Howling Into the Wind: Change, Communication, Respect

Yesterday, I found a question that was asked of individuals that I believe might be beneficial to ask in a wider public forum.

Name something about the Occult Community you would like to see change…

As you can imagine, a wide-open question like this invites a lot of different angles and perspectives. My response:

Well, it sounds rather basic – but just be yourself. I don’t play any kind of gate-keeping role in what Pagans of any stripe should or should not be doing, that includes what one needs to be doing within the wider community. I think it’s more important to individual Spirituality to find one’s own self and utilize that as an anchor to avoid becoming some kind of “Pagan clone”. If we stay authentic to ourselves and to our wider Community, we avoid a lot of the “artificial” perspectives that arrive when we start looking at others doing their own thing and saying that their approach is “wrong” or ‘New Agey”. Everyone has their own path to walk, and we should avoid trying to play up the idea that any other walk than our own is incorrect, incomplete, or inaccurate. Diversity in Paths, Approaches, and Perspectives are a strength, in my opinion.

Tommy /|\

Not precisely earth-shattering stuff, right? Nothing that I haven’t written about before on the blog. Nothing radically different from stuff that I have talked about face-to-face with others. Nothing that others have not disagreed with me on before either. But its not my answer I want to write about here. It’s the writing prompt.

As I’ve noted often, at the risk of being ad nauseam about it, I have been on my Pagan Path for three and a half decades. In that time, I have watched the ebb and flow of the Pagan community. When I started, digital communications, such as the internet did not exist. Much of long-distance communications were done through personal letters or via dial-in Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). You can imagine (and some of you don’t have to imagine – you lived it, just as I did) the Community was largely dependent on the cohesiveness of various local individuals. Over time, digital communications expanded into what we know and utilize today. That expansive communications ability has been helpful to so many on their own individual Paths, and has not only widened our knowledge base, but allowed for a lot more cohesive research on those perspectives by so many. Our wider Pagan community has not only grown by leaps and bounds, but we have found more ways to help one another along our respective Paths.

However, from time to time, there is always a need to step back and take stock of what has been done, what is being done, and where things are going. Questions such as the one noted above, are typically the start of such endeavors. Like I noted, I have been around a long time. My direct participation in the Pagan community has also ebbed and flowed during that time. I would never hold myself up as a paragon of virtue in being a part of the community. I am aware of most of my faults and missteps. However, despite all of that, I am a part of the wider community, even if I wanted to deny that point. Whether I like it or not, I am a part of the Pagan community. So, what I answered above is not a judgment of the community or a damnation of what is lacking within the community. What I answered was merely an observation, nothing more. My prescription for it – also within my answer – is only my perception of what needs to be done. I am not the Pagan with all the answers. Furthermore, I can only correct my faults and missteps. I cannot and will not be responsible for changing the behaviors and attitudes of others.

Should the Pagan community be taking stock of where things are, and be looking for what change can be done? Well, my answer would be “yes.” But I am a single individual. I am not the Pagan Pope. And if you dig hard enough, you may find a few claiming to be such, somewhere on the internet. But I am all for self-examination. Within my own professional career, this type of perspective is an ideal thing. Within any Information Technology project, there is a period after the project has been completed, and the results set into motion, where self-examination happens. Within the realm of Project Management, this is called a “post-mortem” process. In Latin, the term means “after death,” essentially an autopsy. What you are essentially doing is checking how things went. You look for places where things went wrong, and how things were resolved on the fly. You are looking for ways to do it better the next time. Honestly, I do this after I make changes to my own personal ritual processes. Because I am always looking for where the kinks were, what worked, and what didn’t. That way I can change things and try my best to make my ritual process work better and have a better impact on what I was trying to do. It’s a process I use when writing code within my professional career. It’s a manner of getting better at what I do – learning new code, learning new syntax – just getting better. After all, there’s always room for improvement. Always.

The hard part about doing this in wider community setting, is that this only works on areas of commonality. Believe me, all of that is hard to locate – we are a wide, diverse community that is full of contradictory perspectives. However, there is one aspect that we can all agree upon (hopefully). That is respect of other spiritual perspectives. Even those that are in diametrical opposition to our own. I believe that this is the point that we need to take time to check and re-check ourselves on.

I was wondering aloud about what direction the wider community could take without this re-check process. Well, I hate to bring this into the point, but without checking and re-checking our aspect of respect for other perspectives, particularly those in opposition to our own – our future as a wider community might potentially look a lot like those in American politics, at this moment. Where the Right/Conservative, and Left/Liberal perspectives become so divided, that commonality cannot be achieved. Simply because we dig into our perspective perspectives, and demand that ours is the only, true way. That the other perspective is just wrong. When our entrenched attitudes will develop feelings or hatred, betrayal, and bring about enforcement of our belief over all others. The middle ground recedes to nothing. Compromise can never be achieved in such an environment. Entrenchment gets deeper and deeper. The result will be a civil war of proportions that are unimaginable. All because we lose respect for the other side. Where matters go after that civil war is an unknown that I do not want to even approach.

