Tag Archives: Community

Policing your community

Community means taking responsibility for how we engage with each other. It means dealing with bullying, not ignoring sexism, racism, abelism, ageism or anything else of that ilk. However, it also raises issues of gatekeeping and exclusion.

I’ve never seen a community improved by people making it their job to try and push others out for ‘doing it wrong’. If you have gatekeeping urges and feelings about quality and maintaining the integrity of a thing, there are better ways to go. Help people learn – give them pointers, tools, tips, insights, support and encouragement. This takes time and effort and doesn’t get you as much attention as standing at the entrance pushing people away. Where support and inclusion are the norm, people wishing to take power through gatekeeping are more easily identified, so they can be taken aside and supported and encouraged to do something more productive…

Here are some other questions I would like people to ask about how their community spaces function.

Who gets to speak, and who speaks most often? Who doesn’t get chance to make themselves heard? How could that better be rebalanced? Who gets to make decisions and how are those decisions made? Who gets a say in the process? Are the decisions made by the people doing the work? If there is a democratic say then there must also be a democratic sharing of effort and responsibility.

If there is conflict in your community, doing nothing is the choice that supports the person who is out of order and further harms the person on the wrong end of things. If you think both parties are equally to blame, please consider that other people may be silenced, shut down or made uncomfortable and unable to participate as a consequence of undealt-with conflict. The character of your community is in no small degree defined by what people do, and how they do it, when something goes wrong.

If there is sexism, and everyone looks the other way, then your community supports sexism. If someone raises bullying as an issue, and nobody wants to know, then bullying is something your community supports. If someone feels excluded because they can’t physically get into the room, and no one responds to this, then exclusion is something your community does… and there’s a startling amount of this around. Usually it appears in quiet, low drama forms, and is dealt with quietly with a shrug and a ‘this is how we do things’ that just leaves no room for change. I’ve been in a fair few spaces dominated by straight, white, middle class, middle age and older, physically and mentally healthy men, and I can say with confidence that many of them cannot see how business as usual excludes people who are not exactly like them.

Educating people who don’t understand how what they do needlessly excludes others, is a relentless and emotionally draining sort of job. It tends to fall to those least resourced to do it – the one woman in the meeting may be the one person who is able to talk about why the culture of the space means there aren’t more women in the room. The one disabled person will be the person telling you why the venue is so problematic. The one queer person will be the one explaining why the language used is so excluding. The one victim of bullying will be the person on whose shoulders falls the job of explaining why the culture of your community enables bullying. This is hard stuff to bear.

So often what happens when the person who has made it over the threshold but doesn’t fit easily into the ‘normality’ of the group, is that the group resents them for flagging up problems. The community may feel comfortable with itself, it doesn’t want the hassle of changing or the discomfort of looking at its own norms.

If you aren’t the person at the sharp end, and you see someone raising something like this, don’t dismiss them as a nuisance. Don’t call them a snowflake. Don’t insist that the problem is them and that what you usually do is fine. Don’t be part of the subtler forms of gatekeeping that keep out people in this way. Listen to the issues. Try and see it from someone else’s perspective. Don’t assume that your experience is what everyone else gets. Open your heart. Open your community space. Take pride in accommodating people and being flexible around their needs.

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Soft and fierce

One of the best things about being able to sum up who you are is that it gives you a fighting chance of finding people you can identify with. The word ‘Druid’ has served me well over the years. So has Pagan, green, folky, and steampunk. However, there are aspects of who I am it would be really useful to be able to explain to people I’m closely involved with. The lack of language is frustrating.

All of the words available to me carry a lot of sexual connotations. In the contexts in which I need some words, those sexual connotations would be more trouble than help. It’s hard even to talk about the kinds of relationships where this is an issue because the language simply doesn’t exist. As a bisexual person, I don’t automatically have a bunch of people I can be friends with where sexual attraction could not be a thing. I have a capacity for very deep and emotionally involved friendship, going far beyond what people generally mean when they say ‘friend’. That lack of language to even talk about who I am and what I’m offering has tripped me up repeatedly.

