Monday, 24 August 2015

Unreasonable Expectations

There are a number of things that are true about Pagans.

We are demanding. Many of us are unreliable. We feel that our own knowledge often trumps the knowledge of others. We are rampant complainers. Generally, Pagans have high expectations of local and national (and sometimes international) festivals, rituals, and workshops.

We, dear Pagans, have unreasonable expectations.

I'll throw a little personal anecdote out there as an example. This happened a number of years ago.

I used to run a group with 2 other people - both of whom I have known for a long time. We held monthly meetings and the occasional public ritual. We worked very closely with one of the other groups in town for over 3 years.

This one witch, for whatever reason, decided she needed to write some pretty unkind (and untrue) things on her blog about how we ran our group. She called us cliquish and self-centred. She called our topics mundane. She said she didn't connect with us, and every meeting she had been to has been about environmental stuff or planning stuff (which may very well have been true - I had seen her at a grand total of 3 meetings). 

As organizers, we worked closely together to co-ordinate meetings and rituals. There is a deep sense of trust and reliability when you are working in close quarters like that for awhile - these are people I can do magic with, you get used to the rhythm of how their minds work. That's not cliquish. Our meetings were always open to the public, and we had always been welcoming to others coming to meetings - otherwise, why have a public group? Why not start a private group, called a 'coven'. We have seen people come and go. We had a few repeat guests, so we got to know those people the most because they are the ones who showed up. If someone didn't connect with us, that's no fault of ours. Unfortunately, a group cannot fulfill every need or niche. So if it doesn't work, why not leave it at that?

This was on a volunteer basis - we didn't get paid to do this. It took up a lot of free time, between running meetings, writing and running rituals (plus all the planning that goes into those) that if we were doing that for attention or to fulfill some narcissistic need, we could have chosen a much better vehicle to do so. It is a thankless job. We all worked full time, or were full time students with other extracurricular activities on top of this, plus time for regular family and friend interaction.

 As for topics, we had had over 30 topics in 3 years. All different, ranging from Men's Mysteries and the role of men in Paganism to the Paranormal, or holidays and altars. We didn't really do social coffee nights, or talk about magical mystical faerie princesses. No one wants to work all day, and then go to a meeting for 2 hours to hear people yak about their kids or their cats or whatever. It was a spiritual group - we addressed spiritual topics.

This witch could have come to us directly, or taken us up on one of the multiple times we had asked  the group at large what they would like to see us do or talk about. Instead, she took to her blog and aired her grievances, and guess what? Nothing came of it. Nothing changed. She complained for the sake of complaining. Shortly after, she started her own group, which fizzled out in 2 months. Guess she learned that that kind of thing is a lot more time consuming than she thought.

Fellow organizers (past and present), does this sound familiar? In my experience, working with the public for 16+ years and volunteering running a spiritual organization for over 5 years, people are never satisfied. There is always something not quite perfect, or not quite to exact specifications or imagined value.

Pagans in particular are very critical of one another. We expect perfection, and offer many a nuanced critique, but we fail to see the actual issue. We do not value our volunteers, the people who do what they do for the sheer joy of it. We all think we can do better, but when the time comes to step up and take the reigns, we are nowhere to be found. Of course. This is a giant part of the dysfunction in many modern pagan groups - when people don't share the work burden, you end up with organizer and volunteer burnout. Of course, when the free events and rituals stop happening, people complain that they aren't happening. Well, no shit, Sherlock. When you treat people like shit, what do you expect? You expect those people to just put up with the multiple people bitching at their efforts without once offering to lift a hand to help? Would you?

 One of the first things I tell people when they start to complain about these types of things - if someone is willing to do what the group is doing, to the quality of how they do it, or do it better, go ahead. What's stopping you? That is usually enough to either shut someone up, or to open the doors for all the excuses to pour out. "I'm so busy, though." Oh, and I guess all of these people who spent the last year planning for this event just sit at home and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for something to happen.

Of course they aren't. They are students, they are parents, they have careers and families and responsibilities just like everyone else. Like, really. Give your head a shake.

I know many people who have been student organizers, people who have run public events or weekend retreats. That shit is a lot of work. Even a priest or minister has to pre-prepare their sermon for the week. It's not like people just stand up and open their mouths, and the right words just brilliantly come tumbling out. People spend days, weeks, sometimes months working on these things to try and have them run as effectively as possible. On top of all of that, who do you think provided the candles and matches and snacks? Providia, the goddess of potlucks and witchcraft ritual supplies, did not suddenly appear and wave her hand and make it appear. Those things were purchased or made by the organizers.

There is the expectation of perfection. When people say "well, yeah, or COURSE I can do it better" and step up to do it, only to find out how much work it is, they either flounder and quit; or they start to realize that all the shitty stuff they were complaining about was really shitty to complain about and they pull up the ol' bootstraps and put their heart into it.

Honestly, I wish more people would be willing to run and help put on events and rituals. Yeah, it's scary for the first few times (but so is anything the first time). You shouldn't let that stop you from trying. It does get easier. No event is perfect, but volunteering your time and efforts can make you truly appreciate the time and effort that others put into free events. I'm not saying everyone has to be centre stage, but something as easy as making a batch of cookies for hungry participants is always appreciated.

Some events and rituals are poorly planned and terrible. Sometimes that happens, despite everyone's best intentions. Sometimes people who have no business running a dishwasher, nevermind an event or ritual, are put in charge - and they make some poor planning decisions. I'm not here to say that every free event is amazing. People can honestly and truly drop the ball and leave people feeling wretched about the whole ordeal. In those situations, you can make the choice to complain about it, or to do better. Everyone makes mistakes, and even with the best of intentions, things can end up tits up. It happens. Give people the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance to make amends (unless something abusive or terribly offensive happened, in those cases something should be said and the offending people should be avoided like the plague). People have off days. Sometimes luck is not on your side. I have made stupid mistakes, I have run some terrible fucking rituals - all despite my best intentions and preperation. Mistakes are there to learn from, so it's best for organizers to own up, explain, and do better next time. On the participants end, if something went horribly wrong, it may have an easy fix. It's better to approach an issue with suggestions of a solution than to just complain about the problem. It certainly makes dealing with the organizers a lot better and causes a lot less drama.

There is the last option.

You could also say nothing at all. You could be thankful that you live in a place that events like that happen, for free, and just take what is given. That is an option. 

At the end of the day, these people are volunteering their time and efforts to provide you with something that you could do yourself, but with an added benefit - community. You should look at the offering as hospitality, and you should do your best to honour someone's hospitality. You wouldn't walk into someone's house and take a dump on their offered meal, so choose words wisely when addressing an organizer. Some opinions do not need to see the light of day, and complaining about it without addressing the crux of the issue will do nothing but cause hurt feelings and eventual burnout. It could even mean the end of local, free events.