Circle Games

Much of day-to-day leadership is about various kinds of conflict resolution. But often it is unnecessary to fully resolve a conflict, only to stop it from creating unnecessary friction.  People who appear to be in direct opposition frequently are not, actually, when viewed from the correct perspective.

If we are all playing a children’s game, where we are holding hands and turning in a circle, if you are on the opposite side of the circle from me, you will appear to be going the opposite direction, the wrong way!  STOP!  Turn around! 

But, if you do, the game ends up with a big mess.  Sometimes, that result is obvious, sometimes it is not.  Particularly, as we make the circle larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine that we are all going the same direction.

But once you look at the circle from the outside, it becomes much easier to see that everyone is turning the same direction.  If we could create a children’s game where we turned in a climbing spiral, instead of a circle, or, in even more complex dimensions, we could even better understand how easy it is, with too little perspective, to mistake complex common effort for conflict.

So, often, the best tool for conflict resolution is not to try to make the parties involved shift directions, but to help them gain enough perspective to understand that they are actually heading the same direction.  Once they see the commonality of their efforts, the friction is reduced.

Learning to recognize and manage friction before the fires break out is a vital skill in learning to combat “management by crisis”, where we never get to where we are heading because we are too busy putting out the fires.

Learning to help people find and define their common ground is perhaps the most important trait of a strong leader, and it comes from the ability to step far away enough to see the circle again.  If you have trouble finding the common ground, start big and work towards more detail.

Chances are pretty good that all parties are interested in the welfare of the organization or the success of the shared task which has brought them together initially.  It’s also likely that heated situations are born of deep passions.  Start there. Define that initial goal, and uplift the value of the mutual passion for achieving that goal. 

Caring about the outcome is critical to success, and the deeper the caring, the more intense the focus, and, by necessity, the deeper our focus, the more likely we are to lose perspective. Once focus is loosened and perspective returned, then common ground can be recovered.  From that ground, we can start working towards mutually achievable goals again.

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Because it works

Besides being a Trickster, the Norse god Loki has a number of other attributes.  One of the widely experienced of those attributes is a variety of “Kink”.  Loki likes sexy times, and, in general, the kinkier the better.  Early in my awareness of Him, it seemed like He was all sex, all the time, with anyone, in bizarre combinations.

One day, I inquired, “Why sex?  With everyone?”, and was surprised to receive a prompt, honest, answer.

“Because it works.”
“Huh?”
“Humans are very simple creatures compared to gods.  Getting through to you can be quite tedious.  I can, however, get through to almost all of you with sex, either by what attracts you, or what repulses you, and I don’t care which.  Some entities find this approach ?degrading?  ?taboo?*, but I don’t care.  I use what works.”

Like a good monogamous Catholic school girl, I replied with, “But doesn’t it lose it’s specialness if you do it with everyone?”

He laughed, and showed me more puppies than I could comprehend, all running towards me, with ears flapping, to bury me in puppy kisses.  He said, “Are there too many puppies?”, and as I thought, “No, never!”, I knew I had my answer.

I don’t know what relevance this has to anything or anyone, but it was what wanted to be written today.

*On godspeak:  For those not “god-bothered”, these ideas generally come more as fully formed concepts, feelings, or images, than as conversations, but language is the tool I have to share the sense of the experience, since I don’t paint for crap.  Often the sense is complicated, unclear, or I feel I may not have caught it clearly.

This is one of those things that was unclear, perhaps because the gods have a concept about this that is similar to taboo, but that full understanding is outside our human experience.  I have had this impression once before, when I was momentarily possessed by my late Uncle.  His words, before vanishing, were, “You’re not supposed to know I’m here!”  with a very similar sense of taboo/inappropriate contact.

You Never Know

Random Acts

We change the world in ways that are sometimes unexpected.  Almost 10 years ago, I had a clear lesson about this that left me knowing that, even when I cannot see the results, I change the world.  It wasn’t about kindness, but it really drove the idea home strongly enough to know that it certainly applies to kindness even more so.

I was doing eco-volunteer work that involved picking up the trash in and around a small parcel of public land full of endangered species.  Located on a busy corner, at first, there was a lot of trash.  Fast food wrappers, empty soda bottles and cups, and a frightening number of losing scratch-off lottery tickets appeared, and then disappeared, as my husband and I made our weekly visit.

