Nonviolent Communication (or NVC), and other tools I work with, are about understanding the need that underlies the action. If I can understand why someone just did a really mean thing, I can understand why, and we have an opportunity to resolve it.
It’s still not okay to be a jerk to someone, but, without knowing why it happened and why, we can’t even get at a forward momentum for resolution, everything we do will just be rehash.
I’m often asked, “How do you smooth over a conflict,” or, “How do you keep things from blowing up,” or, “How do you resolve a conflict without ruffling feathers?”
While it depends greatly upon the situation, in general I’d offer that this points to our cultural fear around conflict.We are conflict avoidant, and trying to smooth over a conflict without expecting it to be uncomfortable is the wrong approach.
What people really want to know is, “How can I resolve a conflict without anyone feeling uncomfortable, without someone getting upset at me.”
I really, really hate this phrase. Every time I tell people I teach Pagan leadership, they think it’s so funny to bring up the old joke. “Pagan leadership is just like herding cats,” they say with a nod or a smirk.
Like I haven’t heard the joke a thousand times before.
And if you’re one of the folks that has done this–don’t worry, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad that our community in general continues to perpetuate this very unhelpful phrase, this unhelpful story.
This is Part 4 of a series on leadership, so you might want to check those for additional context. I completely reject the “myth” that Pagan leadership is like “herding cats.” Yes, sometime it comes to pass that Pagan leadership is frustrating. Why is it like that? Because we keep saying it is. We make that reality happen. You know–words have power. Words have a lot of power. Words shape reality.
This is the 3rd article in the grassroots leadership series. Sometimes there are leaders who are just real jerks. Maybe they have problems with egotism. Maybe they are unstable and mentally ill. Maybe they are alcoholic. Maybe they have some other problem.
As I discussed in the last blog post, when I teach leadership, Pagans and other grassroots leaders ask me, “How do I deal with a community leader that’s a total asshole,” or, “How do I warn people away from the really bad group leaders?”
The challenge is, if they are verbally abusing you or undermining you, there isn’t really a lot you can do. If you’re a member of that group, you can leave. But, you can’t (in most instances) take another group leader “down.” It’s a frustrating prospect. Let’s go a little deeper into what kinds of leaders out there cause problems so bad that you , as a leader or group member, might consider extreme measures to keep your community protected from the bad behavior of a leader.
It’s not a Witch War. Let’s get that out of the way. In fact, let’s get rid of that term completely, because it aggrandizes conflict and makes it sound magical, powerful, cool. What is a witch war? It’s a fancy-schmancy word for an interpersonal conflict.
Why do we need the cool word for it? Well…put bluntly, and making a lot of assumptions, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that many Pagans out there have poor self esteem. Heck, a lot of people have poor self confidence.
Drama is a coping mechanism to feel better about yourself. Think about this; if you have another Witch who is gunning for you, hexing you, psychically attacking you…that must make you pretty important, huh?
I think about leadership rather a lot, and I have people ask me for leadership advice with some frequency. I’ve been working up a series of posts exploring the deep challenges with leadership in the Pagan community, because I unfortunately get to see a lot of its seedy underbelly.
Though, these aren’t just issues of Pagan communities…those are just the communities I’m most deeply involved in. Other subcultural groups have these same problems through what I’d call “It’s a Small World” syndrome. Any time there are humans, these problems crop up; corporations, politicians, church leaders…any group could have these challenges. They are just exacerbated in grassroots groups without a big overarching structure.
What I see over and over is the problem of people in leadership positions who are absolutely unsuitable to be leaders. What we have are people who are unstable and mentally ill, or egotistical, or jerks…or even people who genuinely mean well but have no training in group leadership.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter the past days about Teo Bishop’s announcement that he’s moving from Paganism back to Christianity. There’s a few folks that I’ve seen get rather irate about this. It’s an inappropriate response–but it’s also a very natural reaction–particularly in our culture. In the dominant Western culture, we (people) generally have really crappy boundaries.
I don’t know Teo, and I’m sorry to see him go as he has written some insightful things. I saw him as one of the Pagans who was working to raise the bar on Pagan writing and bring us that one step further out of our squabbling adolescence. I’m glad he’s hanging around a bit and continuing to do some writing. So this post really isn’t about him so much as what I’ve observed in this situation about ego, boundaries, and the idea of betrayal. And it’s important things for every single Pagan to reflect on if we want to actually build healthy, sustainable community.
Most of the time, when people say “You betrayed me!” what they actually mean is, “You betrayed the vision I had for you. You said no when I wanted you to say yes. You aren’t who I wanted you to be.”
Over on Pagan Activist blog, I just posted about Sex, Ethics, and Paganism, talking about what it is to be sex positive, and what isn’t sex positive. I ended up with way more than I could fit into one blog post, so I wanted to call out some of the specific techniques that Pagans (specifically, group leaders and teachers) sometimes use that get people wrapped up in sexually nonconsensual situations.
This isn’t just about Pagan community, either–this happens in all sorts of subcultures and small groups where people are afraid to speak up once they realize they’ve been abused. It gets tricky, because these situations sometimes can feel consensual at the time. Continue reading →
Communication challenges abound. How you deal with people who are engaging in some communication habits that are frustrating can vary a lot depending on the person and the relationship. Once I saw an email from someone who had a friend who was constantly looking for compliments and cheerleading for behavior that she thought was pretty ordinary. She felt that her friend was manipulating her for compliments. She felt she was being manipulated for compliments and was growing resentful.
On this email thread, she received advice like, stop giving in to their manipulations, ignore them, wait til that friend disappeared from her life and tried to use someone else. Those suggestions didn’t look very helpful to me, so I offered some alternatives.
“I live in ____, and there are no Pagans around here.” I hear this a lot; either people asking me directly for networking assistance, or just people posting on Facebook or on email lists. In fact, I talk to Pagans all over the country who are sure there are no Pagans nearby to them. They’re often surprised when I rattle off 3 or 4 local groups near them when I live hundreds of miles away.
Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a nerd for Pagan networking. See, long ago, I started traveling and teaching.