Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Danger, Hidden Currents

Recently someone asked me how I got my position within British Reclaiming. This left me somewhat non-plussed, as I didn't realise I had a position within British Reclaiming, or certainly not in the sense that the questioner meant - a position of power and authority. I wasn't really sure how to answer.

I have never been a person who sought out power (actually, even writing this I'm wondering if it sounds too much like I'm trying to blow my own trumpet. I'm not. My natural inclination is in fact to put the trumpet back in the bag, hide the bag behind my back and pretend I have no trumpet - but I digress...). I remember a few Witchcamps back when we were drawing tarot cards at the beginning of path (morning class). I drew a couple of cards which were interpreted for me as meaning, 'great power and authority'. My reaction was to shrink away and protest that I didn't want those cards, they must be meant for someone else!

And yet the question about my position within British Reclaiming got me thinking. I do have several different roles within the community and I suppose this raises my profile. I can see why that may be interpreted as my having some kind of position of power. And yet from where I sit, it doesn't feel like power. The different 'hats' I wear feel like work to me. Work I do willingly and joyfully, because this community and the different ways it comes together are important to me. I readily admit that there is selfishness in my actions: I enjoy working Reclaiming-style magic and ritual, I enjoy Witchcamp, I enjoy the Gatherings, I like - and in many cases love - the people I know within Reclaiming; so in order to maintain and nourish that connection I'm willing to put in the work to ensure it continues. I edit the newsletter, co-moderate the yahoo list, co-organise events and co-teach. In each case, I have started work on these projects simply because it needed doing and I was able to help - and somehow because of this I am perceived as having some kind of authority.

Well, I suppose in a way I do. But it isn't what I came for.

For me one of the attractions of Reclaiming has always been the emphasis on sharing power. In the kind of community I want to be part of, leadership roles are shared. For example, co-teaching is encouraged to model this kind of shared power. Furthermore, if you want to know more about drumming, or priestessing a ritual, or leading a spiral dance for example, those with the expertise and experience will point you in the right direction, offer mentorship and pass on their skills, without being precious about hoarding their knowledge and experience in order to gain an advantage over others. Even initiation is optional and confers no special status on the initiate. At the same time, those with expertise to share hopefully don't feel they must downplay their skills to avoid diminishing others. Of course we all have different levels of knowledge and experience - we are all at different skill levels. That doesn't mean we have to get caught in the 'power-over' paradigm. The Reclaiming Principles of Unity state explicitly that "We strive to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to all. We make decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility."

But of course there are also more insidious hierarchies like being in with the in crowd. The danger with this kind of invisible, unspoken hierarchy is that it elevates the few whilst being difficult for 'outsiders' to break into and become part of. Reclaiming is by no means perfect (we're a work in progress!) so this does happen sometimes. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm perceived as being part of an 'in crowd' or two myself. The presumed 'in crowds' I'm in don't feel cliquey from my perspective. I think we're friendly people who are open to and inclusive of others. And yet, we have a shared history. We have weathered some pretty severe storms collectively over the years, which has helped to bind us together with mutual trust and respect. No one joining us can share what's past. Does that make us cliquey? Not intentionally. We look forwards as well as back, and we will build new bonds with new people over time. Nevertheless, I understand that our closeness could look daunting to others, and this is problematic when the mere appearance of exclusivity can so easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I am perceived as having both a position of power and powerful friends. And with power, just like popularity, appearances count for a lot. So does that mean I actually have 'power-over' type power? I don't think so, and yet if people are treating me as though I do, isn't that the same thing? How to handle this unexpected and unlooked for responsibility? I want to be an ethical person, but power-over is notoriously slippery to handle, a double-edged sword which subtly corrupts. How best then to negotiate the hidden currents and avoid being submerged in self-importance, or overwhelmed by discomfort over the disparity between how I see myself and how others do? Luckily this is one area in which community can provide its own remedy. At Avalon Spring this year, we worked with the notion that we need our community, in part because 'we cannot see ourselves by ourselves.' I have my own vision of myself, but it is neither 20:20 nor 360°. Luckily I also have wonderful and reliable family and friends who see me clearly. Whilst I can rely on them to hold my hand and tell me I'm wonderful when self-doubt and my inner critic are giving me a drubbing, I can also rely on them to call me on my shit and tell me honestly if I'm getting self-important or smug. Hopefully together we can navigate a relatively straight course with sails neither over-inflated nor deflated. This is truly shared power. And I think I can be comfortable with that.


Elizabeth Rhiannon said...

Hi Moonroot,
I didn't have time to read your entire post (sorry, I have a daughter needing a ride somewhere!), but as far as having power, maybe it's not so much as being a 'power-hungry' person as so much as being a Cancer and a cardinal sign. Being a cardinal sign myself (Libra) I think without trying I seem to be labelled as strong or powerful. Gee, I hope I didn't totally misunderstand what I read (skimmed through!) on your post, haha! If so, I apologize. Must give that car-less daughter a ride...blessings to you. P.S. I do plan on reading the entire post later : )

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that you have written this post and asked the question indicates that you are not someone for who identifies themselves with power. I don't see you abusing, indulging or otherwise proclaiming your 'power' any time soon.

As for others views, people often perceive action and leadership as 'power' and if they do, that's their 'stuff' not yours. :-)

Through your blog you come across as someone who acts with integrity and that is what's important and needed.

deborah oak said...

Great post, Susan!!! Talking openly and honestly about power and position is the best route towards making sure it doesn't become entrenched and rigid. Thanks...this is the kind of honest talk that does Reclaiming good. The air/talk keeps it moving...

Moonroot said...

Thank you all for the helpful feedback. I think this is an issue I'm going to be pondering for some time yet...