In my last post, I talked about the issue of perspective. While writing it, I was reminded of several of my perspective-related peeves, and thought this was a good place to discuss them. When I say ‘peeve’, I want to be clear about what I mean. These are things that frustrate or irritate me personally. They’re not necessarily the same things that get anyone else. In many cases, one of these things showing up won’t significantly affect anything: if someone does them in a public discussion, I’ll be polite and thoughtful and move on.
The one place they do affect things is if I’m looking at possible small group work with someone – in which case, all of these are signs of things that might be a problem in the small group work I prefer to do. They wouldn’t make me automatically reject someone (except maybe the first one), but I’d be watching other behaviors very closely.
In other words: I think these things are worth some attention, but you only really need to worry about them if you want to work with me directly. (Or someone with my peeves!)
You’re my new family!
I’ve heard this too often from someone I’ve met only a handful of times – in a couple of cases, I’ve heard it in email, before she even met anyone in the group, including me. Connection – especially on a chosen-family level – is a two-way street. Blame it on British parents if you like, but me, personally? I’m pretty slow to make emotional connections to people. I’m glad to give people a chance, and see what they’re like, but I don’t want to be hurried.
Someone who says “You’re my new family” on the second or third meeting is rushing the process. They’re not allowing space and time for the feelings of the other people involved. This always makes me wonder what else they’re going to rush or ignore. (Check out my last point for how this applies to comfort.)
You’re going to accept me, right?
This is a fairly standard issue – some people assume that just because they apply to a coven or small group, they will be accepted. Of course, that’s not true – any small group, no matter how wonderful, has a size limit (or it stops being small!) and it also has other qualities that may not fit everyone. Everyone needs to feel they can work with the new person in that setting. (And some practical issues – like how many people fit in circle in the available living room – also need to be remembered.)
Someone who doesn’t get this – or who pushes for a rapid decision – is missing a major point here. No one I know likes rejecting people out of hand. However, group leaders have a responsibility to the existing group. That includes taking time to make sure it’s a right fit, being honest about the possibilities, and being sure they can fulfill their commitments. (For example, someone might be a fantastic fit for the group, but if the group leaders have a major change in their life that limits their time – a health crisis, a change in work hours, etc. – it may suddenly be a bad time to add new members.)
It’s scary to take that risk – but someone with perspective about the process will be better able to handle it and the outcome. If this is not the right place, time, or group, there are other options.
I don’t need to start at the beginning!
The group I trained with has a standard process for new prospective members: a series of short Seeker classes (5, over a 10 week period) that cover basic information about Wicca, witchcraft, and our local community, as well as our group. The idea is both to provide information to the broader community, and also to let people see if we might be a good fit. (Seekers in these classes are welcome to come to group rituals open to guests, and to some social events.)
Every so often, while answering the group mail, I’d run into someone who said “Well, I have all this experience, can I skip those?” This tells me a few interesting things.
1) The person is assuming they won’t learn anything.
Personally, I learned new things every time I taught the classes (which I did for 3 years) because of the way people ask questions. More than that, someone who isn’t open to new ways to look at information may not be a good fit for a teaching circle. Also, while some of what we talked about is basic, and can be found in many books and other sources, some of it is about our local community (what’s out there, common local etiquette at public events, etc.) And some was specifically about our group work, which is useful if you come to a ritual with us.
Would I drag someone through dozens of intro classes where they knew most of the material just to prove this point? No, that’s silly. But I think that 5 meetings (that also allow time for other new information, getting to know people in the group, etc.) aren’t an unreasonable request.
2) How do you define experience?
Part of these Seeker classes include a few simple quizzes and assignments. Watching someone during the classes is a good way to get a baseline for what they do and don’t know – and how they handle that. We’ve had people come in and take them who say they have ten or more years experience, who have trouble with information that is discussed at length in books they say they love, or who don’t know really common terms in the field. One year repeated twenty times is not the same as twenty different years.
When we see this disconnect, we’ve known that something needs more exploration (if that person is interested in continuing with us.) It might be that there are learning style differences or memory issues, or something else. A few times, it’s become clear that someone was exaggerating their experience and knowledge to impress us. Whatever the answer is, it’s important information.
3) Watching us in action tells the seeker a lot.
Watching someone teach, and looking at where they focus – can tell you an awful lot about the group. Someone in those Seeker classes will learn that ethics is important to us, that we approach ritual in certain ways, and a lot about our personalities and teaching methods. Even if you don’t learn much new content, those things are important to group considerations – I certainly considered them worth 15 hours of my time. (2 hours of class plus travel time.) because they gave me a good sense of group function and emphasis.
I don’t want to be uncomfortable.
I hear this a lot – especially in online communities. While I get where it comes from, it also puzzles me. Much of religious witchcraft, in my experience, focuses on productive discomfort: learning how to poke at what concerns us or limits us, so that we can focus change appropriately.
I’ve described it as self-triggering oneself to learn: we find where it hurts, and poke at it until we understand it better, or until it no longer has that power over us. This is a complex and sometimes difficult process: it’s hard to do in isolation, and it takes time. The results, though, can be truly transformative.
If we shy away from particular topics, approaches, or practices *solely* because of discomfort, we’re giving up a really powerful tool. (Avoiding these things because of one’s ethics, explicit commitments, or personal choices is a different thing.) What I want is to work with people who, when they become uncomfortable say “Why is that?” and who when they are comfortable say “Why is this so comfortable for me?” Both produce change – but they do demand self-awareness and a certain amount of bloody-mindedness.