Over the last week I’ve been reading a book of essays – Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. I read it out of curiosity and a desire to understand more about other women. I did not expect there to be anything much in it that related to me. I have a female presenting body and a fluid/queer/androgynous sense of self and little enthusiasm for trying to make the overtly female body I have better express what goes on inside it. I learned a lot from the essays about ways in which other women deal with their masculine and feminine aspects, and that was good.

I came away with one phrase, found in a femme essay. ‘Soft and fierce’. It’s the shortest identifier I’ve found that communicates something of how my inner spectrum works, what kinds of contradiction I am and perhaps what to expect in dealing with me. It’s not a conventional identity label, but it is something I can add to my personal dictionary, and maybe even use. It’s a term I can carry to remind myself that I can be a real and authentic person without having to fit neatly into any of the more conventional identity boxes.

In my experience, the majority of people have very narrow ideas about who and how we are allowed to be in relation to each other. I’m bi, and pan-romantic, emotionally plural and physically faithful, I’m a bottom except when people need me to be a top because really it’s all about the service. I’m too scruffy to be conventionally feminine but too female bodied to be the genderqueerness I feel and anyway, I’m not sure why that genderqueerness is best expressed to other people by minimising the female aspects. I don’t know enough genderqueer folk to know if that’s really somewhere I belong, or not. I like ‘queer’ as a term because it’s short and evocative, but for people who have no queer language of their own to deploy, it’s not that helpful.

Most of the time, I can just let people make of me what they will and I try not to worry about it too much. The trouble has been the people who got too close in the friendships that were not as straightforward and who did not know what to do with me. More often than not they read as sexual things that are not uncomplicatedly sexual when I do them. My track record in recent years has been better though – not because I have the right words but because I’ve dealt with kinder people, more willing to make the effort to understand.


How community sustains us

I was in Wakefield over the weekend for a Pagan Federation conference. It turned out to be – as these things so often are – a significant learning opportunity for me. I had a number of conversations about how we square up to climate crisis, how we cope and keep going and avoid being overwhelmed by panic and despair.

The answer for me is community. Those conversations made me realise just how blessed I am in where I live and who I work with. Stroud’s District Council has not only declared that there is a climate emergency, but it is also working to make the whole district carbon neutral by 2030. That’s a massive and ambitious plan, and exactly what’s needed right now. It’s easier to feel hopeful when you can see people with the power to make larger scale changes getting involved.

I also have Transition Stroud – which involves hundreds of local people working for sustainability. It’s a hands-on community that pushes for grass roots change. It is hard slogging away at personal change when you feel like no one else cares and your change makes so little difference. When you have a community working towards sustainability, you can start to see how those individual changes stack up into bigger changes. There’s scope to inspire more people and draw them in.

On top of this, I’m a long standing supporter of The Woodland Trust and I also do some volunteering for them. Trees can do so much to help us deal with climate crisis. They lock up carbon, they can reduce flooding if planted in the right places, they’re good for human mental health and they support biodiversity and help protect the soil. Supporting The Woodland Trust means I’m contributing on a national scale as well. There are many charities and organisations working for the good of the land and for wildlife – supporting any of them will give you similar experiences.

When we are connected with other, Likeminded people, we have the power to do more. We can inspire and uplift each other, hold each other accountable and keep each other going. Look around and see what already exists in your area – better to join something heading the right way than start from scratch. If there is truly nothing, then it may fall to you to start the process – but you will not be the only one. People who want radical change are everywhere, often trying to figure out what to do and where to start if nothing is yet moving.


Enjoy your community life

In this blog, I’m picking upon Molly Scott Cato’s advice for resisting fascism.

Far right politics works to divide us. When we see everyone else as a competitor, and when we feel that giving anyone else rights undermines our own, there is no community. When we think in terms of maximising our profits and benefits and never mind everyone else, we create fragmented cultures full of cracks for people to fall through as soon as anything goes wrong. In this kind of environment, fearing each other is normal. Greed, jealousy, resentment, and the capacity to harm others are all cultivated.

