Tag Archives: responsibility

Responsibility and Relationship

One of the things that I’ve found repeatedly comes up in literature about domestic abuse is that the abuser makes the victim responsible for their feelings. This is complicated, because to be in a relationship with someone is to hold responsibility, to a degree, for each other’s wellbeing. But what degree? How much responsibility should one person take for another and where is the line that crosses over into abuse? I realised I had absolutely no idea, so I sat down to try and figure it out rationally.

We are all responsible for our own behaviour. To act honourably is to take responsibility for what you do, and the consequences of what you do, both intended and unintended. That means if what you do impacts on someone in a negative way, then you hold some responsibility for it. Where emotions are concerned, not intending to hurt is frequently seen as a reason for the injured one to be at fault – you shouldn’t take it that way. (as previously explored) If we were talking about a physical situation, accidentally hurting someone because they have an old injury and we didn’t know, a bruise, a disability – I think most people would feel responsible then even though the physical pain caused was not intentional either. Emotional pain is the same. And equally, if something hurts us, we should be able to acknowledge it, because not being able to express pain is incredibly harmful.

I think the critical thing with the above scenarios, is that we’re talking about things people have control over. We’re asking people to take responsibility for things they can change – their behaviour, their assumptions, their ways of speaking. They can learn that we are hurt by this and adapt. If they care for us, they will not want to hurt us. A person who refuses to acknowledge that they have hurt you is not expressing care for you. Consider how you would expect them to behave if they had accidentally knocked you to the ground or trodden on your toes. This is the same.

However, consider “I am unhappy and you are responsible for this.” If it’s not about things that have, or have not been done, if it’s not offered with an explanation of how that responsibility can be taken, what that does is to cause pain. From my experience, this kind of approach is often subtle, which makes it harder. A person will present things they are unhappy about in a manner that suggests you are the one who must fix this, when in reality there is nothing you can do.

To express unhappiness about things that cannot be fixed is in and of itself fine. The death of a loved one being an obvious example. No one can make that better. But at the same time no one should be made to feel that they have a responsibility to make it better. My child worries about animal extinctions. He didn’t ask me to save the animals, but he shared his sadness, and I sponsored a tiger for him because it was something I could do to help. That’s a reasonable ask on his part, a healthy response on mine.

Stress, anxiety and depression are complicated, often irrational and illogical conditions. If a person is expressing experience of these, then if you are part of their life, it can be very easy to feel, or to be made to feel somehow responsible. I think the question is, can you do anything? If there is something you can actually do that genuinely makes a positive difference, there is scope for taking responsibility and it’s not necessarily abusive to be asked to be being responsible. If you are being made responsible, treated as responsible where you have no actual power to change things, then this is about abuse. It is about creating feelings of guilt and powerlessness in you and/or enabling the other person not to take responsibility for things they do have the power to tackle.

A request for help or an expression of need should focus on what the problem is and where the person you are asking to take responsibility for it can act. Power and responsibility have to go together. Power without responsibility is dishonourable. Responsibility without power is nightmarish and maddening. If one person has the power and the other bears the responsibility, then you’re moving out of relationship and into abuse.

You Shouldn’t Feel That Way

One of the least helpful things a person can do is tell someone else that they shouldn’t feel how they are feeling. No matter how well intentioned the comment, it never helps and is inherently harming. This is newly learned stuff for me. I have the right to feel however I am feeling. It does not matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient other people find those emotions, I am entitled to feel however I actually feel. I’ll play out some frequent ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ scenarios in this blog and flag up the issues and better ways of handling them.

Because I didn’t mean it. This is useful information if it’s actually true. If you want it to be taken as such say sorry as well. Find out why the upset person took it the way they did and you will know more for next time. Maybe it was a communication breakdown. Maybe there are things you do not know. If you are asking them to hear that there was no intention to hurt then you have to hear that they ARE hurt and deal with that. An honourable person takes responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions. An abusive person will use the line ‘you shouldn’t feel that way because I didn’t mean to hurt you’ and phrases like it to enable them to get away with abuse and to shift responsibility onto the victim. If you sincerely meant no harm, then it is vital to acknowledge when you have accidentally caused it.

You should be over it by now. Often applied to people who have not recovered from grief or anger. This is about the needs of the speaker, not the needs of the one who is upset. If what you mean is ‘I can’t cope with this,’ ‘I don’t understand why this is affecting you so much,’ or ‘I am not interested in how you feel’ then it is more honourable to acknowledge it is so. No one is obliged to deal with how someone else feels, and if you can’t cope it may be better to step back. If someone else’s feelings are uncomfortable or inconvenient to you, do not make them responsible for that. You can most certainly ask them to BEHAVE in a different way but not to FEEL in a different way.

