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Community, Individuallity, and Respect:  An Ecological Model.

by Peregrine (Starweaver Teaching Coven)

It seems that every time I turn around. I 'm hearing that someone is offended by something that someone in the community said/did/believed- The urban pagans think the rural pagans are naive escapists. The rural pagans think the urban pagans don't even know what being a pagan is really about. The CMs think that Wiccans don't know anything about anything that matters. Die-hard heterosexual dualists think that gay covens are sacrilegious. Gay pagans think the heterosexual dualists don't know a damn thing about the true nature of duality. And if you're not Gardnerian or Alexandrian, how can you REALLY be a witch?

Now this one's not talking to that one, and don't bring THAT thing into MY store, and you don't mean to tell me you're working with THEM!

Enough already, please! It's no secret that many of us come from dysfunctional and toxic family environments, and had to learn some pretty nasty tricks just to survive. And, the road to an independent, positive self-image has often been a long and rocky one.

So let's look at a few basic premises. We're all here for a reason. It therefore logically follows that everyone else is, too. The problem is that your reason may not be my reason. Worse, our reasons may seem to be in direct opposition. But I'm on my path and you are on yours. When we meet, we have two choices: we can say, "Look at all those things we are in disagreement about. I don't see how you can believe the things you do." And we can part ways feeling betrayed, and say unpleasant things about one another to people who will support OUR side.

How many times have you done this, or felt this way? Why? Are we so insecure with ourselves, our choices, our beliefs, that our tolerance for differences and disagreements is so low? Are we still so fragile?

Taking sides is a very common pattern in dysfunctional families. In order for anyone to be right, someone has to be wrong. Being wrong is bad. It feels bad. It means being left out, alone, abandoned, betrayed. So we make these strange alliances. You can only be okay if someone else is not. How can you really know that you're good unless someone else can be identified as bad?

There's another option. We can mean and say, "What you're doing is very different from what I'm doing. Can you tell me your reasons?" Now maybe they'll slam the metaphorical door in your face. What a shame that they feel that way, but it's no reflection on YOU. Or, maybe you'l1 sit down and have a strange, awkward and fascinating conversation about your differences. Then you'11 go your separate ways, feeling pretty certain that you'll never be able to work in Circle together, but filled with a sense of awe at the diversity of human nature, and respect for the work that each of you are doing.

Respect. Now what does that really mean? It allows me to say, "I may not understand you. I may not like you, but I respect you for your efforts to be a Pagan and a human being. Doesn't sound like it's worth much, huh? Well, let's look at the concept of community again. If I don't like you and don't respect you, I don't want you playing in MY sandbox, or Pagan gathering, or my community. I don't understand you, therefore, you are a threat to my sense of self, my identity as a Pagan and as a human being. Maybe I see a part of myself in you that I don't like and don't want to deal with, and I'm afraid, so it's your fault. Maybe you insulted or ignored me, or inadvertently derided one of my most dearly held beliefs. Well, I'm going to get back at you.

Now what happens to community? By eliminating threats, we eliminate challenges as well. By avoiding Pagans who don't think like us, we are missing precious opportunities to grow. We may avoid conflict, but we don't learn the art of compromise. We may gain political power, but if it is at someone else's expense, we will ultimately pay for it, and pay dearly.

Respect may be the ultimate challenge. It happens when we squarely face our reactive minds and say, "You 're not running this show anymore." Respecting differences means that we accept the challenge to our egos, that we are willing to take a chance, that we truly value community. Of course, there are occasions where someone does present a real and unacceptable threat or risk to the community, such as a person who persistently flaunts the rules of a site where a gathering is held, or who tries to force someone to do something against their will. But this is not what I'm talking about.

Yes, ideas are dangerous. Diversity is dangerous. That's why my parents moved to the suburbs. That's why royalty traditionally married their siblings and first cousins and had imbeciles for kings. So what do we want the Pagan community to be? We could be, as so many spiritual communities are, a beautiful, unbroken green suburban lawn. Or we could be a field of wild flowers. And grasses, and weeds and bugs and butterflies and beetles and mice and rabbits and all the other (sometimes unsavory) things that make up an ecosystem. So it's not all sweetness and light and harmony, but we're not New Agers (I hope) and we know better (I pray).

The next time you find yourself getting angry at someone in the community, the next time you feel offended, or wishing that there were some way of keeping THAT person from coming to gatherings, think about it. What's the real harm, the real danger? So a beetle eats a few leaves; the plant survives and even flowers. Where's your sense of humor? You don't have to enter sacred space with them, but hey, didn't they do a great job of gathering firewood? Like you, they have some use, some purpose here on Earth and in the community. We are all surely precious to someone, we are loved by the Goddess; surely we can find it in our hearts and souls to acknowledge (if not accept) and respect one another.



Copyright 1991, 1999 by Dawnblaze. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04 Jan 2002 06:13:28 -0500

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