A culture based on care, cooperation and mutual support is one in which we all see each other as valuable. One way in which we can resist fragmentation, fear and hatred, is to actively invest in community life. All you have to do to take up this method of resisting fascism, is to join a group of people. If you can, join a group that meets up in the real world and does something. That could be a fitness class, a volunteering group, people who cycle together, a film club, a political party, a union, or anything else you can think of that gives you a warm community space.

We’re social creatures, most of us. We are happier and our lives are richer and more fulfilling when we have meaningful relationships with other people. When we are enjoying life, we’re less easily persuaded towards hatred and resentment of others. We’re less likely to fear other people if we spend time with other people. If we isolate ourselves, we become vulnerable. The little voices that talk to us from the corner of the room aren’t always on our side. News tends to focus on misery and drama, and if your sense of other people is derived mostly from that, you’ll have a sense that people are mostly awful. If your sense of people comes from your mates at the skateboard park and the book club at the library, you will likely feel a lot better about other humans.

Community life takes us beyond economic life, too. If our interactions with other humans are mostly in the workplace, our relationships will be coloured by hierarchies and economic activity. It’s good to connect with people without paying to do so. It’s good to talk to people who aren’t there purely because they want you to do something for them. People who live in the work sphere and don’t connect with people who aren’t in paid employment can get some deeply skewed ideas about what not working means.

Show up somewhere. Do it for fun. Go forth into your community and find things that enrich your life and make you happy. Surrounded as we are by political and environmental crisis, it can feel hard to justify time spent on joyful things. But, to be happy with other humans is to be politically radical. To be social is to be radical. To find joy without spending vast sums of money on it, is radical. To connect with people who are not at the same life stage or of the same economic background, is radical. Increasingly, happiness is a radical thing to embrace. Fight fascism with joy by making real connections with other people.


Druidry and relationship with space

Capitalism encourages us to think of places in terms of ownership. The laws of ‘the land’ also focus on the rights of the owner, not of the inhabitant. It’s worth noting that in most places, the ownership of land can be traced back to violence and conquest.

When I wrote recently about spirits of place, I touched on the idea of ownership. Having had time to think about this properly, I realise that when I wrote ‘ownership’ what I meant was belonging. Or a kind of ownership that also involved being owned. A depth of relationship with a specific place, or places, that binds you to that place, and that place to you.

If you do ritual regularly at a specific site, you may come to feel that sense of ownership/being owned, and that can make it hard to see other people doing ritual in the same space. This is one of the big problems with choosing to do ritual at famous sites. No one has the right to own Avebury, or Stonehenge, or anywhere else on that kind of scale. As with all relationships, our relationships with places are open to possessiveness and jealousy, and what we feel most keenly may not bring out the best in us.

If you want a relationship with place that is personal, where you own and feel owned – then small and local is the way to go. You probably won’t have to share your grove in the woods with any other ritualists.

To feel belonging is to feel part of a community of place. When we belong, we don’t have to feel rivalry with anything else that also belongs. That includes other people. Any number of beings – seen and unseen – can belong to a place. It’s a more spacious idea than ownership, which capitalism has taught us to see as individual. Belonging does not free us from conflict though – especially if others come in and act like they own the place when they have no real relationship with it.

Belonging takes time and the investment of care and attention. It means getting to know the space and the community of living beings already in it. It means recognising that you are not more important than the other beings that belong to the place. It means not giving yourself instant authority by imagining you know what the land or the spirits of place really want. To belong you have to be a bit more humble, and not invested in putting human activity centre stage. Belonging means not trying to use your relationship with the land and its community as a power base to further your own ends.

Belonging is a subtle, quiet process that takes time. It is not the same as the short term excitement of finding a place resonant or welcoming. It’s what you do in the years after that moment.


Wild Earth Wild Soul – a review

 

Bill Pfeiffer’s book – Wild Earth Wild Soul – offers itself as a route to creating ecstatic culture. It does this by imagining that you, the reader, are planning to run a ten day Wild Earth Intensive along the lines that the author runs such events. You probably aren’t going to do this, something the author is perfectly aware of. It is however an engaging way of structuring a whole array of ideas about how we build community and transform our relationships with people and the planet.

