Care and Feeding of Enthusiastic SCAdians

The last six months of my Free Scholar-ness coincided with a very active time on the Atlantian Rapier Net. New fighters had questions, important questions, so I commented as thoroughly and helpfully as I could. Other fighters were having issues, major issues, so I replied helpfully and considerately and with caution to be as reserved as possible. I thought: “Here is a chance for me to be the Provost I want to be” as my peer had instructed me.

Watching all of this, Ella asked Dante “When does Wistric get to be a real person again?” He told me this at some point.He laughed, I laughed, then I grumbled, then I laughed.

All of this afterall was somewhat out of character. I had made a reputation by stomping on White Scarves’ metaphorical “sensitive anatomical features.” I was energetic and enthusiastic and did not always bother to consider if what I was doing was the best way to go about it. But I was trying to be, seeing if it was something I could do without opening a vein.

At my White Scarf prize, after Dante and I fought and were hugging, I said, “I don’t get to be a real person ever again, do I?” “Nope!”

The Atlantian OWS has open archives. The advice upon joining is you start at the beginning, open a bottle of Scotch, and unplug your keyboard (because you will want to reply). I skipped that. I read the previous year or so of replies. I searched for my name and friends’ names. I read the comments about me and most were spot on. There were a couple I itched to reply to, but for the most part people were right. My favorite comment of all was “Wistric always does everything 120%. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing.”

There seems to be a class of SCAdians to whom that description applies. They want to make themselves awesome and make everything around them awesome. They burn to do it and if nobody else is making it happen they will take it and run with it, usually to the annoyance of those who were planning to get around to making it happen some day. They may not make it happen the right way, but, in their minds, it’s the right way because at least it’s happening, which is more than could be said before (a bad plan being better than no plan at all, as the old saying goes). Usually, the thanks they get is silence at best, and at worst it’s people bitching about how they did it wrong.

These 120% people are rare, but I feel they are one of the best assets available to the SCA (though I could just be saying that because I’m one of them). We do kind of a shit job of husbanding them along (see: previous paragraph).

Many of them burn hot and burn out. They either just run out of fucks to give or they get tired of beating their head against a wall of bureaucracy, tradition, and sloth and go find other hobbies. Some of them stick with it because they love and care about the SCA, so the positives outweigh the negatives.

Eventually they come up for consideration for a peerage (In my case it was twice: the first time around was the White Scarf, which was the closest I’d get to a peerage then, the next time around was the MOD). After wading through all of the obstacles and resistance, and while still struggling against it, they start to realize they’re being watched.Now, on top of all the other stress and frustration, they’re dealing with feeling under the microscope. They’re busting ass, they’re feeling unrecognized, and they know everybody’s watching for any tiny screw up or shortcoming.

They start thinking: “Did I do ENOUGH of that thing? Am I marshaling or winning or being courteous to my opponent enough? Or did I do TOO MUCH? Should I marshal less or fight less or, I don’t know, maybe my courtesy looks contrived and shit? Maybe some people feel one way and some people feel another! Who’s right? Who makes up more of the Order from which I so very much want recognition for all that I’m doing for their community?!”

I’ve been there. Mega-been there.Twice now. I’ve seen others there. Here is where the SCA fails them yet again:

The absolute worst thing somebody who they see as having been part of the problem can do at this moment is try to “help”. This helpful minded soul will likely let their “serious concerns” show through. This “helper” will come off as dickish, critical, and unappreciative. They will make themselves a lightning rod for all of the frustration. Sure, the “helper” may be well-meaning, but they don’t stop to think they may do more harm than good. Of course, they do things the Right Way, so that doesn’t fall into the realm of possibilities for them.

I’ve seen 120%ers fuckup big-time under all that frustration. Then, devoid of sympathy, those who were on the fence or in the way say, “See? Not ready.” Under the most stress a person can experience in the SCA, more stress than the non-120%ers are likely to ever experience, sometimes people fuck up. A 120%er who avoids fucking up under these circumstances impresses me more than any other achievement of a candidate.

My peer had a nice work around: she got all the “helpers” to talk to her (or share commentary in the White Scarf list), got their permission to share it with me, packaged it, and said, “So do this stuff.” I did and it worked. That sort of guidance and protection is the primary reason I decided to be a cadet and stay on as an apprentice to the peer who offered it to me. It’s the primary duty I feel towards my Scholars.

Somebody needs to sit the 120%ers down and explain to them they don’t get to be a real person anymore. Somebody needs to talk to them about what they’re doing wrong. You may not be the best person.

Dante has another good line: “The Gold Scarf was joy. The White Scarf only relief.” When you get that intermediate recognition, it feels great! Yeah, recognition, woohoo! I don’t suck! Before you get it, though, you generally aren’t that worried about it because it’s just a step on the path. It’s just an attaboy.

The ultimate award is different. Being recognized by the arbiters of the Right Way, the judges of excellence? For people of a certain personality, that’s a huge source of stress. They look up to those peers, they’re striving to be like those peers (and, probably, striving to surpass them). Some of those peers are their heroes[1].

