Avoid the Pedestal, Empower Others: Cultural Change

I am sharing this article with you in honor of the Capricorn Full Moon, which my astrological friends are telling me is, in combination with other aspects, really bringing up issues of power dynamics. This piece was originally published in the Pagan Leadership Anthology in 2016, written in 2014. 

The bigger they are, the harder they fall: or, how to avoid the pedestal

We are starved for good leadership. We seek individuals that are willing and able to lead, who are wise and knowledgeable, ethical, and passionate. Humans are social pack animals, and while we may not want to admit it, we look to our pack leaders to help guide us. Unfortunately, the model of leadership in our patriarchal, one-upmanship society has left us with many poor role models and a skewed vision of what good leadership really means.

So, when we encounter an individual who really seems to “get it,” who leads by example and cares about their community, people start to flock to them. I call it the moth to the porch light effect; there is a bright light shining and we can’t help but to be drawn to it. The people that are drawn to this bright light are “moths,” beautiful individuals that perhaps haven’t been appreciated or realized their beauty yet. This person, “the porch light” may or may not be willing or ready to take on the mantle of community leadership, but suddenly find themselves surrounded by individuals with a deep and crying need. This person, being who they are, has a difficult situation but an easy choice to make. When the Goddesses call, and the community cries out, you must answer.

This is when the pedestal begins to be built. Inevitably that pedestal must tumble, but in this phenomenon it is not due to any intentionally negligent actions of the leader. It is a pitfall I have seen many times, particularly in women’s groups. Women particularly have been socialized to accept power over them. We have come to expect it. We will hand our power to someone else and not even realize that we have done it. Yet we also have a deeper, instinctual knowledge that tells us that no one can or should have power over us.

When women start to awaken to the power that they inherently hold within themselves, they are suddenly thrust into a cognitive dissonance, recognizing the mixed messages they have been receiving from the outside world and their inner knowing their entire lives. This process is often catalyzed by a solid leader and guide. This leader, the person that they have trusted and often given some authority to, is now perceived as one of the people who have held power over her. They must be taken down.

This is usually not a conscious process. The “moths” have no real understanding of what they are going through, and need a place to release the rage and backlash from a lifetime of power and control. The leader (provided they are healthy) has not asked for nor taken any power from anyone they are leading. But they suddenly find themselves at the center of a coup.

Unfortunately, sometimes this process cannot be stopped. It is a part of the awakening of the people involved. It is healthy as long as they are guided through it and have enough self-awareness to recognize what is happening. So, it is extremely important for a leader to understand this phenomenon and do what they can to reduce the backlash and more gently and safely awaken people to the power they hold within.

Many of the ways to prevent the pedestal are, in essence, just good leadership skills. Honesty, humility, and accountability are all necessary traits for a spiritual leader. Here we will apply them to deeper discussions around power and control to create a model of leadership that, while perhaps not fully shared leadership, will resist the building of a top-down structure.

Forms of Power

There is nothing inherently wrong with power. We all possess it, but it is the wielding of it that can be harmful or beneficial. Reminding each other of the power that we possess, or what is referred to as empowering others, is essential to reclaiming our power and revisioning the world. Leaders are in a position to do this but it is important to remember that every form of power has its positive and negative side, its potential for benefit and its potential for harm. There are three types of power in groups, which have been written about thoroughly by Starhawk and the Reclaiming collective.

Power-over: This is the power structure we are most familiar with and in which we have all been indoctrinated. Power-over is essentially the power to make decisions and mete out punishment. When power-over is utilized in a corrupt system, as our society is structured, it becomes a way to subordinate and oppress the majority while the minority benefit from decision-making power that enables them to maintain control. In small groups, power-over looks like one individual with all of the decision-making power and none of the accountability, while the other group members are forced to abide by the decisions without the opportunity for input or feedback. When balanced by responsibility and mediated with input from people that decisions affect and accountability for those decisions, power-over may have a valid role. But we are all so deeply indoctrinated into the corrupt use of power-over that achieving this can be challenging in groups.

