Tag Archives: honour

Shaping Conflict

How we approach conflict situations radically informs their possible outcomes. Disagreements and conflicts of interest arise all the time, in work, in any kind of human relationship, in our connections with non-human things. The mindset we carry when we find ourselves in conflict with another will shape what happens.

If the priority is to win and come out on top, then we have just defined our situation as a win/lose one. From there, we can go on to win or lose, with our winning dependant on someone else not getting what they want. If we hit conflict with the determination to prove that we are right (and that the other is therefore wrong) or to point score, then again we are shaping the possible outcomes. One of the consequences of going head to head like this is that someone is bound to lose, quite possible both will lose and the optimal solution will remain undiscovered. Furthermore, in the process of forcing a situation through to a win/lose conclusion, we may well alienate and injure others, suffer distress ourselves, break relationship and compromise future possibilities. The scope for losing grows, but still it’s all too easy to focus on the immediate ‘win’ and not think about the wider consequences.

It is not necessary to respond to most situations of disagreement as being competitions. When we encounter differences of opinion, what we have is an opportunity to learn. Rather than rejecting the other person’s perspective outright, it is much more productive to hear them out. Find out what they think and feel, seek to understand their perspective and issues. Even if it doesn’t allow you to work things through peaceably, you will know more for next time. It may be that the conflict is the result of simple misunderstanding. A competitive approach will never enable you to discover and resolve such an issue. If you listen to a person and give them chance to express their issues without having those rejected, ignored or shouted down, then the scope for being heard in turn is much improved. Sometimes in the sharing of perspectives, it’s entirely possible to see a way forwards that will work for everyone. Sometimes it becomes evident that we are talking to different aspects of the same thing. Common ground can be established. Often, we learn.

A peaceful resolution to conflict may well involve compromise. While there are things no person should ever compromise (their integrity, the wellbeing of others, and so forth) it is important to be willing to flex. What we stand to lose in fighting is usually so much greater than the small sacrifices we can make to work alongside others. Through compromise, and co-operation we have the opportunity to enrich relationship and build ties that will serve us in the future, while competition will make enemies and create us potential problems in times to come.

Peace is not an abstract concept nor an impossible wish, but if we want it in our own lives, we have to be willing to embrace it and bring it about at every available opportunity. When we do, we win and gain in so many ways.

Care and Respect

Relationship is not a status update on facebook. It’s not a thing we make once, and can then take for granted. Whether we’re thinking in terms of inter-human relationships, our connections with places, creatures or groups, relationship is something we do, moment to moment. It’s not enough just to label it and assume it will conform to that shape.

Good relationship, as best I can make out, is shaped by two things – care, and respect. Everything that happens within a good relationship is underpinned by these two concepts, or comes as an expression of them. How we express care and respect defines our relationships. There are many different way of manifesting these critical sentiments – with words, actions, in tone of voice, in body language… we can speak of care and respect with our whole selves, or we can fall short. If we lose tempers, shout, blame, use, force, deride or otherwise put down, we are failing. Once we go down that route with a connection, it ceases to be good and honourable relationship. Once mistakes are made, it’s not easy to rectify them – not impossible, but that calls for courage and a willingness to relinquish pride.

One of the features of bad relationship, so far as I have seen, is that a person who is not demonstrating care and respect will always have justification for doing so. If you find yourself in this situation, look hard at your reasons and at yourself. What do you want to achieve? If the answer is anything other than equitable relationship, then there are serious questions of honour to consider. If the relationship is broken such that care and respect for the other are beyond you, is revenge or point scoring appropriate? It can be appealing, but this is not a response that encourages peace or brings honour.

If a relationship is broken beyond any scope for care and respect, the honourable thing to do is acknowledge it as such and move away. If a person behaves with carelessness, malice or disrespect such that holding a peaceable line of care and respect becomes impossible, moving away is essential. Some people mistake peacefulness for weakness, and service for willing slavery. No matter what the named relationship, we do not owe care and respect where none is given in return.

No relationship runs smoothly all the time. We all have our moments. However, a relationship underpinned by care and respect will endure, even if those in it flail and struggle. Where care and respect are absent, there is no true relationship. There may be the illusion of connection, there may be some possessive word to hold people in place, but there is no real relationship. There may be use, convenience, power trip and trophyism, but there is nothing honourable.