If, at this point, you’re smugly dismissing anybody who feels this way as “Just in it for the cookie,” you are part of the problem. The awards aren’t cookies to be chased – that you see them as such means that you think of the awards the wrong way and your criteria for assessing candidates is at least moderately flawed. Our awards are awards, not rewards. Our awards recognize excellence and express gratitude.

One day, hopefully, the 120%er gets that recognition and they stand before their kingdom shoulder to shoulder with their heroes. They wake up the next morning and they no longer think “Am I doing it right? Who’s saying I’m doing it wrong? Am I doing harm to myself or my kingdom right now? What more is it going to take?” For days after I got my white scarf, I giggled and cackled anytime I saw it. That period was only slightly shorter after I got my collar. I laughed out of joy, but also out of sheer lightness of spirit.

Personally, I don’t care if a candidate fucks up. I’m not in a position to throw stones on that count. I care why they fuck up. There are ways to fuck up for the right reasons; ways that make me no less certain that that candidate can and will do the job of a peer, and do it awesomely. Motive matters.

I have a standard vigil talk. For those who fuckup with good intent, there’s additional vigil talk: “You don’t get to do that thing you do anymore.” You don’t get to be a real person. Sorry, sucks. You can still say no. When they wake up the day after their elevation, though, I believe it will be easy for them to never do that thing again because I believe they want to do good and they now know a thing that they do that does ill. If I didn’t believe they wanted to do good, I wouldn’t poll for them and I wouldn’t be at their vigil. Motive matters.

So how do we foster these bright fires? How do we keep them stoked while making sure they don’t burn it all to the ground? We start by listening to them.

If they say “I think we should do X,” we can respond in a number of bad ways:

  • Silence.
  • “Meh.”
  • “No.”
  • “That’s not our tradition.”

There’s a right way to disagree with them: “I don’t think that’s the best plan, here’s why (Here are the negative effects it will have on the community and on the kingdom).”

If they say “I think Y is a problem,” there are bad ways to respond to that, too:

  • Silence
  • “No it’s not”
  • “That’s the way we’ve always done things”

If you don’t think it’s a problem, explain why. If they point out ways in which it’s causing harm, be able to explain why it’s not actually causing harm, or be willing to discuss other ways to address that harm. If you want them to be able to tuck their ego away, you have to do the same.

If we respond with silence or indifference, we can only blame ourselves when they take action. Frankly, they cared about our community and our kingdom more than we did. That’s our fault.

The more we come down on somebody for taking action to make the community and the kingdom better, the more likely we are to be viewed as malicious and malignant. A person who wants to do good does not care what a malicious person thinks; don’t be surprised if the person you’ve criticized for doing good ignores your future criticism. You definitely can no longer “help.” You are an asshole (I want to add a disclaimer that that’s just the way THEY think about you. But I won’t).

If they fuckup, we need to attempt to be understanding. Moral absolutes are detrimental when the offense is “he hurt my feelings” or “she stepped on my toes.” Motives matter.

We have people in the Society whose motive is to make the Society the best thing it can be. We fail them on a too regular basis. We make our Society worse when we do. That is to our shame. Perhaps we should stop.

[1]When members of the arts community penalize somebody for saying “I want to be a laurel” what they’re saying is “You’re not supposed to aspire to stand with your heroes.” How much more soul crushing can you get?

22 comments to Care and Feeding of Enthusiastic SCAdians

  • Dante di Pietro

    I needed a pamphlet titled “How to South.”

  • Tibbie Crosier

    What’s bad about silence as an alternative to criticism?

    • Dante di Pietro

      Silence is dismissive.

      • Tibbie Crosier

        Are we talking about silence from everyone, as when someone posts on this blog or a kingdom rapier FB group and no one replies? Or silence in response to a personal e-mail to someone? I know that some people do not have the time to read e-mails or respond to FB threads. Also, I’ve been on the receiving end of silence, public correction on email lists and FB, and snippy private messages. Silence, at least, could be interpreted as someone’s lack of time rather than personal hostility. (Many such people were not peers, at least not at the time.) Brusque, cryptic responses can also seem dismissive; silence might be preferable to those.

        • Tibbie Crosier

          More of my thoughts on the use of silence. In recent times, I’ve tried to follow the principle that if I can’t say something constructive, I shouldn’t say anything at all. So, if someone floats an idea I disagree with, I may stay silent instead of complaining and being negative. I’m prone to being negative about many things, so I’ve tried to cut down on my complaining and instead try to mind my own business.

          • Wistric

            Why not disagree without complaining or being negative?

            We too frequently give into the fallacy that “you disagree with my ideas” = “you think I’m a bad person.” Saying “I see these phenomena/have these experiences/know this data which contradicts the premises on which you are basing your conclusion” is negative only in so far as it’s a disagreement.

