real is a meaningful act of support.

It’s important to resist having a culture where some people are let off the hook for acting inappropriately. No one is so important, or clever, or essential that we have to put up with them causing harm. Most people can be replaced, and anyone abusing a position of power really should be replaced. Don’t by into the stories that give anyone a free pass on mistreating others.

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.

How to be good

My suspicion is that there are no intrinsically good people. Anyone, viewed from the right perspective will turn out to have things going on that are complicated. I’m not at all sure that selflessness is a fair measure of goodness, either. It’s through the offering of our needs to each other that we form the strongest and deepest relationships. Selfless people might find they can’t do that, which means they are, arguably, withholding things that might be essential to other people, and that’s problematic, too.

Most of us need to be needed. Selflessness therefore doesn’t enable us to meet each other’s needs.

I’m definitely not an intrinsically good person – it’s a necessary qualification for being a fiction author. You’ve got to have some capacity to imagine terrible things in order to write books. There’s a case for saying that many authors are terrible people who have chosen to use their powers for good.

I think that’s often the key thing. It’s not the raw clay of ourselves that matters most, but how we choose to use it. I can examine a situation and see what the most manipulative thing is that I could do to get my own way. I almost never pick that path. However, understanding how that would work can help me find a better way through. I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to give people options and to make sure I’m not being emotionally manipulative or putting undue pressure on anyone.

Being good as an abstract concept is hard to pin down. It might be more useful to think about who, or what we want to be good for. Being good for the shareholders usually means being bloody awful to the workers. A lot of interesting things happen when we explore the idea of how to be good for each other. That’s true when we’re dealing with people one to one. It also holds up in any kind of collective human space. When we undertake to be good for each other there’s a lot more room to also be messy, flawed and not some kind of saint. On those terms it makes no sense to martyr anyone.

At the same time, so much of contemporary eco-thinking is framed by the idea of being less bad and reducing harm. What happens when we ask instead how we might be good? How can we live in a way that supports life? How can we act to be regenerative, and to move beyond sustainability into actually making things better?

I think the idea of goodness is much more interesting when we stop trying to foster it as some sort of inner quality, and start asking what it could mean as a way to live and interact.

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.

Love and magic

Love is supposed to magically save you. The mere existence of the right person is supposed to make everything right. I’ve had people ask me in the past why being in a relationship hadn’t cured my depression. I’ve had people who love me distressed because they believe their love should be enough to fix me.

Love is magic, and can fuel magic, but at the same time it isn’t a magic cure for all ills. It also isn’t reliably enough. Love isn’t enough if you are cold, hungry, exhausted and in pain. Sure, love might carry you through a short bout of that, but it will not let you live there long term. Nor should it. Love is not a substitute for all your other basic needs. 

Depression has many causes – massive stress being a common underlier. Love won’t save you from a toxic work culture. It won’t fix your financial insecurity necessarily, or cure your health problems. It also won’t undo past trauma. Your lover is not your therapist, not your life coach, not your psychoanalyst, not a substitute for your parents… It is not the job of the person who loves you to make up for everything in your past, fix all your problems and sort your life out. 

When we think love is supposed to magically fix everything, we can end up putting impossible pressure on the people we love.

What love can do, is provide a safe space where people feel able to fix themselves. The love, belief and support of another human can help us feel resourced enough to square up to our problems and see what can be done about them. Love opens us up to the idea of helping each other and supporting each other. Rather than a hetranormative romance take where one person magically saves the other, we can have networks of support and care. Love doesn’t have to mean romantic love, and the idea that the person we are shagging is supposed to meet our every need is questionable. 

There are many ways to love. In that love, we can grow together and find shared solutions. Most of our problems are not individualistic. It’s just that keeping us focused on individual solutions that don’t really exist keeps us from making real change. I don’t think this is an accident. Love can save us, but not in the way that happens in movies. Love of life, of community, of friends – that can save us. Love of fairness and justice, compassion and dignity can save us. We can definitely save each other, but not by magic. It’s going to take work.

But then, it’s when you show up to do the work that both love and magic become truly possible and truly powerful.

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.