Tag Archives: Community

Giving each other permission

I talk a fair bit about the idea of healing needing to be a community project. Often this is because of things that are systemic – so much suffering is caused by poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, lack of resources and the places where these things collide. Tackling that in small groups isn’t much easier than tackling it alone.

One of the things we can do for each other, is to give each other permission. Here are some examples…

Whatever you feel is valid. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Being different does not make you wrong. The failure of systems to accommodate your difference is their fault not yours.

It is ok not to feel ok. You do not have to pretend to feel ok to make me feel more comfortable.

We can give each other permission to rest, and to take care of ourselves. We can remind each other that being productive isn’t always the most important thing. We can remind each other that it makes sense to do what we can do and try not to worry about what isn’t possible right now. We can give each other permission to go back to bed and try to get some more sleep.

Being held to other people’s standards can be impossible and damaging. It can be something that is done to people as a deliberate project to control and demoralise them. Emotional punishment for feeling how you feel teaches us that our most fundamental selves aren’t valid or welcome. We can counter that for each other by being overtly accepting of difficultly.

Perhaps the most generous thing you can do for someone you care about is give them permission to make it all about them, sometimes. Tell them that they are allowed to put themselves first in whatever way they need to. Tell them that you do not expect them to out you first all the time. There will be people who have never heard this from anyone before. It’s a powerful, pain easing, comforting, empowering thing to do.


Loyalty, community, ethics

I worked out as a teen that friendship was going to be key to my ethics and that I would start from an assumption of loyalty to my friends. It’s still the place I start from when dealing with conflict or difficulty and it’s become a more pertinent issue with social media.

If someone is upsetting a true friend of mine, I will ditch them in a heartbeat. 

Of course there are all kinds of issues around this. I think the majority of people probably act from this basis but not necessarily having considered it. We defend our friends, but at what point is a line crossed? When do we admit that we may have misjudged them? How much do we need to hear to admit that the friend we’ve been loyal to is a bully, an abuser, a rapist?

It doesn’t reflect well on us if our friends turn out to be terrible people. It means either we might be terrible too, or we might be foolish, easily hoodwinked, or poor judges of character. There’s a loss of self inherent in admitting that someone you were invested in is actually a bit shit. From experience, it’s easier to do this when you aren’t the only one. A community ejecting a person can be a lot stronger and more confident than a lone individual doing it.

But then we have to ask questions about scapegoating. We have to check very carefully that the person being pushed out is the person who should leave. Bullies can be really good at playing the victim, and this kind of conflict can turn out to be a popularity contest. The confident attractive, powerful, socially able person is likely to win if they go up against a nervous, fragile, awkward person. Bullies can be charming for the benefit of their supporters, and they know how to pick a good victim.

Staying out of a conflict is always supportive of the abuser, if there is one. Assuming it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other always supports the bully, if there is one. Assuming that our friends are good people can make us wilfully oblivious to the harm they do. If we don’t police our communities, we give opportunities to bullies, abusers and predators. If we do police our communities, we run the risk of supporting the charismatic psychopaths at the expense of victims who have been chosen because they weren’t socially attractive in the first place.

There are no simple answers here. Blind faith in each other is dangerous. Being too quick to believe the worst of someone destroys relationships. There will always be haters. Who are you going to trust? Whose behaviour is going to be part of your reputation? Where do you draw lines? At what point do you decide that a friend is in fact a problem?


Community and Crime

I’m working on a book about darkness (You can get regular instalments of my progress over on Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB ). The relationship between darkness and crime, light and crime prevention is something I’ve been looking at. I recently came across a study that suggested some really interesting things. Apparently lighting tends to reduce crime in areas, but that the crime reduction applies to the day as well as the night, so the impact of light improvement isn’t actually about visibility, necessary.

This got me thinking about other studies I’ve seen about the way tree planting impacts on crime. I’ve blogged about this before. Put in trees and crime reduces. We’re less violent when we have trees. It strikes me that these things may well be related. In both cases what might be happening is a feeling that a space is valued, and by extension, the people in the space are valued. Investment in community infrastructure could well have an impact on peoples’ sense of self worth.

Quite a lot of crime is opportunistic and not especially planned. What kinds of feelings do you have to have about a place and its people to go in for opportunistic crime? If you felt more engaged, more involved, more like part of a community, would that work the same way? Regeneration projects tend to increase feelings of involvement and engagement, especially when people are involved and not just having it done to them.