But the worst section was an isolated parking area that was, by the trash left, clearly frequented by a sex worker with a crack habit.  Baggies, vials, broken pipes, XXX DVD packages, prophylactics and tampons often littered this private, deeply wooded patch of asphalt, even though it was fortunate enough to actually have a trashcan routinely emptied by the county.

After a while though, things started to change.  The dirty corner stayed a lot cleaner.  People waved and honked when they saw us working, instead of eyeing us suspiciously.  But best of all was the change in the prostitute.  She started putting her trash in the trash can.  All the time.

As far as I know, we never met.  If we did, it was as one of those anonymous people who honked and waved, and I have no idea who she is, even if she knows who I am.  But she changed the way she lived because of the way I live.  That’s an often overlooked power of leadership: the ability to change the way others live, not by telling them how to change, but by showing them a better way and letting them realize that they, too, can be a better person just by doing little things.

If it is possible to make a more environmentally aware person of an addicted sex worker without even meeting her, then there must be thousands of ways we can each change the world without knowing it.  We may not be able to see the results directly, but when I get discouraged, I remember this, and continue doing little things that seem like they are too small to matter, hoping for bigger change.

What we do does matter, in ways we won’t ever know.  Be kind.  Be generous.  Do the small things that seem like they don’t matter.  They do.  They change the world.  That’s powerful Magick.

Communication Breakdown, Verbal Abuse, and Anger Management

This post builds on the previous one, about Communication Breakdown. When communication breaks down, it’s not always easy to tell verbal abuse from rudeness. We may know something was wrong, but until we learn to recognize what is happening when we see it, we may not be sure what has made us so uncomfortable.

Not long before it happened to me (triggering this post), I watched a personal attack in facebook comments. I already knew my friends disagreed strongly, and I see lots of poor methods of conflict resolution online, so I couldn’t quite put a finger on what I found so disturbing.

Now that I have been in their shoes, I know what it was that bothered me so much. It was the betrayal. The person on the attack took information they had access to only through trust, and used it as a weapon to attempt to hurt and degrade the person who had trusted them.

When someone uses information gained through trust as a weapon to deliberately hurt or degrade the party who trusted them, that is, to me, abusive.

Betrayal is highly damaging, because betrayal makes it difficult to trust again. And it is not just difficult to trust the betrayer, but difficult to trust even those who have done nothing to deserve mistrust.

Betrayal makes it hard to trust even oneself. There are questions like “What did I do to deserve this?” and “Why didn’t I see this coming?” and “How could I have been such a fool?”

This position gets a lot of external reinforcement too. As a culture, we actively support all kinds of victim-blaming, so, just like with physical abuse, the verbal batterer quite often feels well justified, sometimes even proud, telling others, “They deserved it, because…”.

“She shouldn’t have provoked me.” “He was asking for it.” “I was mad”.

It doesn’t matter what the “because…”, verbal abuse is no more deserved than physical abuse. Losing control of your anger is never the responsibility of the person who angers you. Never. Controlling it is your responsibility.

No matter what someone else does, you are accountable for your response, and violence, physical or verbal, in response to a difference of opinion, or worse, a misunderstanding, is, in my humble opinion, always the wrong choice.

Disagree all you want! Get angry! Anger is a powerful force for change, and can be a very useful tool when properly managed. But just like many other tools, when anger is misused it can instantly become a deadly weapon, inadvertently destroying what you love.

Are you careful with your anger, or reckless?  Do you manage your anger? Or does it manage you? Do you use it as a finely honed precision tool? Or are you like a poorly made axe, always “flying off the handle”?

It’s one thing to let your anger get the better of you sometimes, none of us is perfect. But it is another thing to routinely respond to your anger by violating the trust of those around you.

If your words repeatedly hurt those around you, stop using “I was mad” as an excuse to ask for leniency or forgivenenss. Learn to manage your anger. If you aren’t sure where to start, google “anger management resources”. If you can’t do it alone, please, get help.

Communication Break Down Online

Conflict is often created by breakdown in communication, and nowhere is this as true as online.  When we communicate face to face, we rely heavily on things like body language, eye contact, and tone of voice..  But when we communicate by text, all of those nonverbal parts of communication disappear, leaving only words.