Power-with: This is a shared power structure. Power-with is the ability to influence, from a place of equality and shared respect among all group members. Power-with is the moment when one person claims power and suggests a decision or an action to a group of people who are all considered equals and each have the potential to claim that power in any moment. The group has the option to follow the suggestion or not. It often happens organically and in inspired moments. Power-with takes a turn to the harmful wielding of power when it turns into one person who frequently has the “best ideas” being followed without input or question, or one “elder” or other person of respect who is allowed to take action without accountability; both lead to one person holding authority over all others. Power-with can also be flipped, so that people who do not know how to access their inherent power will try to exert influence and authority over the group instead.

Power-from-within: This is the power that is inherent to us as beings. Power-from-within is the ability to see the value and resulting power of all things, and see the connections between one individual and the whole web of nature. Power-from-within is not competitive or influential, it does not oppress or exalt, it simply is and it sees the world for what it is – a system of interlocking connections. Power-from-within is the power you access when doing magic or ritual, when accessing the mystery, or when writing poetry or creating symbols. As such it can also be seen as the creative force. Recognizing the power within all beings is essential to being able to wield power to effect change, which is the purpose of power-with and power-over. When people don’t recognize their own power, they will try to take the power of others which puts leaders at risk.

Have discussions about power and control

An important part of leading groups, especially women’s groups, is to have an understanding about oppression, abuse, power, and control. We live in a patriarchal society and each of us has been brought up in a culture that values power and authority and demeans women and the egalitarian. We learn that the only way to be successful is to come out on top, and the only way to come out on top is to step on the backs of others on the way. This creates competition which perpetuates oppression.

Indeed, our societal structure depends upon classes of people remaining oppressed. We are all indoctrinated into this system, and unconsciously internalize the oppression. For some, this manifests as a greater desire for power so that they can feel a sense of control over their own lives. We use the tools that have been given to us through internalized oppression to perpetuate the system because it is the only thing we know.

In our groups, we have the opportunity to break this cycle. In every group I start I include a discussion about patriarchy, oppression and privilege, and power and control. We work together to unpack our experiences living in a patriarchal society. In a women’s group this can begin with the women taking stock of the ways they feel discriminated against and objectified. Discrimination in the workplace, media images, and feelings of safety can be explored. In all groups, relationships with friends, family, and co-workers can be explored to discuss if the individual feels they hold the power in one relationship and feel subordinate in another, and how those dynamics play out.

To look at the bigger picture you can also explore how the need for control and superiority affects our interactions with the environment. If group members have a difficult time exploring personal relationships, their connection with the Earth may help them reveal how they try to maintain control in their lives and their resulting abuse of the environment. Questions about how they try to tame their lawns and gardens, the health of the water around them, and how they see wildlife, can all unveil internalized oppression and the drive for control.

You can then go into leadership styles and discuss alternatives. Consensus-building and shared leadership can be explored. At this stage it is appropriate to decide how the group will be organized, who will be the primary decision-maker, and how tasks will be shared, but it is important for everyone to remember that this can and likely will shift as the group changes.

Be honest about your personal life, challenges, and weaknesses. Set boundaries.

We’ve all heard it – no one is perfect. To try to maintain a façade that you are is to lie to yourself and everyone around you. Honesty is a paramount trait in a leader. You must be able to be honest with yourself before you try to lead others. This doesn’t mean you have to make everything in your life align with some ultimate spiritual ideal. On the contrary, showing your humanity to others is the greatest model you can be.

I have sat in groups and felt like I couldn’t share anything personal because I was the leader and couldn’t be seen as weak or troubled. How would anyone trust me to lead them if they knew I was having trouble at home, or was struggling in my own spiritual practice, or felt completely inadequate in leading? So I would listen and support the other women in the group, nodding or offering advice when asked, but I would never truly open up to them.