Because it’s stupid/pointless/irrational/excessive/does not make sense to me. Just because you wouldn’t feel that way in the same circumstances, or do not understand the reaction you are seeing does not make it ok to invalidate the other person’s emotions. They are not you, and they feel differently. If you feel they are over-reacting, you will not change that by putting them down. Acknowledge how they feel, talk about the context with them. Be at least as willing to listen as to offer your opinion. They are allowed to respond differently to you. They have a different history, different emotional triggers, different issues and they perceive differently.

Because you’re upsetting me. When someone else’s emotions cause us pain it’s tempting to want to make them stop it. But again, start from the assumption that if you are entitled to feel upset right now, so are they, and a playground style ‘he started it’ won’t help. Expressing difficulty with behaviour is one thing – if someone is shouting, or hysterical then saying that you are upset by their behaviour is fine. They are responsible for how they manifest their emotions.

It is very hard to control how you feel – that’s part of the nature of emotions. We do have a fair amount of control over how we express them, and if all else fails it’s usually possible to walk away for a few moments and seek composure. Acting in the heat of emotion is seldom productive. Denying someone else the space to have their own feelings is abusive all by itself and leaves them vulnerable to further abuse. We all have the right to feel, and we never have the right to deny someone else their emotions. We have the right to ask others to handle their emotions with honour, and we have the duty to do the same ourselves, as far as is humanly possible. When someone says ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ they are taking something precious away from the person on the receiving end. They are taking away that person’s confidence that they are entitled, and allowed to feel. It is a rubbishing of a person’s most essential self, and never, ever ok. I’ve been on the wrong end of this too many times and from here onwards am taking a zero tolerance policy. I am not going to be told how I should, or should not feel and I am not going to trust anyone who thinks they are entitled to do that. Knowing what it does to a person, I will not let this one go unchallenged any time I encounter it.

Speaking for Pagans

(With thanks to Berriscient, whose comment today prompted this post.)

Usually I’m very careful to caveat what I write with ‘most pagans’ or ‘a lot of Druids’ because experience to date suggests that there are always exceptions to everything. And I like caveating. It’s actually rare I’ll say ‘this is so’ without some kind of ‘in my opinion’ or ‘but only when the wind blows from the north east’ kind of tag on it.

No one can speak for all pagans, we’re such a disparate lot, no one could begin to imagine how we all feel and think (oh damn, am I speaking for all of us in saying that? Am I poised to fall into some kind of logical vortex?)

But then there are pagan folk who, by accident or design end up with some kind of public profile. If there’s a pagan news story in the UK, you can bet someone will call up Ronald Hutton and Emma Restall Orr to get their take on it, at the very least. We didn’t vote them in to speak for us, but their writing, their work, and their being good with the media means they get more of a voice than Joe-regular-pagan. Other folks find on a more local level that they become popular with local media. I’ve seen it happen to friends. I had Radio Hereford and Worcester phoning me up to comment on Stonehenge news articles… the world is a strange place.

There’s also the issue of folks who are present and active on boards, interfaith groups, public bodies, blogs… any of whom can and will be taken by those who encounter them as the face of paganism. Whether they want the job or not. If you are the only Druid in the village, then the village will judge Druids based on what they see of you.

Where possible, I try to make it as clear as I can that I’m speaking for myself. Sometimes I’ll talk from experience of what others have said and done. Just every now and then, I’ll go out on a limb and say things along the lines of ‘if paganism isn’t like this already, then it bloody well should be.’ I’ve been in positions where my words might be seen as representing pagan organisations (The PF and The Druid Network). Currently I don’t belong to anyone else, there’s no outfit I’ll bring into immediate disrepute if I say something too wild… but I think about every statement, every word, not just as expressions of my own opinion, but as things that might have wider impact. After all, I’ve no way of knowing who might read this or where it might go. I’ll go out on a limb and say in my experience, most pagans do not seem to be as self conscious as I am about what they say and do. Not if what I’ve seen on boards and social networking sites is anything to go by.

Who has the right to speak on behalf of the pagan community? We all do. We also have responsibilities if we do so. Everything we do, and say, can and might be taken by others as evidence of what paganism is like. In every aspect of our lives, we are potential ambassadors, or saboteurs. We all speak for paganism, every day. Whether or not the media eye is upon us, we either walk our talk for the people around us to see, or we don’t. We either speak with wisdom and honour, or we don’t. Pagans are never going to agree on everything or speak with one clear voice (how scary would that be, if we did…?) because we are people, and people are a diverse lot and should not be boxed up too much. But that doesn’t mean we should be silent, either, or afraid to disagree with each other in public.