You might not agree with my assessment. I can grok that. (For those of who have not read Robert Heinlein’s works – “grok” simply means to empathize or communicate sympathetically – or if you prefer “I get you”) Right now, I would surmise that my logical progression to this point, is a wild guess-timation. I certainly hope that I am completely wrong.

Circling back to the original question, what would I – me, Tommy – like to see change within the wider Pagan community? Aside from what I have already written in response? Well, we have the tools to do so. I would like to see us talk with each other. Not talk AT each other. But that’s a conversation for another time, and probably for a better setting than a blog. I really wish we could all gather round a fire on a nice, clear night. Everyone with a nice beverage of choice. We will probably never solve all of the world’s problems, but there certainly is something to be said for the civility o face-to-face communication over that of hiding behind an IP address. #JustSayin’

–Tommy /|\

Not Responding in Kind

Not that long ago, I had a rather insulting “question” posed to me via a Direct Message. It really didn’t enter into the realm of a question, but did fire off the accusation that I just wasn’t “woke enough”. Which, to be honest, in retrospect, is not that damning of a thing to say to me. But I’ll get into that in a just a bit.

The statement was meant to be a damning perspective of who I am. Apparently, since I am not standing at the court-house or legislature steps screaming and yelling over the idiot legislation that takes place, I am not “woke enough” in this particular person’s perspective. A perspective that they have every right to make, in my opinion.

Wha? I’m taking a stance to protect someone’s right to be insulting and demeaning towards me? Of course I am. I live in the United States, where the right to free-speech is protected. Even when its “incorrect” or “insulting” or what have you. Everyone has a right to take the perspective that they wish to. But taking that perspective doesn’t mean that one has the right to make everyone else believe the same way. That flies in the face of that protected freedom. People have a right to say what they want, just as others have every right not to pay attention to those voiced opinions.

The idea of free speech is something I completely believe in. Free speech allows me to say the things that I do on this blog. Free speech also allows me to gather the facts and find my own conclusions to various things, such as the 9/11 conspiracy theory that the government demolished the North and South towers, and then pinned the demolition on Al Qaeda. Now, I’ve seen the facts concerning the destruction of the two buildings. I’m not a structural engineer, but the explanation of how two jetliners felled both towers seems plausible to me. To others, not so much. And that’s just one singular example.

I have learned to keep my ears open and my mouth shut over topics like this. I listen to the perspective of other folks, use that to help make up my own mind/opinion, and then move on. Dwelling on the topic, arguing with others over the topic….well, none of that solves anything, in my opinion. Its just easier to listen and then move on. Which brings me back to what was stated about me.

Looking back, none of what was said really matters to me. The insinuation was that I don’t value the lives of others. That as an old white man, I could care less about others. All simply put because I don’t fit into one person’s paradigm of what “woke” really is. Sure, its insulting, but its also a perspective I don’t have a ton of time to really mess with (aside from writing this blog to explain my point). There are so many other moving parts to my life, so many other ways I contribute to the “cause”, and so many other ways to deal with issues related to the down-playing of the perspectives of others. I just don’t have the time or energy to educate every fucking human being on the planet to what I do or how I do it. Besides, I would postulate that the huge majority could give two shits about what I do or don’t do. After all, they have their own lives to live as well.

I’m not really insulted by what was said, because the perceived insult just doesn’t figure into my world-view. What I am is saddened over the entire incident. Because someone felt the need to judge me against their own personal moral character or code without getting to know me better than they had at that point.

I do know who the individual is, as none of my private questions were completely anonymous. However, I don’t feel the need to out them to the rest of the world. The reasoning? It would be counter-productive, since it would paint a bulls-eye on the individual and provide a silent incentive for others to attack this person. None of that is conducive or productive, in my mind. So I choose not to say anything.

My personal belief is that an individual can be judged for their moral character by what they do and how they react to various issues. I can only hope that the manner in which I have approached all of this provides an example of what I would prefer to see in the world around me – people not responding in kind to attacks, slanders and slurs. I am far from perfect, but I can hope that this singular moment in time can be an example of what I would hope is a better response to that type of communications issue.