    • Tassin

      Silence is also a pretty good seed for doubt and confusion.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    More questions. (1) Could you describe specific examples of 120%ers being rebuffed by higher-ranking people when they try to solve problems or try new things?
    (2) Why do you say that peers don’t get to be “real people” ever again? Does that mean peers are “fake people”? How does that square with the language often used that peers “make themselves” or “are recognized”? What about peers who have blowups or meltdowns or other significant screw-ups? Are they “real people” again?

    • Wistric

      1) Sorry, but no. Discretion, valor, etc. It’s enough that we be more self-aware of our behaviors.
      2) We have to tuck a part of ourselves away. Humans like to indulge in rants (see: Facebook. All of it). We get angry, we want to throw furniture, we want to kick over the bucket and burn it all down. Peers don’t get that luxury. We have to suppress part of our personhood. Part of making ourselves includes bringing that part of our personality under heel.
      The peer who indulges in it does vastly more harm than any other person can – there are some who have a reputation for throwing tantrums, and I have absolutely no respect for them. They lash out not with the power of a butthurt person, but with the power of a leader and a judge of worth. Peers who have blowups and melt-downs have an obligation to make amends quickly and thoroughly. Humility is a peer like quality, and when they forget their PLQs, it is to humility that they should return. Those who don’t, again, for them I have no respect.

      • Ruairc

        I don’t like the way you’re phrasing this.

        “Tucking a part of yourself away”? Not a “real person” anymore? I … don’t buy it. If that’s you, and you’re just covering it up, suppressing it, you don’t deserve the honor you received.

        What you’re saying here is that high station in the SCA requires constant vigilance and improvement – that someone else’s passion and hard work DEMANDS by its very existence that we dig deep and match it with proactive understanding and guidance, rather than silence or reflexive objection.

        Surely that’s not about papering over our natural impulses with a deep breath and the veneer of a smile. That’s about recognizing the worst parts of ourselves – the pride, the pettiness, the laziness – and choosing to be better. Every time.

        • Dante di Pietro

          Everyone eventually gets this from me:

          Peerage is a rock you keep in your pocket. The weight will be apparent at first. You will take comfort in absently playing with it. Its presence will comfort you. You will, over time, become used to it. Sometimes, you will have to use it as a tool to accomplish a goal. Sometimes this will be subtle; sometimes not. Sometimes you will have to take out your rock and bash someone over the head with it, or hurl it through a window to deliver a message. If you fall, you will land on your rock every time, and it will hurt you in ways you do not yet understand. Do not fall.

      • Tibbie Crosier

        Do you think peers who screw up in a public or semipublic way should make public apologies? I’ve lost confidence this year in two rapier peers I formerly trusted, both over marshaling-related issues. I’m just a member of the populace and not their personal friend or student, so it’s not my business whether they apologize, but on the other hand, I can’t think of them as my leaders or people to emulate without seeing them apologize and make amends.

        • Dante di Pietro

          People apologize when:

          1) They’re forced to.
          2) They can benefit from it.
          3) They feel like they are in the wrong and wish to make amends.

        • Wistric

          I believe for anybody, not just peers, all sincere apologies should occur in the same setting as the offense, if not on a larger stage. For example, if I behave poorly at a practice, I should apologize to all who saw my behavior, at that practice, or on an e-mail list or Facebook group that will reach all of them.

          To an extent, numbers 2 and 3 from Dante’s list should overlap. By taking steps to restore our honor and make amends, we benefit. Hopefully peers, at least, can see that.

  • Charles Alexander

    What exactly is your definition of “fuck up” ? Very few aspects of Rapier are that absolute, and most of those that are have marshallate rules attached to them with direct consequences.
    People have different internal codes of ethics. For example, for me it is more of a sin to display what I know is a false front than to act, honestly, like I’m upset with them, and if I am justifiably upset I don’t think I should have to apologize for being upset to get a cookie. No one should. Integrity means a lot to me but it is tragically undervalued in the SCA. I do my best to ensure that it is compatible with the SCA ideals, but it is not always easy, especially when reality conflicts with the ideal.
    A side question – is crying considered a meltdown or a tantrum? Even if the person crying is doing it quietly, not causing a scene or drawing attention to it? Is any expression of emotion a meltdown? Do peers have to be robots, and should they be, or should they be able to feel and act with compassion?
    A clarification: I do believe that crying accompanied by yelling, cussing at people, or chair-throwing does qualify as a meltdown. These behaviors come from a place of trying to hurt people where in the other scenario there is a need to let some emotion go but it is being done in a controlled and contained manner.

    • Dante di Pietro

      People cry as a response to stress. There is a vast and meaningful difference between crying and losing your cool, and there’s still another step to a tantrum. If a person needs a cry, no problem. When they add in the yelling, complaining, meltdown-y stuff, it’s a lot different.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Just recommended this blog post on the Academie d’Espee FB group, as the phenomenon is happening to a rising fighter who’s taking initiative to address perceived problems.

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