If what you see does not look like care and respect, then it probably isn’t. Speak clearly about the ways in which you need to be treated to feel cared for and respected – we’re all different and it’s always worth having a go. Care should always be on the terms of the person receiving it. If it is in any way unwelcome, forced, or wrongly shaped, then no matter what the professed intent it is not true care, and not true relationship.

When these two essential things are present in a relationship, there is strength, scope for profound trust, plenty of room for love to flourish and for all involved to benefit in many ways. We are nourished by such relationships. We grow in them, find joy and security as a consequence of them. They are one of the greatest blessings available to a person – to all people. Manifesting care and respect in all things takes effort and attention. It will often call on us for generosity, patience, kindness, understanding, willingness to listen, empathy, but we will find those returned to us as we come to need them ourselves. Consciously building honourable relationship with others is an act of beauty and spirit.

Words for Protest

Everything we do is an expression of ourselves, and by extension, our spirituality. As I’ve commented before, being a Druid in times of ease and calm is not challenging. When we’re angry, frustrated or otherwise struggling, holding true to values and speaking in ways that express those values, is harder work, and critically important. It is not always ok to be peaceable and inoffensive in response to the words and deeds of others. Sometimes we must speak out, but we can do that without compromising ourselves.

I was inspired to write this by a response on facebook to yesterday’s blog, in which I was roundly insulted by someone who felt I was compromising the image of Druidry as peaceful and compassionate. It is no good using aggressive language to try and support an image of peaceful compassion. I am proud to say that I did not respond in kind, although I did take the piss out of a few people who commented here, because I really felt they needed it. For me, satire and mockery are reasonable responses to people behaving in ways I find problematic. There’s a very fine line to tread there, however.

I care about peace. I believe that means we must speak and write carefully in times of anger and conflict. What good is our Druidry to us, or anyone else if we flail and rant at the least sign of difficulty? But at the same time, we absolutely must not work in ways that escalate conflict, cause unnecessary pain, and worsen the problem nor should we act in ways that betray our own principles.

It pays to stop and draw breath. Just taking a moment to centre before responding can make all the difference between lashing out in anger, and saying something reasonable. The angry response tends to beget more anger, it does not create solutions. People feel justified in doing as they have been done by. Usually, there’s more mileage to be got from a calm response than a shouty one. Plus, in staying calm you stand a chance of keeping the moral high ground. In terms of how you represent Druidry or Paganism to others, this is hugely important.

If you find yourself obliged to criticise, then go for the action, not the person. There is a whole world of difference between describing an action as stupid, and calling a person stupid. A stupid action is fair game for naming as such, but it does not mean you should denigrate the person. On the whole, less emotive language works better. Sure, by hurling insults you can upset and anger the target, but that will likely entrench them in their position and make them resent you. Start down a line that goes ‘I disagree with this because…” and there’s a chance they will listen. They might even grasp what you mean and respond to it in a productive way.

Be clear and be specific. Pinpointing the exact problem and speaking against it is far more powerful than random flailing. Comment on the exact words or action you have a problem with. For example, I am irate about the hypocrisy of a person who speaks of peace and compassion in one breath and hurls totally un-pc terms of abuse in the next. I am offended and disgusted by the specific language use, please note, I am not expressing a value judgement on the person who made it. I don’t need to – their words speak for them and it is enough to highlight the offence. Where possible it’s preferable to tackle a person head on, and privately, but that isn’t always an option – in the incident that inspired me, the criticism was public and not direct, which makes this all the trickier. But, this has been an inspiring experience. I was angry, but I’ve been provoked into thinking, and for that I am, actually, grateful.

Mockery and satire are good ways of highlighting poor behaviour, of challenging hypocrisy, flagging up lies and other such failings. These are tools to handle with care, and to use when needed. They are not weapons to use against innocent bystanders or people with less power than you. And again, it is the wrong-action and wrong-speech that should primarily be assaulted with comedy, not the human being who has erred. There is no honour in taking someone apart.

Winning

Most of the time I try to avoid situations where my winning means someone or something else has to lose. I’ve never been into that sort of competition, I don’t enjoy it much. But there are times when winning is about overcoming challenges, where ‘win’ equates to survival, and there are situations where, for the sake of justice, someone else really does need to lose. Often it helps to know which of these you are up against.

There are plenty of things I haven’t fought over. I won’t compete for attention and affection. I won’t fight someone over what they want, even when perhaps I should. I certainly won’t fight just for the sake of point scoring. I have to be sure of my cause.