Taking a Look Four Years Back

I wrote this particular post (the one at the end of the blog post) back in November of 2011, during the height of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. I still stand by what I have said here…nearly four years into the future from that date. Most folks seemed to focus on the “Occupy Wall Street” aspect – particularly where I noted my perspective that the protests were negative and ineffective. But it seemed that many people stopped reading at that point, so that they could respond to my negative notation of a movement that they found was “effective”. In fact that seemed to be the only point they took away from the entire post.

But that wasn’t my point. One of the things I hate more than anything else – are labels. Particularly labels that get painted on you by others. I’ve been there. Geek. Freak. Socially unacceptable. Strange. Odd. Weirdo. Each meant to cast an individual into a pile that is easily identifiable as “outcast”. But there are other labels that I have embraced, because the definitions I use for those terms fit ME:  Druid, Pagan, Poet, DeadHead, Hippy, Politically Unaffiliated, Friend.

I’ve pointed this out many, many times since the last Grateful Dead show. That’s right, Mickey Hart’s last notation on the show to “be kind to one another.” And in essence, it was what I was writing about back in 2011. Its what I talk about here on this blog in 2015. Its what I try to get across on every single podcast I have done. And to be kind to one another, we need to learn to communicate with one another. Not just talk for the sake of talking.  We need to learn to LISTEN. To UNDERSTAND. To COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY. I’m a firm believer that one of the largest problems we have as a society, is that we have learned to talk, so we can hear the sound of our voices. We have seemingly forgotten that communication is a two-way street – requiring a sender AND a receiver. That before the receiver becomes a sender to respond, the receiver needs to become a translator of the information received. And that’s only part of the process.  We have forgotten that communication requires work, it requires patience, it requires understanding. It requires us to be kind to one another, and to be kind to ourselves.

Give the post a read…its almost four years old. I don’t expect people to agree. I only hope it causes people to think, and examine their communication processes….

Listening. My Perspective on the OWS Protests

13 Nov 2011

I don’t get involved in politics much.  If you’ve read this blog for a while – or listened to my podcast over the last year – or even had the misfortune of talking to me face-to-face (LOL) — you’re quite aware of my stance on politics.  In a recent conversation on a friend’s Facebook wall posting, I saw my particular position articulated by an individual during a “debate/discussion” over the effectiveness of the OWS protest.  It went along these lines:

Why worry about the 1%?  They aren’t going to listen, even if ALL of the ‘99%’ gathered together to yell and scream at them.  Why not do something more effective like work in the local soup kitchens, help with the yearly toy drives, and other social initiatives aimed towards helping those less fortunate in the ‘99%’?  That would make a far better solution than standing around, yelling and screaming about the inefficiencies of the system.

When I read that, I realized that this has been the direction I’ve been attempting to articulate for quite some time — just doing a very poor job of it (nothing new for me).  I completely grok what the OWS protests are trying to say – I mean shitski, I completely agree with the points being made.  I just see the entire protest as being ineffective, and a waste of energy that could be directed in far more positive and appropriate directions.

Help One Another

We all blather on and on about community.  And that’s all that happens with it.  Its just a load of talk with no concerted, lasting effort behind it.  I’m just as guilty as anyone else in this regard, so its not like I am singling any one individual or group with my statement.  My own finger is pointing back at myself here too.  We’ve talked a lot about getting together as a community – supporting one another – coming together in both ritual and deed.  We’ve got the ritual aspect down pat.  Throughout the year, there are open circles and rituals, where the public at-large is invited in.  At one time, here in the DFW area, the Pagan community had the social aspect down fairly well too.  There was a public place to gather, but over time, it seemed that the support of the location continued to fall to the same people – over and over.  There were folks who also provided assistance, but they were few and far between.  Folks started letting personalities and politics cloud the idea and lead the discussion.

Seemingly, we’ve let the focus shift from helping one another — being there for more than just food, clothing and monies (when absolutely necessary) — being there when someone just needs someone to talk with — and not just about their problems, but to just TALK.  Being someone of a like-mind who can just be there to spend some idle chatter and a few minutes out of the day…until you’ve been in that spot, you have no idea how much that small gesture can mean.  When people hear the word “support” they think of the clothes, materials, and food that they can provide — but what about the time? Not just the time standing on a soup-line helping serve food to the needy, time spent in the kitchens preparing the food or washing the dishes.  How about the time spent just sitting and listening to someone?  REALLY listening to them?  Providing them your undivided attention for a short period of time…that makes more difference than you really know.