The underlying principle is that if we spend time encountering other people and wild things in a safe and open hearted way, we will change. If we give ourselves time to be authentic, fully feeling beings engaged with what’s around us, we will find bubbling up within ourselves the same understanding that underpins indigenous wisdom around the world. While much inspiration is taken from indigenous elders and speakers, the principle is that we can’t just borrow from others. We have to make this for ourselves, wherever we are. It’s a really good principle.

Read this book for the philosophy it offers. Read it for the things you can adapt and fit into your own life. Read it in a group and try some of the things collectively. It would be an ideal book for a study group, grove, coven, moot or other Pagan gathering to take on as a shared basis for study.

If you were thinking about running a group of any sort, this book is well worth a read. It’s written with the assumption that you are starting with few or no tools and attempting to run a complex and ambitious event. It’s consequently full of valuable insights into how to step up as a leader – especially when you have no experience.

It’s nice when your area has established leaders and elders to turn to. However, this isn’t always the case. Many of us who have now been taking such roles for fifteen, twenty years or more did not have anyone to learn from in that way when we started out. In those circumstances you look around for what role models you can find and cobble together what you can, and learn by doing the work. This book is an ideal read for someone in that position. It also makes explicit that it is totally ok, and often necessary, for people with no previous experience to step up in this way.

I can definitely recommend this book. I think most Pagans would find something useful for them in Wild Earth Wild Soul. It’s always possible that, having read it, you will decide that a ten day Wild Earth Intensive is in fact what you should be doing – and that would be a fine outcome. That’s not what’s happened for me, but I want to use it as a jumping off point for talking to my local Transition group about how we build resilience, and what kind of community skills we might need to nurture between us.

More about the book here – https://billpfeiffer.org/core-programs/core-program-wild-earth-wild-soul-intro/book/ 


The healing power of kindness

When faced with someone in difficulty, it’s very easy for any of us to minimise what we’re seeing or being told. We may well fear that if we are helpful, or cut them slack, we will be taken advantage of. And of course in some instances, this will prove to be the case. However, when we can be kind to each other, we can have powerful effects on each other.

Workplaces often make people ill – they are a massive source of stress and anxiety. People who are overworked and falling behind can seem like a hazard to those who are keeping up. One person’s shortfalls are another person’s escalating problem. It can be hard to push back against that, and it may well carry risks. If we can be kind to each other, we can resist the work culture that will run us all until we collapse. Kindness is a route to not seeing each other as disposable and replaceable.

With kindness, you can find the options that allow people to participate. Reliably stopping the meeting when you said you would stop the meeting can radically improve inclusion. Listening to what people can manage and factoring that in is really powerful. Support and enable people to do the best they can, and more often than not, they’ll do that. When we treat each other kindly, we’re not usually going to open the floodgates for people being exploitative and taking the piss.

When we look after each other, we open the way to being recipients of care as well as givers. We create a culture of care, of watching each other’s backs and helping each other out. We stop counting the cost to us of everything we do when we don’t feel reduced by that. In a culture where support flows to where it’s needed, when you are resourced, you can better afford to be generous. If enough people are prepared to embody the idea that what goes around comes around, they will turn it into a shared truth.

Healing takes time, rest, peace, less stress. It doesn’t really matter what you’re healing from, if the people around you are kind and supportive, you’ve got a better shot at it and will do it sooner. If we are kind to each other, not only can we help with individual healing, but we create a scope for cultural healing, for community wellness and for relationships based on trust and doing our best. Kindness is the key to dismantling exploitative systems that treat people as disposable. Kindness is the key to building something better.

It need not be dramatic. Small injections of kindness into your normal day will have a significant influence on the people around you. It’s also a self-empowering thing to do. When you give with confidence, you also get to feel better.


When to run away

Anxiety creates strong urges to run away. Perhaps some people get fight as well as flight, but I suspect that panic is more likely to just kick off the flight impulse.