It’s all too easy to start fights and open conflict, but if you don’t have the stomach to see it through to the end, it’s not a clever thing to do. It helps to know your own limits before you open fire. Starting fights you can’t finish just brings harm upon you.

As is so often the case for me, I’m writing from a place of steep learning curve. I have learned, lately, how important it is to know that I can fight, that I have the right to fight in self defence. Without the belief that you can fight it’s almost impossible to do anything. I find belief in a just cause is more important for keeping me going than belief that I can win. But I am increasingly aware that defeat comes primarily from losing the will to fight – where there is life, there is hope, and the person who refuses to give up cannot ever truly be defeated. They can be stopped, restrained or killed, but they cannot have the fight taken from their soul. That’s a powerful truth to carry.

Facing external conflict when you are also internally conflicted is very hard indeed. Unsure of your rights, or unsure that you are justified, it’s very hard to put up any kind of resistance. Dealing with the inner conflict first is essential. I have no idea what it’s like to go into a conflict knowing that you are morally wrong. I assume this must happen to some people. Or do they in fact convince themselves that they are justified, so that they can proceed with clear conscience? Is it more important to them to be seen as right, than to actually be right? For me, that’s a measure of someone having no honour, and no integrity.

There are fights we should walk away from, conflicts rooted in trivia that do not deserve our attention. There are fights we cannot afford to lose – fights for social justice, for fairness, for sustainability. There are times when we all need to draw on powerful warrior archetypes to help us through. I think of Cuchulainn at the ford, holding the line that must be held, and later, when hope of survival is gone, binding himself to a rock so that he doesn’t have to give up. An unconquerable hero, who fights to the end. Not a traditional notion of ‘win’ but it is the undefeated spirit that inspires me.

Intuition

Western culture prizes logic, reason and being able to explain how you worked something out. It’s hammered into us through school maths and science from an early age. On the plus side, reason is, by its very nature, easy to explain to others so they can make their own decisions. Reason does not require trust.

However, it’s recognised in psychology that that process of becoming an expert in pretty much anything, involves moving into a state where you can’t rationally explain what you’re doing, or how. Experts who try and explain can find their performance quality drops for a while as a consequence. Becoming an expert means working with your intuition, not reason.

It’s easy to see how this applies to something skills based, like music, juggling, art – there comes a point where you can’t consciously handle everything you know, and don’t in fact need to – in just the same way that most of us can catch a ball without thinking about it, even if some part of our mind has to do very complex equations to get our hand into the right place!

Being open to our intuition enables us to work more fully with our own capacity, but there are reasons for caution. How do you tell the difference between intuition and imagination? Or paranoia? Sometimes what feels like ‘gut instinct’ is born of fear and bad experiences, not rooted in reality at all. It’s important to be mindful of this, and make sure that we compare intuitive knowledge with knowledge available by rational means. If they do not match at all, then proceed with caution, and honour.

I’ve met people who imagined they were uncannily aware and intuitive. There was a memorable young man at a moot, years ago, who felt he was ‘unusually gifted’ and talked about himself and his ‘powers’ at great length. I could tell the others around the table shared my irritation with him – body language was also a clue, and he had no idea. So much for his intuition. I was able to check my perceptions afterwards, so I know my impression was correct. Whenever possible, find ways to cross reference your intuitive knowledge with other forms of insight. It helps fine tune your perceptions, and can save you from embarrassing mistakes. 

It’s also important to be careful when dealing with people who claim to be intuitive. There are, occasionally, people on the pagan scene who will attempt to assert themselves as being more knowing, more powerful and therefore more important than everyone else. Frequently they aren’t, and often those assertions come from fantasy, insecurity, or both. It’s worth being wary of people who are vocal about magically ‘knowing’ things no one else has access to. In my experience, people who are genuinely sensitive often won’t volunteer much unless they have reason to trust you, not wanting anyone to think they are creepy, crazy or manipulative. Folk on an ego trip or trying to manipulate you are much more likely to claim they have special powers, and that they ‘know’. It’s very hard to defend yourself from the accusations of someone who magically ‘knows’ you have a problem with them, ‘knows’ you are creating bad vibes, ‘knows’ you want to cause them harm. (I speak from experience.) All you can do is walk away. I’ve often found those ‘knowing’ folk create self fulfilling prophecies – nothing puts a person’s back up like being told they’re being aggressive, psychically, when they aren’t. Be careful what you pretend to intuite, reality sometimes has a sense of humour!