Words easily communicate simple ideas, but just as easily fail at communicating subtle nuances.  This is particularly true when the writer and the reader don’t share common perspectives, and is aggravated by the fact that, at any given moment, each of us is running that complex set of filters and interpretations known as personal bias.

But even between friends, communication can break down in unexpected ways, because  “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  Frame of reference, focus, mood, stress, intoxication, distractions, and more all influence how we interpret the written word, each creating different kinds of vulnerability for communication failure.

The instantaneous nature of the internet also makes it easy to “react rather than respond”.  The first response, which is frequently shared on social media, is often not the best response.  It’s probably a universal experience to wish we could take back the words that just came out of our mouth because of some kind of nonverbal communication from the listener. When this happens, we stop, we ask questions, we backtrack, we return to common ground.

Online, we can’t see those cues from our “listener”, and lose the crucial opportunity to re-establish common ground.  This means it is much easier to unintentionally reach an extreme level of hurt and conflict.

Combine the lack of critical nonverbal cues in text communication, the inherent subjectivity of interpersonal communication, and the frailties of instantaneous communication, and it is easy to see why social media is subject to frequesnt communication break downs.

The hard part is learning how to avoid getting trapped by these pitfalls, and figuring out what to do once they occur.   There is an excellent section on Tips for Resolving Conflict Online in “Conflict in Cyberspace:  How to Resolve Conflict Online.”  Please feel free to share other resources in the comments section.

Late One Night

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This post was originally shared on my facebook wall.  It is being shared here for more lasting access, at the strong urging of a dear friend.  The urge to edit it is nearly irresistible, but I am not going to.  It will appear here exactly as it appeared there, excepting one minor alteration to remove my husband’s name, since I hope anonymity here will help me speak freely.

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So, what am I doing posting on fb at 2am (well, now, nearly 5am)? I should be sleeping. I’m tired.

This post was triggered by a particular incident tonight, but the trigger person shouldn’t feel particularly singled out. The pain inflicted Served to motivate me to say what I have been long holding painfully in my heart. I’m sorry it took a personal injury to move me to say it. I could have written every single word of this last week: I have watched the Same Old Story play out way too many times.

I’m tired of people who object fiercely to the idea that there is only One Way, when it is someone else’s Way, but turn around and profess that *everyone* should serve the Divine the same Way *they* do.

I’m tired of folks saying the least life form is sacred and worthy of respect, but declaring worthless any humans they disagree with. I’m tired of watching people who share an honest, respectful, difference of opinion being met with profanity and abuse.

I’m tired of people who share Circles and sing songs about One Tribe, before mutual gods, in Sacred Service, then stab people that, a day ago they called “friend”, for Serving those very same gods and goddesses.

I’m tired of those who stab with words not realizing they get just as much filth on their hands as those who stab with knives. A knife cut heals far more easily than wounded trust.

I’m tired. But I’ll probably still be awake when the sun comes up and the Light shines. I’m tired, but no one will see the blood spilled in the Darkness. The evidence is gone, the weapon, erased. But my heart and that of my love are still hurt. I’m tired of hurting and not hurting back. But I *WILL* Not. That is not who I am, not now, and I Pray, not ever again.

In my time spent here in the drama series that passes as the Florida Pagan Community, I have watched the implosions of several festival staffs, including that of my own Solstice Festival. I have watched multiple CUUPS groups disintegrate, including my own. I have watched witch wars, major and minor across county, state and country.

I’m tired of people who bitch that there’s too much infighting in the community, then turn on people who don’t follow the same Path they do. I’m tired of watching people rip their communities to shreds, then complain that they have no community. I’m tired of people not having any grasp of what community even means.

I’m tired of people thinking community is about what we agree on, or what we share in common. It isn’t and I’m tired of explaining this.

Community is about *HOW WE BEHAVE* when we *DISAGREE*.

It’s easy to get along when the mead is flowing, the drums are thrumming and the smoke is in the air. The *WORK* is about how we treat each other when we disagree. The Work is about how we resolve our differences. The Work is about finding ways to come together, regardless of obstacles.

