H is for History

[Pagan Blog Project post for last week. It’s been delayed for reasons that will become obvious.]

Last week’s news was very complicated.

Boston is no longer my home, but it’s where I’m from. I was born in Boston (at what was then Women’s Lying In).  In the 37 years since, I have been in and out of Boston countless times. I have wandered the Boston Public Library (and Copley Square). I have ambled down Newbury Street. I have walked across the Common, and down through what was known as the Combat Zone. I have gone through South Station on the way to many other places. I’ve spent endless hours at the Science Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, and all sorts of other spots. And, over the course of two summers of language classes, quite a lot of time in and around Harvard. I have not quite done what my older brother did, one summer, getting off at each and every T stop, and exploring. But I’ve been to more of them than I haven’t.

I still have a great many friends in the area, and now that it’s driving distance, not flying, I’m in Boston every couple of months. Most recently two weeks ago (lunch with friends, museum with my mother, before heading south for a conference), and then coming back through South Station on the 18th, after my trip.

Yeah. Like that.

And this brings me to talking about history. And context. And what that means for how we learn things, and how we respond to what we learn.

When I was (furiously hitting ‘refresh’ on my computer) reading news stories last week, I started thinking a lot about where we were getting information from. It became quite clear – even before Friday – that the local coverage was, on the whole, a great deal better than the national coverage. (I should note, I don’t have a TV, but I was following links to online coverage, commentary, comments about the coverage, and so on.)

And I started wondering why that is.

The short version is history. Context. Knowing the city, knowing the community, knowing the people. That’s something that’s hard to explain.

My Minnesotan friends joke about ‘Scandesotan‘, a particular set of linguistic patterns and markers that are very easy to understand once you know what they’re doing, but entirely baffling sometimes to outsiders. That’s history. Community culture. (History is just community culture with a time scale, sometimes.) Moving back to New England (which has its own speech patterns, things you talk about, things you don’t talk about) is also like that. It’s just… different things. Also history. Also community culture.

Despite a (nearly) global information community, there’s still things that benefit from that context. We still – despite the multitude of online options – have conversations and experiences that depend on local geography, local communities, or local reactions.

So, what does that mean for Pagans?

My formative Pagan years were in Minnesota, an area now often referred to as ‘Paganistan’. And I noticed something, while living there. That we were having a lot of conversations that would take a year or three to filter out to the Coasts. Or that the local community was having face to face conversations very similar to online (where the speed of transmission is naturally much faster) and then a year or two later, I’d see the same thing popping up from somewhere on one of the coasts going “This great new thing!”

And I’d look at it, and go “That’s a great thing, yeah. But new?”

This isn’t a good thing. Or a bad thing. Or a problem. But it’s a thing. And if you come into that particular community assuming that it’s 10 years behind the Coasts, or that it’s flyover country and there isn’t anything new coming out of it – well, you’re likely to end up in some complicated conversations.

So what do we do instead?

I was sitting in a meeting of the Maine Pagan Clergy Association this weekend, and listening to them talk. It’s the first meeting I’ve been able to make since I moved here, and it seemed like a good way to meet people who are doing useful things (and I do eventually want to pursue licensure with them as clergy, because that seems tidy.)  And they’re people who are talking about a bunch of stuff I have experience with.

But here’s the thing: I also got a lot out of listening to how they sorted through things. And who seems interested in what, and why. And how they talk about it. And what people talked about in the bits and pieces between things. And that’s history – and community – that I can only really learn by being there, and by listening. By not assuming I know what they’re doing.

History is a lot about listening. About not layering your assumptions about what’s going on over what’s going on. About letting people tell their perspectives.

Back to Boston: I’ve seen comment from comment about people about the city lockdown, that Bostonians were *glad* to do it, because they were asked, not ordered. Because they understood the reasons. That it was not out of fear of terrorism, or not wanting to be out in their city. That it was because they understood that there were dangerous things going on, and leaving the streets clear for police and emergency responders to deal with it was sensible.

There are cities (apparently, a lot of them, based on comments I’ve seen online) where that wouldn’t happen. But that’s history. And context. And community.

So. My point here. Places are their own things for a reason. People live some places and not others for reasons (for people who have the desire and means to move away from where they started, anyway.) Recognising those differences, recognising those variations, recognising that they mean things (but you may not know, as someone ‘from away’, to use the Maine term for that) is extremely powerful.

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