Tag Archives: grass roots

The curious ecology of identity

I saw a charming meme not so long ago. It said: You aren’t stuck in traffic, you are traffic. How we name, describe and explain our experiences helps create our sense of reality. If we tell ourselves we’re stuck in traffic, we’re reinforcing the idea that our journey was necessary, reasonable and justified. The ‘traffic’ is someone else’s fault, and we are distinct and separate from it. The main effect of the ‘stuck in traffic’ version is to keep us from questioning our own role in *being* traffic.

It’s only when we recognise that we are *being* the problem – the source of air pollution, light pollution, noise pollution, part of the terrible crowd, the traffic jam, that we can change our involvement. So long as we think the problem is other people, we’ll carry right on as we are. Hoping someone else will change and fix things is a weak strategy.

The air pollution in London contributes to a lot of deaths every year. Much of this is due to London traffic. But just as we’re ‘in traffic’ we’re ‘in the air pollution’ – someone else’s car is poisoning us. And yes, every driver will have a good, convincing set of reason s why they couldn’t possibly be expected to do any differently, why they need, and they must and it’s important and really the government or the mayor or someone else should sort it all out. It’s this approach, here and in most other situations, that helps us stay put.

Grass roots action can make real change. If enough people take responsibility for making change, everything changes. There’s no point waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling, either. However small your gesture seems, however futile in face of all the other people doing it wrong… act. Stop being traffic. If enough people choose it, congestion could be a thing of the past. If enough people choose clean energy providers, if enough people cut down on household waste, if enough people refuse to buy bee killing chemicals… that’s all it takes.

Part of the flow

I’ve met one hell of a lot of people along the way in all manner of different capacities. Authors, pagans, comics artists, musicians, publishers, organisers of events… It’s given me considerable opportunity to see what works, and what doesn’t. There is a classic mistake that people make, and it is simply that they show up making some noise about whatever they’ve got and expecting people to take an interest. Many of the communities I’ve been involved with have been welcoming places, encouraging of new ideas and energy, but even in those contexts, just showing up with your thing tends to be unfruitful. Fruitless, even.

One of the reasons is that if you aren’t engaged, you don’t know what’s out there or where you fit. If, for example, you’re writing Steampunk books, but have never read any Steampunk books, listened to any of the music or been to the events, the odds of doing more than skimming the surface of the genre, are slim. This is often why first time authors are samey and derivative, in all genres – not because they’re emulating the greats, but because they haven’t read enough to know what’s been done to death already.

Most communities respond better to people who come up from a grass roots level on the inside. It’s true in politics, where candidates with the right face, air dropped in from some other place tend not to be popular on the ground. People tend to respond to you better as a leader of Pagan things if they’ve seen you learning your craft by showing up to stuff. Obviously tricky if you were the only pagan in your village. If you want to get respect as a folk musician, you don’t show up half an hour before your set, play it, and leave. You go to a session as well, or a singaround, or listen to someone else’s set.

All the most successful teachers and organisers I have known along the way have spent time sat quietly in other people’s events and lessons. Partly to learn (borrowing other people’s ideas!). Partly to support the wider community. Partly to network and get insights. Partly to be seen as someone who also shows up. This is something that works in a whole number of different ways all at the same time.

The person who turns up, is part of the flow. They put money in the hat, engage with the wider community, learn, give and participate. In online spaces, this can translate into things like reading other people’s blogs and responding to them, giving other people a shout out, reviewing, and the such. Giving something back. It’s not wise to expect things to flow towards you if you are not also creating flows of energy that go from you towards other people and spaces. Mostly, they don’t come towards you if nothing is moving out from you.

It’s also worth being watchful for spaces online that just consist of people who turn up to try and sell things. Back in the day of yahoo groups, this used to be a huge problem with ebook authors. You’d get hundreds of people on a list, all trying to sell their latest book. No one was listening, and no one was buying. Easily half of the writers hadn’t read enough of anything to know what made a good story, either.

It is so important to engage, it doesn’t matter what you do, or want to do, amateur, professional or somewhere in between. Get involved. Connect with people who are doing it already. Show up, participate. It will help you. It will help everyone else. Everyone wins.