Responsibility

It’s a word I throw into essays a lot. To be free requires taking responsibility. To be honourable calls for it too. Owning our actions, the consequences of them – intended and unintended and everything arising from our inaction as well. It’s big, scary and overwhelming, but facing up to it is essential if you want control of your life and the option at least of living honourably. What we don’t take responsibility for, we are powerless to do anything about.

However, there are people who society deems unable to take responsibility for themselves. Children, and the mentally unwell are the biggest group, along with some folks who have learning difficulties. People in comas can’t take responsibility either. At first glance, this makes a fair amount of sense. In reality, there are a lot of grey areas.

Let’s start with children. They all mature at different rates, with varying abilities to cope with ideas of right and wrong. At eight, my son is more morally aware and more inherently responsible than a fair few adults, but the law will not view him as such. It would be insane to make laws pinning down who can take responsibility for what, when, because each person is different, but that’s what we’ve got. Some adults never become morally aware, so where does that leave them?

What happens when someone not legally able to take responsibility for themselves becomes a threat to themselves, or others? What happens when a child commits murder? Every now and then, one does. What happens when a child becomes a persistent, abusive criminal? Are they responsible? Are their parents? There are no clear cut answers here. If a person with mental health issues behaves in antisocial ways, is that the same as a ‘well’ person doing it? Who is responsible if an adult goes off the rails and becomes unable to manage their own behaviour?

Back when humans lived in small groups, we must have related to these issues in a very different way. A group of humans has shared responsibility for everyone in it. I suspect the solutions to members who became dangerous were not as compassionate as we moderns might like to imagine they should be, but they were probably a lot more decisive. What we don’t have now is any sense that we, as humans, share responsibility with those around us, for each other. When there are issues, it comes down to systems, rules and officialdom, and from what I’ve seen, that’s not especially compassionate either.

Duty

I was going to write about working with owl spirits, but my life is in such turmoil, my heart and mind the same – I don’t know what I can usefully offer. Duty is an issue going round in my head. Let’s work round to that.

So, I’ll start with gratitude for you dear people who have been sharing the journey with me, who have offered words of kindness and support. You keep me going, and you make worlds of difference. Things are hard here. A year ago I’d have believed the things being said of me, and would have sunk under the weight of it. Love and friendship have enabled me to see myself in new ways, as a person who merits care and respect, as all people should, really.

Yesterday I encountered the full force of another person’s hatred, the malice so intense it felt like a physical assault. I still feel sick and bruised from that. I was accused of poisoning my son’s mind. I know enough to be sure I have not. I also resent the implication that he would fall for a load of unsupported lies just because I fed them to him. My son is a thoughtful, empathic sort of person, which is why he’s had enough of current circumstances as well. Now the blame and venom seems to be heading his way too, and that I will not tolerate. I’d put up with a lot for his sake, but I won’t sit by and see him wronged in this way.

I do have a duty of care where my son is concerned. I take that very seriously. Children are not able to make many of the big decisions that shape their lives, and they need to learn. An adult who has brought a new person into the world has a duty of care, and an obligation to put the child’s needs first.

I have duty where I have made promises and commitments – at loveyoudivine, the druid network, my folk club, Bards of the Lost Forest. None of these are necessarily binding for life, so long as I am clear about what is happening, I can step away if I need to. I do as I said I would. Duty born of dedication, loyalty and a bit of enlightened self interest – I give of myself here because I enjoy it.

I have generally felt that where people are acting honourably and doing their best, I have a duty to co-operate with that to the best of my ability. But I think it is also true that I have a duty not to co-operate with abuse, cruelty, dishonour, disloyalty, and other such wrongs. I have a moral obligation not to support folks who are behaving badly. If, through inaction, I gave the impression at all that I accepted such behaviour, that would be a dereliction on my part. While I feel I have a duty to treat all around me with care and respect, this has to be balanced against the duty not to facilitate wrongdoing.

It is so easy to stay silent, to do nothing, to let atrocious behaviour go unremarked, unchallenged. Not good enough. I have to do better on that one. I also have to take into account that I am a person too, and I should not allow anyone to treat me in a way I would find intolerable were it directed elsewhere.

So I learn, and I fine tune my notions of right and wrong, and, having drawn breath, I get back to trying to sort out the turmoil. Thank you, all of you who are travelling with me, all who have offered quiet words and companionship.

Top Down or Bottoms Up?

Most thinking is top down, in terms of organisation structure, politics, and ideas about economy. Power and money accumulate at the top of the heap, and in theory, enough trickles down that the people at the bottom are ok. A fleeting glance at the world is all it takes to demonstrate that this really doesn’t work. People at the bottom of the pile can be lethally poverty stricken, and are so far removed from the positions of power that their voices are never going to be heard in this system. Money does not trickle down. The rich get richer, the divide between those who have most, and those who have least, grows.