A few years ago I decided to give myself permission to act on my panic. I’d been through a lot of challenging situations where I’d had to stay put, no matter what it cost me. Staying with something that has panicked you so much that you feel an overwhelming urge to flee, is something I find not only emotionally tough, but takes a toll on my body as well. Not running away increases the stress. Not manifesting the stress in any visible way creates massive tension in me.

I talked with my nearest and dearest about strategies to manage my running away. We started planning how to handle situations that looked high risk for panic. It took the pressure off considerably. I’ve had to run away from a few things, and it’s generally been a good choice.

Of course running away is only a delaying tactic for some issues. It can be expensive in other ways. I’ve had two work related panic issues in the last year. Running away from workspaces means running away from money. I’ve run away from jobs before that were making me ill, and I’ve run away from a couple of volunteering situations as well. I have learned to put my mental health first, and created a living arrangement that allows me to get out if something is making me ill.

The most recent rounds have been remarkably different however, because both times, someone else has stepped forward with a solution to help me stay. I’ve said many times that I believe in community solutions to mental health problems, but it’s a whole other thing to have someone come in and offer just that. Situations I’ve stepped away from permanently haven’t offered support or much care that I was struggling. No one was willing to do things differently to accommodate me. Sometimes, there wasn’t even anyone willing to hear what the problem was. I don’t think this is unusual – we place the responsibility for mental health problems squarely on the shoulders of the person suffering.

However, when someone else can step in with a solution, everything changes. It means feeling heard and respected, feeling valued despite these problems. It means being given the chance to work in a way that is sustainable for me. It means the work I can do is seen as worth more than the bother of changing things to keep me viable.

Many workplaces are stressful and difficult. When we expect people to just shut up and put up with it, it is inevitable that some will crack under the pressure. We’re living with a mental health crisis that has been explicitly linked to work stress (but not widely reported – it was in a chief medical officer’s report a few years ago). It’s not that startling to discover that when we take care of each other, stress may be less of an issue and people may be less at risk of anxiety and depression. Community solutions work for illness caused by collective dysfunction, if only we have the will to implement them.


Big fish, small pond

There are a lot of personal advantages to being a big fish in a small pond. It’s good for your self esteem, your feelings of worth, usefulness and recognition. It is of course rather challenging to come out of the small pond and suddenly find you are a pretty small fish in a much bigger pond.

Many people are very good at creating small spaces in which to be big fish. I see a lot of it around me where I live, and I see it in the Pagan community too. It’s not so difficult to be big in your local Pagan community. Of course often that means in the rest of your local community, you’re insignificant.

There are all kinds of ways this can cause a person problems. An inflated sense of self worth can trip you up and invites massive embarrassment. The person who has to say ‘do you know who I am?’ is a fish out of the pond that validated them. Frustration at not being a big fish in the small pond can make people insecure, cranky and a problem to themselves and others. Being able to see the bigger pond in which you would be a small fish can do all the same things. Getting caught up in this does a person no good at all. The desire to be important often proves a barrier to getting anything worthwhile done, as well.

We weren’t designed to exist in a global community of billions. We evolved for small groups. Most of us see more people in a year than a mediaeval peasant would have seen in their entire life. We seem geared to deal with a larger network of a few hundred people at most. When we deal with other people in such numbers as these, it’s a very different experience.

In a community of a few hundred people, everyone knows everyone. No one is irrelevant. Any skill, or significant action will stand out and be noticed. Everyone can shine at their own thing. It’s unlikely anyone will cast such a long shadow that they cause a lot of other people to disappear.

In comparison, most of us will never be more than statistics, and most of us will disappear from history and memory when we die. Most of us will not have our centenaries acknowledged, or our legacies discussed.

For our own sanity, we all need small spaces where we can exist as people and feel valued. Alongside that, we all need to be able to deal with the issue that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t count for much.

It was Stroud Book Festival this weekend. I was doing venue work, not there as an author, but my being an author came up in a couple of conversations. “Should I have heard of you?” someone asked. I said, “no, I’m pretty niche.” And that, mostly, is the size of it.