What happens when we see ourselves as connected? What happens when we’re given opportunities for cooperation and have shared spaces we can use communally? Perhaps how people treat spaces and each other isn’t intrinsic to said people, and has more to do with how the space impacts on them. We are influenced by our environments, and the spaces we spend time are full of messages about who we are and what we can expect. Most of those messages are absorbed unconsciously. If your environment gives you constant messages of isolation and worthlessness, what are the odds of you feeling warm, positive and generous towards your surroundings and fellows?

Planting trees. Having well considered street lighting. How we shape our shared spaces may be key to the kinds of relationships we have with each other.


What feeds you?

What inspires you? Where do you find nourishment for your soul? What lifts your spirits or eases your heart?

The glib answer for Pagans is often ‘nature’ but by ‘nature’ we often mean something dramatic and exotic. It’s a horrible irony that nature is often a place we have to drive to. Many people in the UK are desperately short of access to green spaces close to home.

One of the reasons for following a spiritual path is that it can provide nourishment for our souls. This is easier, I think in contexts when you can either get out to those wild places, or get into circles with other Pagans. We’re lifted as much by what we can share as a community, as we are by communing with nature. Many of us engage better with ritual as a group activity rather than a solo practice. And honestly, working with other people makes us more accountable and more likely to show up.

The internet gives us options for sharing personal practice in a way that means we can inspire and uplift each other. Photos of the lovely walk, the beautiful altar, the devotional art, videos of your chants and songs, blog posts about prayer and meditation… There’s a lot of good to be found in this, and it’s something I’ve been glad to participate in. For me, it really brings into focus how much the effectiveness of spirituality in our lives can be about our relationships with people.

I’ve taken plenty of people into the woods (not in this last year, though) who were only spending time with trees when there was a seasonal ritual to show up for. It was the community they were showing up for, and through that connection, they had tree time and meaningful encounters with the land.

However much we might long for interactions with Gods, spirits, fairies, guides etc, these are unreliable. Not everyone gets called. Not all offerings are answered. Not all dedications lead to powerful interactions. People are a lot more reliable and will often show up when you invite them. People will witness you and hold you to account. They will be moved by the beauty of work your spiritual practice has inspired you to create. With that feedback, it is simply easier to show up as a spiritually minded person.

I think this is something to embrace and work with. It’s not just a spiritual issue, either. Many of us do our best parenting when there’s another adult about to impress. We may well do our best creating, our best activism, our best ethical choices when we have people to witness us and either nourish us with their approval, or make us worry about not looking good. We are fundamentally social creatures, and this year of pandemic has deprived us of a lot of that contact. Things that used to feed you may not work so well as solitary activities. There should be no shame in that. It’s just easier to be, and enjoy being your best self when you’ve got a supportive and appreciative audience.


Community Positivity

Positive thinking tends to be presented as a solitary, private practice to benefit the individual doing it. What happens if we make positive affirmation a deliberate part of how we treat each other? It’s much less self-involved, it does more good, and people who affirm each other will have more confidence, better self esteem and more joy than people who hide away on their own telling themselves that they are confident and happy people.

Pay compliments – if someone does something good, praise them and tell them how much you like it. If someone is struggling, tell them you think they’re managing well and putting up a good fight. Remind people of the good things they did in the past.

Cheer victories of any size. Celebrate the successes of people you care for, enjoy knowing about their good fortune, take delight in things going well for them.

Tell people that you love them. Tell them if they matter to you, if you care about them, value them are glad of what they do for you and their being in your life.

Affirm their responses. Tell them that their reactions are valid and make sense, that they are entitled to their feelings, that they deserve good things. Hold space for those more challenging feelings, too. Let it be ok to be sad, or angry, or struggling. Don’t ask people to be totally convenient for you.

When someone is struggling, say ‘I hear you’ and ‘I care’. Listen to what they need, offer help on their terms not primarily on yours – do the things people say they find helpful, not what you imagine should help. Be willing to learn if you don’t understand what’s going on. Don’t argue with their perception of things but instead validate their being the expert on what is going on in their life. Be kind.

We won’t always understand what another person is going through and they won’t always be able to explain. Help them by showing care and respect, by being ok with not knowing, by validating that they can still be acceptable even if they can’t explain things. Be willing to do what is helpful without having to understand why it is helpful, and say so.

Small things are also good. A like, a thumbs up, a smile, a smiley, it all helps. If you don’t have much to spare or much idea what to do, a small gesture is still a gesture worth making.