In the end, terms like 99%, 1%, Pagan, Christian, Wiccan, Conservative, Liberal, etc etc.  These are just labels.  Just descriptives that don’t tell the full story of the individual.  Once applied, the stereotypical definition attached to those terms is applied to the individual — even when the definition misses the mark.  That’s the true sadness of watching the entire OWS protests.  Everyone is caught up in the process of finding quick-stick definitions to apply to everyone else.  No one is listening.  No one is hearing what the real angst is within all of this.  And sadly, that message was washed away a long time ago.  I’ll say it again, we have an opportunity here to come together as a much larger community…helping one another in ways that are already in place, and by doing the one thing that was never going to be accomplished in the first place with the OWS movement:  listening.

Recompiling My Classification Index – Further Thoughts on Labels

A few posts back, I was talking about connectivity between everything – and how I am seeing a lot of this in places outside of Nature….  Well, it keeps happening. Was playing around on the Library of Congress website, looking at the classification system (more commonly referred to as the LCCN subject classification), and I started noticing that some books had multiple tags in the system. So I started digging deeper, and noticed that the tags were for books and subjects that crossed into multiple areas. For instance, books on Native American History were cross-classified in US History, as well as Native American Studies. So I took a bigger step back for a short while, and thought a bit more about how we classify topics and information in our lives.

We classify nearly everything we see, touch, feel, experience…a hot kettle is touched once in our lifetimes (at least I hope you only touched it once). We classify that as being hot, which equates to the painful sensation we received from the touch. We realize fairly quickly that anything hot has the potential to burn us. The longer we touch it, the more painful and long-lasting the resulting burn will be. So we classify that as “dangerous”. We don’t need to have someone put an arrow through any part of our body to realize that it will be painful and dangerous for something like to happen to us. So we classify any area in front of a bowman to be “dangerous” – different type of danger from the kettle, but it gets a similar consideration because of the potential for pain.

I have talked before about how much I hate labels. But the reality is that is a wrong statement on my part. Its not the label that I deplore. Labels – or classifications – are useful, particularly to the individual using this system of symbology. Well, before I continue, perhaps it would be useful to get me and you (the person reading this) in sync with what I mean by a “system of symbology”. The definition of symbology is fairly simple and straight-forward – its the use or study of symbols. In this case, I am referring to the classification or labels that someone uses to describe something as a symbol. Thus, since the classification provides a symbol of sorts, it also carries a definition along with it. When I describe something as “dangerous” – an individual using the previously mentioned concepts of a hot tea kettle and the bow/arrow, will envision some form of damage to someone as the direct result of whatever I am describing as dangerous. And this works well…but only for the individual that agrees with the descriptive classification that has been previously made for “dangerous”.

Perhaps, my definition of dangerous involves getting yelled at or verbally abused by someone. I equate that to an abusive relationship I had with my father, my mother, several girlfriends, two ex-wives, and several bosses. To cross the line where any of these folks would get mad would result in verbal abuse, which I equate with the label “dangerous”. The previous descriptive of dangerous – with the tea kettle and the bow/arrow – is the classification ascribed by Receiver(A). (A) has just done something that is going to upset her boyfriend. My comment about what she has done is: “that was dangerous”. Her immediate reaction is that her boyfriend is going to physically harm her in some way and she flees the scene in tears seeking a place of protection. An over-reaction? Perhaps, if considered from my point of view with my set of classification descriptives. From her perspective, (A) is only doing what she must to achieve protection from what she perceives as a real physical threat.

And here is where we start to have a problem with labels and classifications. Every single person classifies and labels things in their own personal inventory. But they do so by their own set of definitions, created by the derivatives caused from their own experiences. Each person is unique, and therefore will try to define things in their own way with their own experiences. The experiences are all similar, but the terminology we associate with it can be quite different.

The solution, particularly if you are discussing experiences with someone you do not know – and provided you actually have the time to do so – is to talk and establish what I call “common ground”. In this manner, you and the other individual – or individuals if you are talking amongst a group – can find common core definitions to experience and ideas, and you can then link back to these core definitions when trying to explain your own personal classifications. Even in agreed upon systems of classification such as the LCCN, there is a chance for misunderstandings. There is a strong chance that someone who reads “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” may see that book as a treatise on Native American Studies, while another person would classify it as a study on a part of United States History. Which classification is incorrect? Do we treat both as correct?  Do we place dual classifications on the book title for search purposes?

What about in your own personal classification system? Once you determine another person defines “dangerous” in a different way, do you add a secondary classification to your own personal system? Or do you add a secondary cross-reference that is only utilized when this individual enters into a conversation or topical discussion? I realize that this is breaking down the way people think into a very generalized way of thinking, but I do believe that every person uses this system of descriptives to quickly understand the world around them – and they do so subconsciously. And while some folk may think its not an important thing to sit down and look over every once in a while – as a single individual, I certainly do see the need to do so. Doing so, I may be able to unclutter my own internal index, and remove some classifications that no longer work for me. After all, our opinions do change over time….