Intuition, used thoughtfully and honourably, is a blessing. We can feel our way into more than we can consciously handle. But, in using intuition, especially when dealing with people, it’s important to remember what we have is impression, not fact, that gut feelings can be wrong, and that ‘I know more than you do’ is a very unpleasant weapon in the hands of people who have no honour.

Wounding and Healing

Last spring at a poetry slam, I listened to a lot of young people expressing a great deal of pain. Much of it clearly came from their relationships with their peers. I remember being a teen all too well – the confusion, hunger and need it created, coupled with no idea how to do relationship. We go out into the world barely knowing ourselves, with little clue of what we want, driven by hormones and social pressure. And so we wound one another. Most of us don’t do it deliberately – some of course do. The process of falling in and out of love, which so seldom happens tidily or at the same time, causes wounds that stay with a person.

The process of being wounded is also the process of growing up, learning who we are and how to relate to each other. It’s the process of being hurt that teaches us compassion. In making mistakes we find out what we actually want and need – or at least – we have the opportunity to. Avoiding such pain means avoiding life and the chance to grow, but plenty of people do their best not to learn. As with all things, the key element is accepting responsibility for what we do, and where we go wrong. Both in terms of how we wound others, and how we open ourselves to the risk of being hurt. It’s not about learning not to take the risk, just a matter of getting a better sense of which risks are worth taking.

There’s also a process of forgiveness that needs to happen here. It’s not one that should come quickly – with heart broken and sense of self in shreds, forgiving the one who turned out not to love us in return is neither possible nor desirable. We move away, move on, learn what we can and try not to make the same mistakes again. There’s a process of forgiving ourselves for those mistakes, for the moments of poor judgement, for the times we did not let go when we should, or walked away when we shouldn’t. Hindsight is seldom a comfortable thing. Sometimes it’s also needful to explore forgiving ourselves for what we did to others – in ignorance, in innocence, in downright stupidity. The process of growing up is littered with mistakes, and the likelihood of hurting others. It’s important to know where we went wrong and why, but no one should spend their lives beating themselves up for that.

There was a friend, once, some years older than me who said he had given up on relationships because either he ended up getting hurt, or he hurt someone, and he could not bear to go through that process anymore. He’d been single by choice for years. It seemed like a great waste to me.

To love someone is to enter into a state that is going to hurt one of you, at the very least. All relationships end – either they falter, or someone dies. No one gets out of this unscathed, that’s the nature of the thing. Focusing on the pain of endings is about as useful as focusing on the inevitability of death – these are just things we have to accept. In the meantime, there is life to be lived, joys to know, hearts to break, and the peace that comes from forgiveness. We will all of us cause hurt, and be hurt in our time. We can’t avoid that, but we can step up to it with all the honour and integrity we can muster. That way, where there is pain, there is also learning, healing, and life.

Honouring our Founder

The Pagan and The Pen was founded by pagan author C.H. Scarlett. She started with the idea of having a space where pagan writers and writing could be celebrated, exploring what pagans do, rather than work that is necessarily pagan in and of itself. She hunted the rest of us out on egroups and social networking sites, and word slowly got round, drawing together a number of pagan authors and creative souls. The blog has evolved from there, gaining a sister site that does reviews, a number of columns, and some wide ranging content.

For personal reasons, C.H. Scarlett is stepping back, leaving me at the helm, and with others stepping up to make the behind the scenes and technical things run smoothly. We’re going to miss Casey, a lot. She’s created the shape of this blog and forged a community behind it. Her energy and vision have kept us all working hard and giving our best. The time, creativity and skill she’s poured into this blog will take some replacing.

So I wanted to use today’s post to honour the tremendous work C.H. Scarlett has done here, and to thank her for what she’s created. I also want to wish her well in finding a way through her own trials. I feel certain that wherever she directs that tremendous energy of hers, amazing things will happen. I hope that, in time, she’ll be able to return here in some capacity.

 I’m intending to keep her work and covers on the blog – after all she’s given us, it seems like the least we can do.

 Unless someone else steps up to post daily on ancient pagan festivals, we won’t be continuing with that column. If you feel it’s something you could do, please get in touch – or a less frequent column on festivals if the daily one seems too onerous a task.

Go well Casey, we love you and will miss you, hope you find what you need, and that life treats you kindly. You’ve stepped away with consummate care and honour, for which you have my gratitude – plenty of people cut and run when times are hard, but you’ve taken much care of us, and this blog, and enabled the rest of us to continue. Blessings on your hearth, Lady.