I now know this is a huge disservice to them and me. It made me appear to have transcended personal challenges; to be someone enlightened with wisdom and without struggles. This only served to build the pedestal higher and secretly bred resentment that fed the dissonance in the mind of the group members and hastened the fall. None of this was intentional. I wasn’t trying to look like I had ‘risen above’ the struggles of life; I was trapped in thinking I couldn’t share these things and still be respected – it was the internalized sense of what holding power means and the fear of showing weakness in the competitiveness model. The women in the group weren’t asking me to be an ‘enlightened savior’; they were just eager to have someone actively listen to their problems and support them in their struggles.

Whether you are leading a small ritual group or are a public figure in your community, remaining open and honest about your humanity will be inspiring to others. Of course, you are your own authority in your life and you should use your own discretion and intuition when deciding what to share, when, and with whom. Balancing over and under sharing can be difficult. And of course, only share as much as you can safely share.

Setting boundaries from the beginning will help to avoid any confusion and group members later feeling like you weren’t really there for them. Let the group know how much time you have to devote to group activities, when you are not available, and what kinds of things you are willing to do. Also be clear about what you expect in return, whether it is financial compensation or a certain level of engagement. This goes hand in hand with being honest about your life and your own struggles, so that no one has false expectations.

Empower others

Leadership is as much about teaching leadership skills to others as it is leading. Shared leadership means not only sharing the power and responsibility of leadership, but empowering those who would like to lead. In a spiritual group, your ultimate goal should be to lead others to their own skills and wisdom within. “Empowerment” has become a bit of a buzzword, and as such much of its true meaning has been hard to define. The classic definition is to “give” someone power or “make” them exercise their power and authority.

Neither of these definitions includes the concept that individuals inherently have power; we cannot give power to them and making them exercise it places power over them.

So what does empowering others actually look like? To continue with the metaphor of the porch light, it is to guide others to their home, their sense of place and power within. It is to help them recognize the power they inherently hold. Recognizing systemic and internalized oppression is the first step to remembering the power that each person holds. Enabling others to express their emotions, their anger and fear through allowing the space for the process is essential. This process can be difficult and fraught with challenges that a leader-guide must be prepared for. The scope of those challenges goes beyond this article, but there are many resources available for clergy and lay counselors that have useful tools and techniques.

Once the dam is removed and the stymie of emotions has been released, a leader must be diligent in working with the individual to help them remember their power and allow the space for them to exercise it. If they have often turned to you to help them make decisions, now is the time to give that decision-making responsibility back to them. When counseling them, encourage them to ask themselves what they feel they should do, holding the space for them to tap into their own intuition. Reflect their feelings back to them and ask open-ended questions.

If you have been primarily responsible for coordinating events and conducting ritual, you should consider giving some of that responsibility to the group. In the case of teaching circles, every few weeks following teaching and practicing a certain skill, I set aside a meeting to encourage the group members to share their own insights into the practice and help teach each other. Another easy way to work this concept in is to designate the Sabbats, if you celebrate them, as group rituals in which everyone takes a piece and works together to develop the ritual. As the group continues to work together, begin sharing more ritual work with the rest of the group, until eventually rituals are being rotated or collaborated with everyone.

Recognize red flags

There are several red flag behaviors I have noticed that indicate that the individual is starting to struggle with feeling subordinated to power, and they will begin to tear down the person perceived to be at the top. At this point, it is perhaps too late to utilize some of the preemptive techniques discussed here. But you will still have the opportunity to discuss power and control, ask for feedback, and help them process what they are feeling. If appropriate, you can then share more responsibility and help them have more control in their own life.

Unfortunately, some people are just not self-aware enough to be able to recognize what they are experiencing and don’t have the vocabulary and experience to truly grasp the effects of power and control in their lives. These individuals sometimes have their own dreams of power and want to be at the top themselves, and see tearing down a leader as the swiftest route. This is an issue we must address in the community as a whole and learn how to more effectively support good leadership.

Some potential red flags I have noticed:

A person joins your group claiming to be completely new and is seeking guidance. They then begins to tell everyone in the group all about the things they have done and does not remain open to instruction or guidance. This can be a subtle way to breed distrust in your leadership and encourage others to uproot you and follow their lead. While they may cloak their actions with the claim that they are trying to help, encourage sharing, and provide their own point of view, the fact that they are not open to feedback is a clear indicator that their motives may not be pure.

