Tag Archives: Community

Inclusive thinking

One of the easiest and most problematic mistakes to make is simply to assume that everyone else we deal with is just like us. I’ve seen it in books and articles, in how people organise events and manage volunteers, and more. It tends to come from people who have enough privilege that they don’t have to pay attention to how privilege manifests in their lives. When you think you are normal, it’s a small step to thinking that anyone different is just being awkward or uncooperative and thus feeling no obligation to respond to their needs.

If you’re stepping into any kind of leadership /authority /author role as a Pagan, I think it’s incredibly important to consider how your notion of your own normality might impact on how you treat other people. It takes effort and empathy to look past your own experiences to learn about how the world works (or doesn’t) for other people. It takes effort and imagination to consider where your assumptions might make your efforts exclusive. It takes integrity and courage to look at how your beliefs might unwittingly have made you ableist, racist, sexist, classist. And it is so important to dig in and do the work.

If leadership is the comfortable acting for the benefit of the comfortable, while leaving the disadvantaged on the outside, it’s more about self indulgence than service. It is certainly the case that making everything totally inclusive for everybody tends to be both prohibitively difficult and expensive, because we operate within systems that are problematic. But that doesn’t mean you are free to not try.

This isn’t about the imaginary people who might want to get involved. Not being able to cater to the need of the imaginary people can just be a way of letting yourself off the hook. What matters most is to include the people who show up wanting to be included. The real ones who are in your immediate community.

Here are a few things you can do in this regard. 

  1. Be explicit that you are open to hearing from people about their access needs or barriers to attending.
  2. When people tell you about access issues and barriers, listen with respect and take them seriously.
  3. Try to find workarounds based on what you are being asked to do, trusting that the person asking you to improve inclusivity knows most about what would help them participate.
  4. Consider it your responsibility to enable participation.

If you aren’t acting as a leader in any capacity you can help by flagging up access issues when you see them, and by supporting people who ask for things to be made more inclusive. Amplify, affirm, take seriously and treat with respect people who need help around access.


Who do we sacrifice?

As a younger human, I was fairly hardcore when it came to rituals. I’d go, no matter the weather and no matter what sort of state I was in. Pain and fatigue are longstanding issues for me, and when I was younger I was more in the habit of just pushing through. 

It didn’t help that I absorbed a lot of fairly toxic notions around sacrifice within Druidry. I had a strong feeling that I needed to put the Druidry first, and that complaining about my body or stepping back when I wasn’t well, wasn’t ok. I’ve had heatstroke doing rituals. I’ve been problematically cold, which makes me hurt more. I’ve pushed through exhaustion. I’ve done rituals that left me emotionally burned out and unable to function for days afterwards.

It was worse during the period when I was leading rituals because I felt obliged to show up, to not let people down. This was all voluntary, all given in service, and I was working alongside it and had a young child.

A culture of service and sacrifice can really hurt you if you aren’t well to begin with. I look back at a lot of my early experiences of Druidry and I can see how the ableism was hard-wired in. I can see my own, internalised ableism, and I can see how I unwittingly perpetuated it.

A real community doesn’t break its members for the sake of a seasonal celebration. At this point in my life I am much more aware of the importance of not demanding more than people can safely give. I reject the idea that sacrifice is a spiritual good or a social good. I’m deeply in favour of compromise and negotiation, but when some people have to sacrifice themselves for the ‘good’ of the community, you will tend to find that it is those who have least who end up giving most. 

Sacrifice is often what we do when power and responsibility aren’t equally shared. When there is fairness, equality of sharing and ownership, we shoulder the hardships together. We bear the hard things together, those who can do most help those who most need help. We give, to each other, to the land, to what we hold sacred but we do not ask anyone to suffer. Community is fundamentally about taking care of each other and that means it has to be safe to say no. 

The demand for high levels of commitment in Pagan groups tends to be ableist. Either those who cannot commit are excluded, or they are pushed into harming themselves. It has to be ok to not show up when you aren’t well.

So, for the autumn equinox I ended up leading by example. I found I was too ill to run a ritual, and I cancelled it. At the moment I don’t have other people who could take over for me, but I will aim to develop those skills in others so that it doesn’t all depend on me.


Rethinking Romance

One of the many things that bothers me about hetronormative depictions of romance, is the way it’s all supposed to happen by magic. Great sex just happens spontaniously when two people who are attracted to each other get into bed. People are supposed to magically know what other people want in this and all other contexts. Failure to magically know what the other person wants is romance-fail.

At the same time we get repeatedly exposed to the idea that women are strange, incomprehensible creatures whose wants, feelings and needs can never make sense to a man. “What’s wrong,” he asks, in all innocence. “You should know,” she says, or maybe she tells him she’s fine.

Why do we hang on to this curious belief that not communicating is somehow romantic and that the proof of love is not needing to tell someone stuff? 

For kinksters, this just isn’t an option. You can’t assume anything about what the other person wants, you have to talk. If you’re queer, plural, trans, nonbinary, assexual, or doing anything else that falls outside the narrow scope of hetranormative romance, you can’t assume much and you have to talk. This is such a blessing and an advantage. It’s one of those rare areas of concern where being cis and straight really doesn’t give you privilege, it gives you a monstrous weight of toxic cultural baggage.

Good relationships depend on communication. If you go in expecting other people to be different from you, then you’re going to be more open to finding out who they are and how they want to do things. The assumption of similarity is a barrier to talking. There have been enough cis-het people in my life for me to be confident that most people are complicated. To feel obliged to play along with social stereotypes is to have unmet, unspeakable needs. I think a lot of apparently normal people experience a lot of feelings of loneliness, isolation, maybe even freakishness because they aren’t really as normal as they think they should be.

I’m not convinced ‘normal’ is even a real thing. I think it’s just a social construct to keep us tame and limited. It’s much more romantic to talk. It’s sexy to communicate. Relationships based on exchange are much more interesting than ones based on fear and assumption.


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.