If you believe that might is right – be that physical or monetary force, then perhaps this is comfortable. There are some who feel that money flows where it is earned, that status is held by those deserving of it. But so often the systems are biased such that if you start at the bottom, your chances of going anywhere are poor indeed. Money begets money and the poverty trap is hard to escape from. This is not an inherently fair system. It is also not the only way of ordering things, it’s just the one we’ve shuffled into, through accidents of history as much as anything else. Often ‘the way things are’ gets presented as unassailable truth. It’s just a system, not a law of physics that makes things work as they currently do. Recognising that there could be other ways opens us all to the possibility of change.

We could, collectively, do very much better, constructing systems that enable more equal access and opportunity. As individuals, we aren’t going to be able to change the world order any time soon, but it needs questioning. If you believe in fairness, honour, responsibility, and the distribution of resources, then top down is totally unviable as a system for managing all things. I know it sounds like innuendo, but what is needed is a much more ‘bottoms up’ approach.

If the poorest people are able to viably live, then you can be sure that every company that would otherwise have predated them, will still benefit because these people will be more economically active. In losing the sweat shop, you may gain customers. If the poorest people are doing ok, the rich are not going to be starving either. Rather than propping up big business, any injecting of cash into economies ought to happen at the bottom end. Political power should also be held as locally and on as small a scale as possible. International affairs can hardly be handled at a village level, but the provision of local services should be planned there. The more power and responsibility ordinary people are given with regards to their own lives, the better.

The only condition on influence should be willingness to work and bear responsibility. Equally, it should not be possible to wield power without carrying responsibility for the consequences that brings. This is, to my mind, a very pagan way of approaching things. Paganism is not about hierarchy, dominance, or oppression, it’s about taking responsibility for your own path, in a way that does not cause unnecessary difficulty to others.

I invite you to embrace a ‘bottoms up’ philosophy, and see where you can apply it.

Doubly Damned?

Many of the writers here at pagan and pen are not only pagan, but also writing in the erotica genre. In terms of our scope for being disapproved of, this really is a double whammy.

Now add in being a parent.

Mainstream culture still equates innocence with ignorance, steadfastly clings to the notion that children are non-sexual beings (which isn’t so, many children form their sexual identities, preferences etc young). Exposing children to human nudity (at for example pagan camps, some allow it) is seen by some folk as tantamount to child abuse. Mainstream culture happily bombards young folk with sexual images in advertising, but still frowns on talking to them about it in any kind of meaningful ways. Pop music is frequently rife with innuendo, but we’ve all heard the stories about intelligent books being banned, and difficulties on teaching responsible lessons on sex and relationship in classrooms.

I love that fact that paganism doesn’t treat sex as dirty, shameful or sinful. To us, it’s a natural, spiritual, beautiful thing that should be celebrated. We write about it with enthusiasm. At the same time, we inhabit the world where fear dominates. Collectively as a specious, we are very afraid when it comes to children. The laws of the land I live in seem increasingly inclined to wrap them in cotton wool, limit their access to adults, deny them the learning experiences that come from taking risk, and make sure they are in no way equipped to deal with the adult world.

Children need to learn in supportive environments, where questions can be answered and fears assuaged. I remember having my innocence ‘protected’ by people who withheld information, and how terrified I was by the idea of things so horrendous that no one would talk to me about them. Ignorance is not the same as innocence, and most certainly is not bliss.

My philosophy has always been that if a child is old enough to ask a question, they are old enough to need an answer. You have to pitch it at a level they can understand. Smart kids who learn about nature figure out a lot about reproduction, and they do it early. My son knows a few of the technical issues, and is relaxed about them. No longer frightened if he finds a spot of blood in the bathroom. No longer confused about where life comes from. It’s better that way, I think.

He has also asked about what I write. Sometimes I write non-erotica things I can share with him – so I do. He knows there are things that I won’t share with him yet because he’s not ready for them, and currently he’s happy to accept that as an answer. One day, he will ask me why, and I will try and explain in a way that makes sense to him. I know people who would be horrified by this and accuse me of corruption, being irresponsible, a bad parent, a bad person. Perfectly aware that if I wrote murder mysteries, no one would make anything of it.

I think the more afraid we become on behalf of the young humans, the more risk we run of harming them. We teach them that fear. Yes, there are terrible things in the world, but we can’t protect our children from those things by pretending they don’t exist. Nor can we keep them safe by overprotecting them, because they won’t learn the life skills they need for adulthood. Ignorance only serves to breed fear and reinforce it. Treat them like small people as much as you can, not like a separate species. Let them learn and grow at their own pace. Don’t try and protect them from everything. Life is to be lived, and risk is part of life. Sex, after all, is what got them here, and they have an interest in understanding themselves. Respect them, give them truth when they need it.

 And so I am pagan, parent and writer of erotica, and not at all ashamed of that combination.