Seekers and responsibility, part 2

I mentioned in my previous post on this topic that I wanted to follow up and talk some more about it.

Responsibility and follow-through are things I pay early attention to because they continue to be important later. It’s not that I expect people to be perfect (and a recent, wonderfully illustrating story follows about that), but that over time, I want to be around people who take their interactions with others seriously, who recognise that time can be a precious commodity, and so on. There’s a couple of reasons for this.

A personal quirk (and digression to explain it)

For those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, I am an incredibly strong J. For those of you who aren’t, this basically means I like things scheduled and time-defined (I do better with defined due dates, too.) And I always, but always, have more things I want to do than time to do them in. By large numbers. This means that unplanned for schedule changes, or ‘wasted’ time in which I could have been doing something else if I’d known in advance, tend to cause me greater discombobulation than most people.

Over the years, I’ve both developed better coping skills, and become a little more flexible. I can, for example, schedule time with a friend without fretting about precisely what we’re doing at each stage. And with close friends, I’m also increasingly comfortable with spontaneous invitations or changes. (“Hey, do you want to come in for tea?” turning into 3 hours of conversation, which is a tradition with L now.)

My coping skills, in case it helps someone else, include:

Spending most of my time with people who can deal with this:

People who either work with this quirk of mine, share it, or generally tend to be respectful of time and energy. When 75% of my free time works this way, it’s easier for me to tolerate more spontaneous plans or deal with someone else being late or less time-centered.

Bring something to do:

If I’m meeting someone somewhere other than my home, I make a point of bringing something that will help me feel I got stuff done if they’re late. (This might be my current book, notes I’m working on that can be easily put away, my drop spindle and spinning.)

Plan time at home for larger projects:

scheduling enough time on my own when I can work on larger projects in bigger blocks. I tend to be happiest if I have 2-3 nights a week at home without any particular time constraints (other than when I need to be in bed) so that I can do things for a 2-3 hour stretch if needed. If I have to pay attention to something (even as simple as baking or a phone call), it can feel more constrained, and doesn’t really count toward the weekly total.

(This is, incidentally, often part of the reason I can’t meet with a prospective Seeker immediately. There’s no group event on my calendar, but I know I need time at home to do things that will help me continue be a balanced person.)

Even with this, you will still see me paying attention to time even on a ‘day off’ than most people do. It’s worse when I’m otherwise stressed about something or other parts of my life are a bit out of kilter even if the something is not time related. I was out a couple of weekends ago, and noticed I was far more time-centered than I usually am: fortunately, the friends I was with get this, and put up with this particular quirk (with a little bit of teasing.)

Back on topic:

How does this apply to Pagan groups? Well, in this case, any Pagan group I’m involved with obviously involves me. This goes even more for a group that I’m leading (as is the case in the shiny new coven).

So, when looking at prospective new members, I do pay attention to these things.

  • Are we having ritual? I want to make sure they show up (or cancel in advance) so that we’re neither waiting for them or having to scramble for a last-minute alternative if they don’t show.
  • Are we going to go somewhere together? I want to have more time at the activity, and less time in the ‘waiting for them to show up’ part of the day.
  • Do we have a list of things we want to get done? I want to use my planning time well: if someone’s especially late or unprepared, some of my preparation time probably wasn’t needed (and I’ll have to review it again, before the next time we talk, to be ready then.)

But these things go beyond my personal quirks…

First of all, any time one person is late to a group event, the entire group either has to wait or go ahead without them. The latter can be tricky in some ritual situations or spaces (as a late entry can be disruptive), but the former is also a problem. If we’re doing a working on a weeknight, people will need to get home and go to bed so they can work the next day. Some people may have other plans for a day after an event, or need to get home to a babysitter, or any number of other things: in this case, being on time is really a group courtesy.

But there’s also the issue of demonstrating responsibility. In my tradition, you don’t charge for training (though it’s permissible to request help with actual costs for items used during training, or space rental, etc.) At the same time, it’s appropriate for a student to show that they take what they’re doing seriously. Showing up, taking responsibility for their learning and commitments, and otherwise following through on what they’ve said they’d do are all big parts of this.

In a ritual setting, showing up mentally ready to take part in the ritual (rather than running madly around trying to get places) is also part of it.