How to Create Your Wildlife Community

A Guest Blog from Aspasίa S. Bissas

Experiencing community is one of the more rewarding aspects of life, especially when you find it in unexpected places. In my last guest post on Druid Life I wrote about my wildlife community; in this post I thought I’d share some tips on how you can forge a relationship with your local wildlife and create your own, perhaps unexpected, community.

Learn About Wildlife: If you want to get along with wildlife, you need to know how. What do you do if you come across a nest of baby bunnies? Is it okay to feed birds bread? How should you react if you come face to face with a coyote? A great source of information are wildlife rescue organizations. Find the one(s) in your general area and check out their websites or follow them on social media. Here in Toronto we have a fantastic group, the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Wildlife conservation groups are another good option, but be careful—some of them are little more than advocates for hunters.

Provide Habitat: Once you learn what kind of wildlife live in your area and what sorts of needs they have, you can help them by providing habitat. If you have a yard, you’ve got habitat, and it can be as simple as not removing dead plants and leaves from your garden in autumn, or as elaborate as planting specifically for wildlife and adding a pond. You can even make your garden an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Provide Food: First, find out which animals can be fed and are likely to need the help (as well as which ones should never be fed). Once you’re informed and are committed to providing food—whether a pot of flowers for bees, or feeding stations for different species—it’s important to always be consistent with the frequency and amount of food offered. It can be disastrous for wildlife if the food supply they’ve come to depend on suddenly stops. Providing water year-round is also a big help.

Protect Them: One of the best ways to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cats indoors (or, if you must let them out, use an enclosed space like a catio). Not only is it better for wildlife, but your cats will also live longer, happier, healthier lives. Outdoor cats decimate wildlife, in some cases wiping out entire species of birds. It’s not their fault—all cats have a strong instinct to hunt, which is why it’s important to give indoor cats toys and playtime. Being outside puts cats at risk from disease, cars, other animals, and unkind humans. They can also get lost, and contrary to a common myth, pet cats don’t do well when they have to fend for themselves. To quote The Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Other ways you can protect wildlife include never using glue traps (they’re inhumane and tend to catch everything, not just rodents), checking your lawn for small creatures before cutting the grass, and making sure water features are shallow enough for small birds and animals to get out easily if they’ve fallen in (you can put large stones in deeper water to give them something to climb onto).

Be Respectful: Show wildlife respect by keeping your distance, not allowing pets or children to chase or harass them, and not making a lot of noise or big movements. Prey animals like rabbits appreciate not being stared at. Sometimes when I’m out walking I’ll cross paths with wildlife. If they’re in the middle of crossing the road I’ll back off to let them finish so they’re not stuck waiting in the street, potentially putting themselves at risk. Sometimes they retreat until I’ve passed. I do always say hello, though; it’s only polite.

Help Wildlife: If you’re on social media, spread the word—share posts by wildlife rescue organizations, tell your followers what they can do, and talk about conservation issues. If you’ve got time or money, consider volunteering or donating. Some wildlife groups ask people to help with research, usually by recording what animals they spot in their local area—consider taking part. Keep an eye out for orphaned or injured animals, and if you find any get them to your local rescue (don’t try to take care of them yourself—animals need specialized care that the untrained simply can’t provide).

Get to Know Them: Chances are if you have habitat, food, and water, you’ll be seeing a lot of wildlife, and often the same animals will keep returning. If you pay attention, you should be able to start telling who’s who. If you can wear the same type or colour of clothing whenever you fill the feeder or work in your garden it’ll help them get to know you too. Once they feel they can trust you they’ll still be wary, but you may be rewarded with memorable encounters.

As long as we live in proximity to wildlife, we’re already part of a community. But if we want to be good members of that community we need to make an effort. Given the negative impact humans have made, and continue to make, on the world around us, taking the time to help your community can make all the difference.

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website, or her Facebook page. https://AspasiaSBissas.com,  https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas

Resources:
Toronto Wildlife Centre: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com
Make your garden a Certified Wildlife Habitat: https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx
Catio information: https://catiospaces.com/