John Beckett wrote a post recently regarding The Future of Pagan Leadership. After reading his post, I feel compelled to further discuss my hypothesis regarding inclusion that I wrote about last week.
In his post, Mr. Beckett wrote a statement that, on the surface, someone could lump my opinions in with:
Some want to include everyone no matter what and get upset if anybody starts talking about the differences between, say, polytheism and non-theism: “what difference does it make – just dance!”
That’s not quite what I mean when I talk about inclusion. It would be very easy to try and go this route and force everyone to get along, but I don’t think that is very beneficial to any movement. I’m talking about going deeper.
In her book “Truth or Dare”, Starhawk talks about how our reactions change when we are confronted with something that brings up something uncomfortable in ourselves. The basic premise is if there is something in our lives that we have not dealt with, or if there is a belief that we hold that is not solid, we as human beings tend to throw up a defense mechanisms when dealing with topics that speak to those beliefs or issues. We do this because when discussing those things, we become uncomfortable. I know this to be true, because I have seen it in myself time and time again.
So here is my thought – what if those who are so quick to judge or classify others as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ are simply not realizing that their own defense mechanisms are guiding them? What if they are not as sure about their own beliefs as they think they are, and thus are ready to go onto the attack the minute a belief is challenged? And what if they allow this defense mechanism to fester long enough that they start to display white-hot anger and even hate?
The next logical conclusion in this process is that the one on the defensive is to blame. But I don’t want to jump to that conclusion either. Someone could be insecure about a belief and not even realize it. It took me many years to understand that fact. Further, another way hate and anger can be introduced into a situation is if the behavior is learned by someone who is insecure; perhaps a father to a son, or mother to a daughter. It isn’t their fault, to a point.
As someone on an alternate religious or spiritual path, it is our obligation to seek out that which makes us uncomfortable and question why. We have made the purposeful choice to go a different route than ‘mainstream’ religions. In order to grow, we need to continue to make purposeful choices. We don’t have a book to hide behind and say “because the book tells us to”. By choosing this path, have become active participants in our religion and spirituality. Therefore because we are active participants, we have an obligation to question everything, including ourselves and our own beliefs and actions.
In the same vein, there are things that should make us uncomfortable. If the answer to the question we pose ourselves is because someone else is being hurt, being bullied or abused, we need to say something. If the reason we are uncomfortable is because someone else is doing something morally wrong, we need to say something. Last but definitely not least, if someone is excluding someone because of their race, ethnicity, practices, beliefs, sexuality or gender, we need to say something. Things that purposefully diminish the rights of another human being must be consistently challenged.
Mr. Beckett, in the post I mentioned previously, puts the reason for this questioning very eloquently:
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about one thing: yes, you’re a leader. If you plan and facilitate rituals for more than yourself, you’re a leader. If you talk about Pagans and Paganism in person or on social media, you’re a leader. If you wear Pagan jewelry or t-shirts, you’re a leader. You may not be an elder, or a high priestess, or a senior Druid. You may have no organizational status or responsibilities. You may be leading at a level far below that of Pagans who are generally recognized as leaders. But if your life influences others – whether you want to influence them or not – you’re a leader.
We are all representatives of our beliefs. We need to act that way. We need to be comfortable enough in our beliefs to be able to listen and accept those who have differences, or let their input change our own belief systems for the better. We need to show each other and those outside the alternative religious communities that we are sincere in our desires. The way to do that is to know ourselves and continue to challenge ourselves to grow more deeply into our beliefs and practices, not by arguments about what is and isn’t included in what type of belief system, or excluding others because of something they have no control of.
Thanks for reading, and as always I welcome any comments or questions.