Personal resilience or community resilience

I’ve been in a few situations now that were difficult for me and where people who meant well came in to try and help me improve my personal resilience. They had advice to give. They wanted me to see it from the other person’s perspective, they wanted me to be more understanding. What this also meant is that people who had acted inappropriately were left unchallenged. People who had wanted to use my time unfairly, people who had been sexist, or had gone on the offensive in inappropriate ways were not called out. It wasn’t about them – they were fine. As the person who had a problem with it, the pressure was on me to be more resilient.

I know my experience isn’t unique. ‘Resilience’ is what you have to do as an individual when people who could make changes to better accommodate you, won’t.

For me this is another area in which we talk about something as an individual issue not a community one and that needs to change. It really needs to be a community issue. A community is not resilient if some of its members are being sexist towards other members. Resilience means dealing with that to become something more inclusive and more robust. A resilient workforce is not one that is putting up with being worked to exhaustion, messed about by poor leadership, demoralised and generally ill treated. A resilient workforce is one that feels supported and encouraged and has the resources it needs to work well. Resilience makes a lot more sense as something we do together.

If we focus on personal resilience, we don’t have to change systems. We don’t have to challenge people who are causing the problems. If resilience is personal, we don’t have to ask about the economic context, or the fair distribution of resources. It’s easy to be persuaded that ‘helping you be more resilient’ is a good thing – when it may just be a way of making into a personal problem something that needed dealing with collectively.

There are plenty of spaces where it is considered necessary to be thick skinned, tough, macho, immune to attack and unlikely to care. What we get when we make participation dependent on such qualities, is a lot of people who can’t participate. We don’t prioritise skills, knowledge or experience in a setting that says you must be thick skinned to survive. And we can see exactly how well that serves us by looking at contemporary politics. Resilience for a community means supporting the best and most capable people so they can deploy their skills and expertise for the good of all. If you need them to be able to still do that while an incompetent boss shouts abuse at them… your priorities are all wrong.


Observations on coping

Like many people, I can generally focus in an emergency and get the needful things done. And then, as is usually the way of it, I’ll have a meltdown later at some point when it is safe to do so. We’ve probably evolved this way, and for a short term emergency, it’s fine.

One of the problems with modern, white, western culture is that it perpetually manufactures crises. Even without the pandemic, people are forced to work as though there’s an emergency. Exams are manufactured emergencies and I think testing very young people is an appallingly bad idea. High speed living, 24/7 culture, and all the rest of it puts us on high alert all the time. Adverts are designed to make us feel like there’s a problem we must urgently solve by purchasing their product. It’s relentless. Everything is dialled up to eleven all the time.

So when do you get to stop and feel safe enough to have the needful meltdown? You can’t be on high alert and obliged to treat every day like an emergency and expect to cope with that forever. Sooner or later, a mental health crisis is inevitable for anyone trying to live like this. For many of us, the pandemic has meant living in a state of emergency, and that’s taking a huge toll.

In terms of coping, there are three things I think are especially helpful. Firstly, is getting time off when you don’t have to cope so that you can process your feelings and aren’t saving up for your own crisis. Secondly, good information. I cope better when I know what I should be doing. Uncertainty makes any emergency more distressing and I think that was a widespread issue around the pandemic in the early part of this year. The third thing is community – people who care, who can help, or listen or otherwise connect with you can make a lot of odds. They don’t even need to be able to fix things, the feeling of not being on your own with whatever it is makes a lot of difference.

Wherever possible, don’t ask yourself or anyone else to tough it out in a situation that is challenging. If you’ve got to deal with something for more than a few hours, breaks are essential. We did not evolve to handle a perpetual state of crisis, and we need to avoid creating situations that feel like crisis. We need to reject ways of living that put us in permanently stressful situations, for ourselves, and for the people who have little power and are unable to resist.


Community and identity

The person who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them is on a trajectory that will likely result in them behaving in selfish and antisocial ways. The person whose sense of self is defined by what one person thinks of them is quite likely in an abusive situation. Somewhere in between these two points lies mental health and social functionality.

Humans are social creatures. We grow up in contexts that shape us, one way or another. We define ourselves through our work, family and social roles. We find out who we are in no small part because of how other people respond to us. The feedback we get will inform our sense of self worth and our sense of social identity and belonging – or not belonging.

How your identity relates to your community may have everything to do with finding the right spaces to be in. It is so important to have somewhere to fit, people to connect with and a sense of belonging and involvement. Life without that is lonely, and the absence of community connection can really undermine self esteem and a sense of self. Most of us do not do well as lone wolves. It’s worth noting that lone wolves do not tend to do well as lone wolves either.