I’m tired of the Work being ignored. I’m tired of folks giving lip Service to community, but when the going gets a little tough, saying “I’m done with this!”, and walking away. I’m tired of listening to “It’s not worth the bother, I’m just going to be a solitary with a few friends.” I read some version of this pretty much every week. We are far more enemy to our Community than outsiders could ever be.

I want to go to sleep, but I’m just too tired.

But will I give up? No.

Will I respond to injury with injury? Only if my gods demand it. They haven’t, and I doubt They will, since They don’t even usually allow me the privilege of justifiable anger. I serve hard gods. They demand I leave the world better than I found it. Every day, in every encounter, and I often fail. I’m tired.

They demand I build community among Circles at war among themselves. They demand I stay true to my loyalties to individuals and Tribe when my allies war among themselves. They demand I walk between warring camps without regard, and that I do so with Grace, Mercy and Compassion. They demand I Shine on, even when dirt is thrown upon my Sacred Fire. I’m tired.

It is a long Path, sometimes painful, often isolating and lonely, but I will not turn aside. I will be knocked into the dirt, over and over and over again, because I am a Puny Human. But I *will* stand up again, every time, until I no longer have the strength to raise my body from the Earth where I lie. I will hold true to my Oaths. I will Serve my gods.

Commitment

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This blog has been sitting around, with two unshared posts, for a while, and I wasn’t sure why.  But I know now.  It’s because I had the purpose wrong.  This blog is not so much for me to share the story of how I *became* polytheist, but to share how I *practice* my faith, to say things my gods want said, and to stand in a position of leadership.

I am at least as reluctant a leader as I am a polytheist, but the gods I serve care little about my reluctance.  Loki finds resistance in itself to be good reason to cause Breakthrough.  Odin is nearly equally fond of making one break through blockages, since there is always so much knowledge on the other side of the Breakthrough.  An “Ah hah!” moment, magnified, was His first offering to me on my Path to Sacred Queen, a kind of Courtship Gift.  (yeah, yeah, I’ll try to write about that some time, that’s the stuff I *thought* this blog was for.)

So I have been “poked”, repeatedly, to speak to Community and Leadership and what those words mean.  When I failed, I got poked much harder, in a way i couldn’t ignore.  The Blood Brothers are not known for gentle tactics or tolerance of being ignored, and it is not the first time I have been asked to be voice for voiceless.

So what qualifies me to speak to these things?  My gnosis.  My deep personal experience, both mystical and rational.  Trial by fire in leadership positions.  Actual training and hand-on experience in faith development and community building.  Compassion.  Love.  The deep desire to Serve Well.  The fact that when the Spirit is on me, I write pretty well according to many who write well themselves.

So here we go.

Pink Candles

Pink candles are a special, sort of secret, code among my friends. The story goes back about 7 or 8 years. I was speaking to an evangelically atheist friend when she said it would take magic to fix our broken UU community. I laughed, and said that myself and pagan friends were already working that approach. She said “But I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in all that magic stuff.”

I laughed again, looking right in her face and said, “Of course you do!” And she bristled and shook like a riled bird as I said “You believe in the placebo effect, don’t you?”

“Well, of course,” she said, smoothing her ruffled feathers. “That’s science.”

“You believe pink sugar pills can make you well for no apparent medical reason?”

“Yes.”

“You know some people have to get blue sugar pills, because the pink sugar pills don’t work?”

“Yes, yes, that’s all science. What does that have to do with magic?”

“If pink sugar pills can make you well for no apparent reason, why can’t pink candles?”

 

Welcome!

All my life, I have been slowly, and mostly unknowingly, traveling a Path from the monotheistic Catholicism of my youth, to some kind of eclectic polytheism engaged primarily with the Norse duo of Odin and Loki.

I did not, as my blog name implies, come easily to polytheism.  In fact, even for the first year or more that I was knowingingly working with multiple gods, it never occurred to me that I was polytheist.  I was still a somewhat reluctant pagan, and polytheist seemed like an even bigger step.  But, as these things often happen, I was given little choice in the matter.  Once there is more than one god in your life, it is pretty hard to deny you are poly, no matter how long it takes you to notice.

So this blog will be the ongoing saga of how there came to be more than one god in my life, the nature of our relationships, and how those relationships enrich my life and the lives of those around me.  Maybe one of those I enrich will even turn out to be you.  So Hail, and be welcome along my path.