Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
Agent Of Change, Agent Of Stability
Over the years I have committed much of my energy to a variety of organizations and movements. Currently, I am seeing lots of growth and turbulence in many groups so I am sharing some observations of patterns that I have seen repeated. This post is mostly aimed at organizers but is of benefit to all.
The Self-Empowerment, Drama, & Big Picture Factor
I believe that human beings need to feel that what they are doing matters in the bigger scheme of things. This is true regardless of what a person's assessment of themselves looks like. It may be hardwired into us from the early days of humans in tribes and packs where the group was the center of the universe for all intents and purposes. When people don't feel that who they are and what they do matters, bad things happen. One of the forms that this can take is people taking small, relatively unimportant things, and expanding them into an opera scale drama. Often they try to recruit people and situations into the drama as extras, the chorus, and the set. Emotional nature hates a vacuum and the small and the petty concerns will expand to whatever size is needed to fill the void of meaning and self worth. This is one of the reasons that encouraging self-empowerment and self-esteem as an organizational goal is so important— but it takes a long time and cannot be forced, only nurtured.
One of the reasons why people get involved in organizations (especially religious or cultural change groups) is that it helps to give specific meaning and context to their lives. You have probably been told by folks from a variety of organizational settings that it is important to thank the volunteers, board members, etc... Perhaps you also have been told to honor folks with public thanks, appreciation certificates, and such. This is all well and good, but it does not address the need for meaning and significance. Consider making it a part of the culture of your group that you regularly and explicitly state at rituals, committee meetings, board meetings, etc. that what you are doing is important and explain why it is important. This does not prevent the problem but it can reduce its severity.
Your Norms And Needs Are Different
People who choose to give big chunks of their life to a cause are different from the community that they serve in significant ways. It is essential that you talk with people that do not share your need for high levels of commitment to see what they are feeling, thinking about, and dreaming about relative to the things you call group and community building. Do not do this in a formal way. Do not do a focus group or a survey or any other of those sorts of data collection interventions. More truth will come from casual conversations, chewing the fat, and hanging out than that which is ripped from its native context by formality. Listen constantly.
Listen and try to determine what is real, doable, and really desired as opposed to the no criteria, no feasibility tests, flights of fancy people can have when dancing on the astral of the brainstorming imagination. This falls into the same category as all the people that have wonderful ideas for novels that never get written. Moreover, we don't live in a society (yet) that encourages folks to know their own strengths and weaknesses well enough to know what they can reasonably accomplish.
Personal Limitations - Organizational Limitations
Sometimes personal fears and limitations can be projected onto or blurred into the group's limitations. I have seen this come up most commonly as fear or the expectation of failure when an important project is being tackled. This also dovetails with the question of empowerment. The shadow of personal disempowerment requires that the group share in its shortcomings to validate the reality of self-imposed chains. Keep vigilant and name it for what it is when you see it.
But They Need To Be Included
I have a strong belief in including people in the process, but that is my belief and not necessarily their desire. You can kill a group by creating the expectation/perception that it is only in the planning meetings and committees that can you show that you are a worthy member. I have been on both ends of this one. Sometimes when I volunteer all I want to do is to show up and be given clear instructions on what I am to do. Other times I want to be there through every twist and turn from start to finish. The desire for fairness and participation can produce the opposite result when there isn't a clear way to choose or adjust your mode or style of participation.
Let Them Leave
As organizations change (and hopefully grow) they change qualitatively. The new conditions may be ones that people can neither adapt to nor embrace. They may try to drag the organization backwards to a previous stage of development where they are more comfortable. This can be complicated since folks often feel a sense of ownership in addition to a sense of membership. It is better to let people leave than to strive to keep them where they no longer fit. Do make efforts to keep skilled and sincere people by explaining changes as they occur, but you will lose some. Most of those that do find a balance between their sense of ownership and their sense of membership will stay or eventually return. Vision is another matter.
Annuals & Perennials
Community and organization building is quite a bit like creating a sacred garden. Please awaken your inner eye and see how these two processes resemble each other. First you must know the land, the site, and flow of the seasons. You have to have several different time frames under consideration at once. In the long run the trees and bushes are the upholders of the garden but they take time to grow. The perennials will grow faster than the woods, but they take a few years to hit their stride. In the early years of a garden's life the annuals are the mainstays that do the bulk of the work. And even in a mature garden, you fill in the bare spots with the quick to bloom and quick to fade color of the annuals. Over time, the proportion of active projects is shifted from the quick annuals to the slow growing plants. If you don't have enough projects that fruit and flower fast, folks will get frustrated and demoralized. It is a small percentage of people that can look at a mostly bare garden dotted with slender green twigs that can see what it will look like when it is mature. Very few have the vision to look at a diagram and see what the garden could look like in ten years. There are fewer still who are satisfied with a promise alone.
As a Pagan, I believe in and celebrate cycles within cycles. Day and night, the phases of the Moon, the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and the change of the Aeons are all honored in my practice. It is a difficult but necessary effort to also honor the many cycles within organizations and movements. I have found that ignoring the cycles courts loss and lack. Tending to the cycles leads to a bountiful harvest.
There is much more to say about this topic. If you would like me to continue with this flow of thought, let me know.
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