On the other side there’s the question of how much we sacrifice to fit in. How much do we need to mute ourselves to be socially acceptable? How much must be cut off, compromised, hidden or denied so a person can have a place in a community? Arguably if this stops you from being a menace, it may be a good thing! But if what you have to hide is your authentic sexual identity, your not being neuro-typical, or some other vital and intrinsic thing, the price of community is high. Many spaces don’t even recognise the barriers they put up to prevent authentic engagement by people who are not ‘normal’.

What kind of spaces do we create and hold for other people? How much room do we give them? What pressures might we create to have other people stay in line with our beliefs and expectations? How much room is there for difference? What differences are genuinely intolerable? It’s worth asking of your Druid communities, your family spaces, work spaces and social spaces. It’s worth asking what we can do to actively include those who are unkindly excluded, and what we do to deal with people who do not fit in.


Community Solutions

When the problems are yours and yours alone, there may be no answers. You may well not have the knowledge, skills, resources or clarity to deal with whatever is going on. So often, we’re under pressure to find individual solutions and not ‘burden’ other people with the issues. This is especially true around mental health problems.

No one gets into trouble on their own. There’s always a context. In matters of mental health, sources of stress, anxiety and trauma are certainly part of the mix for many of us. How can we fix alone what was done to us by others?

Certainly, there’s a macho component to this. The idea of the heroic self having to stride out there and fight the demons single handed. And when you can do that, it can be empowering. But sometimes, it’s not feasible. Often it’s not feasible in my experience.

We’re more resilient when we share resources. We don’t need as many resources to get things done. Our lives are better when we take care of each other. Being able to help someone else is heartening, and everyone benefits. Why should we keep re-inventing the wheel at the worst moments in our lives when the wisdom and experience of others might enable us to cope better?

When you’re in crisis, it is difficult to think well. It becomes hard to assess what is the panic speaking, and what the real issues are.  It can be very difficult to see the bigger picture, to plan, to hold any kind of perspective. Crisis can freeze you up, at which point, rescuing yourself from it is bloody difficult.

This has been a really tough week for me in a number of ways. Personal crisis things going on, plus the horrible impact of sleep deprivation on my body. Lack of sleep increases my pain levels, and beyond a certain point is also really triggering. Stress and heat have combined to mess up my digestive system. I’ve not been able to think properly. This is not a situation in which I can do much to help myself. I am however blessed with wise and kind friends, who are quick to offer support, reassure me and share wisdom. It has kept me going and stopped me from entirely falling apart. I could not do this on my own.

I’m not good at asking for help. When I’m depressed, I struggle to believe that help could be available. This is not an irrational response, there are things in my history that make it entirely reasonable. However, it’s an out of date response.

A while ago, I ran into some pre-history content about how we decide we’re dealing with modern human cultures. One definition, is when we see evidence of people taking care of each other – injuries that have healed are a good indicator of this. To be civilized, arguably, is to take care of people who have become unable to take care of themselves. Sometimes it feels that we, as a species are becoming deeply uncivilized on those terms. There’s always scope to push back against that, by taking care of each other and recognising that cooperation and community have a great deal to offer us all.


Trusting your magic

I was in a conversation recently about trusting your own magic, and if/when/how to do that. It’s an interesting consideration.

What is your magic? Where is the enchantment in your life? It could be in your cooking, or in your ability to soothe others by listening to them. You may have magical green fingers for making plants grow. Or your magic could be more overtly woo-woo with premonitions, visions, conversations with the non-human, intuition and so forth. Simply identifying what there is about you that has magic in it – on whatever terms you want to use the word – is powerful.

Do you use that magic much? Do you trust it? Do you let it lead you? How real is it to you? What happens when you share it?

By its very nature, magic can be fragile, ephemeral stuff. Hard to trust that if the people around you have no room for magic in their lives. There are people who will try to disenchant you, and many of them will think they are doing you a favour with that. To trust your own magic and protect it if the people around you have no room for it, is hard.

As is the issue with so many things, going it alone is challenging. Being part of a community is sustaining. It’s easier to have some magical resilience if the people around you at least accept the role of magic in your life. It’s easier to feel magical if there are people who affirm your sense of enchantment. It’s easier to explore things if you have people to share ideas with or who can listen to your experiences. Magicians (like poets and mad scientists) are so often portrayed as lone figures, but in practice, to keep going as a magician (poet, mad scientist) it really helps not to be alone.

At its heart, having room for magic is just having room for wonder and possibility. You don’t need anything more than that. But how often do people simply shut wonder and possibility down?