More on ritual:

I’ve certainly done my share of ritual and classes where I was running around madly beforehand.

My worst example was last January, where I was working at a part-time library job until 5, had a friend I was driving meet me there, drove up to ritual, changed and checked up on the ritual within 15 minutes, and was ready to go 20 minutes after I got there. The ritual was actually fantastic, and it was one of my better jobs as priestess in my former group, I think – but it’s definitely not the way I want to do things. In this case, I cleared it with everyone beforehand, since I obviously knew in advance time would be tight, and they were fine with what I’d need to make it all work.

But really? That’s not the way I want to do things. One of the things my covenmate and I have been talking about is about removing stress and discomfort from the immediately pre-ritual time, so that we can go into ritual relaxed, in a good mood, and not running around stressed. This is also an aspect of responsibility, in my book: if I’m running ritual, I need to set things up so I can do my best job (and so other people can do theirs.)

This leads to a bunch of choices:

Elaborate ritual set-up takes time and energy.

There are times that’s something we really want, but in general, we’ve chosen to do a very minimalist ritual setup that takes very little time to do. (We can set up the physical space in 10-15 minutes of unflustered work, and take down in about half of that.) The only pre-prep is for the host to have a clean and tidy space (which we can plan ahead of time, based on our own preferences and schedules. I usually do a big clean a day or two before, and a tiny tidy the day off.)

We also keep ritual workings relatively simple:

I live in a little tiny house, so I don’t want to store lots of extra stuff that’s only used rarely. So, we either do things that use similar materials regularly, or we find alternatives. The most complex was our Beltane working, which required embroidery floss, scissors and a few safety pins (All things we could put together in advance, and if we were missing some things, no big deal.)

We do invest extra time and energy in ritual and post-ritual food,

but this is something that’s a distinct pleasure for both of us (and it’s very adaptable depending on our personal energy/time before a given event.) It’s more work, but brings a lot of joy.

In other words, we’ve identified our primary interests (how we’d like to have ritual and what we care about) and then found ways to take responsibility for both making that happen *and* being able to start ritual relaxed and comfortable when we get there. We think this is great.

Follow-through and when stuff goes oddly:

I promised a story. A few weeks ago, we scheduled the full moon for yesterday (Monday night), as my covenmate was going to be camping over the weekend (when we normally do ritual). Normally, I send out an email with a summary and reminder a week in advance – I totally forgot (life’s been a little odd for me).

In fact, I forgot we were meeting Monday until I looked at my calendar after she’d left for the weekend. I called her, left a message, and then baked bread on Sunday on the theory that bread is never bad to have in the house anyway. I didn’t hear from her (at which point, *because* she’s generally good about that, figured that they’d gotten back later than planned, or something had come up) and called and said “If I don’t hear from you by 6ish, I’ll assume we’re not getting together: want to reschedule for Wednesday (our planned discussion night.)

She did in fact call back after I got home from work, and we sorted everything out (for Wednesday). But even though this was a schedule glitch, I still feel we handled it responsibly all things considered: I managed to set up things so I wouldn’t be out an evening of doing other stuff if we changed plans, she got back to me promptly, we had an easy alternative that doesn’t put either of us out further. All good. Not ideal (in the sense that this happening all the time would be bad) but all good in the end.

What does it all mean?

Stuff happens every so often, and I’m as capable as flaking as any other human on the planet. (I might do it less, due to my organisational obsessions, but less is not never.) But what I really care about goes like this:

  • I care how often someone flakes – but I care even more how they recover from it.
  • I care how they communicate about glitches, and whether they leave me guessing.
  • I care that they respect my time and energy – but also how they respect theirs (Are they totally overcommitted? That’s not sustainable or healthy. This is one I watch myself carefully for.)
  • People are often on ‘best behavior’ early on. If they’re flaky or not responsible about basics (being on time, showing up, bringing what they need to do the work) the first few times, it’s probably not going to get better.
  • Most of all, I care that someone respects the work we’re doing together enough to let us know if they can’t be there, can’t be on time, or something else is going on.

There’s going to be one more part to this – about initiatory and other oathed commitments, and how the responsibility and follow-through parts play into that.

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