There is a line between sharing leadership and letting someone else run the show. Don’t let someone turn these techniques on you under the banner of shared leadership. If this happens, share your concerns, but be prepared if they say you are misinterpreting their actions or are just trying to maintain control of the group. If they do, I encourage you to have a conversation that perhaps this is not the right group for them and they should find a group that is working more with their apparent skillset.

You find the rest of the group members are meeting without you. Concurrently, behavior and the overall vibe of the group is changing. This can be a slippery situation. You should never ban anyone from doing anything. However, if the group is meeting behind your back and one person is secretly undermining you, this can be very unhealthy. My suggestion is to keep a close eye on the group dynamic. Do not begin to tighten your grip on the group to try to maintain control—this will only serve the purposes of the person undermining you. Encourage a group discussion about what the group wants and what direction they would like to go. Ask each group member to share a particular skill with the group and begin to incorporate those techniques into meetings to decentralize power and take some of the energy out of the sails of the person undermining you.

There is one individual who consistently blocks you in consensus-making or always has an idea that is “just a better solution” than yours. This is extremely uncomfortable and can be another way that someone uses shared leadership against you to gain attention and control. In this case, it is important to discuss the issue individually with the group members. If this person is blocking movement and decision-making, it is likely frustrating to the rest of the group as well. As a group, you should decide how to handle the situation. You could adjust decision-making for a while or decide to remove the person entirely if they are being obstructive.

These few examples can take any number of permutations but have the same end game, to (whether consciously or unconsciously) undermine and tear down the group leader.

In my own experiences, by not addressing these issues preemptively, our group relationship shifted to me being perceived as the untouchable leader who had all the answers and the group members feeling undervalued and like they needed “fixing.” This is not healthy and enables and perpetuates power-over, whether you actively utilize that power or not.

As a leader it is essential to have an objective third party as a sounding board. A mentor or peer that you trust can be the most valuable tool you have. Share your ideas about leadership with this person, explain the dynamics of your group, and ask for their feedback. They can help you decipher behaviors and look at the group dynamic from the outside to determine if there is a power struggle happening.

Changing the way we interact with others at the grassroots, in our groups and micro-communities, will have the greatest impact upon our culture as a whole. As the power shifts and equality gains momentum we can reach critical mass. Soon these discussions will be common and people will be more willing to unpack their own patriarchal tendencies and shift group dynamics. Abuse of power is rampant, but we also hold the power to shift culture. This is the work we are here to do. And it starts with you in your own community.

Resources
Starhawk. (1987). Truth or dare: Encounters with power, authority, and mystery. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
Starhawk. (1997). Dreaming the dark: Magic, sex, and politics. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Harrow, Judy. (2002). Spiritual mentoring: A pagan guide. Toronto, ON: ECW Press.
Mountainwater, Shekhinah. (1991). Ariadne’s Thread: A workbook of goddess magic. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.

The Pagan Leadership Anthology is a fantastic resource. Purchase yours here.

Want to support this work and see more like it? Check out my Patreon. My patrons received this article 3 months before publishing it on the blog.

Advertisements

A Conversation on Power and Authority in Polytheism

This is taken from a Facebook conversation which I initiated on my wall. I have included only my comments, and summarized some of the questions that arose.

We (meaning western polytheists, and still I resist the idea that there is a big We – we are too small and too diverse) have an opportunity. If we really do want to bring polytheism back (the Gods never left), and grow the polytheist community, (which I take to actually mean grow the religious movement of polytheism in the West), we have the opportunity to do that from the roots.

Now is our chance to do our best to root out totalitarianism, Authority and power over, and oppression. To really examine what it is we want, who we want to be, and how we want to build the community.

Yes, we are steeped in monotheism. We are steeped in capitalism and patriarchy. It has infiltrated us and infected us whether we’ve diagnosed it or ignore it or not.

We look towards the world religions and easily pick apart what is wrong with them. But when we turn the same discerning eye to our own, we pick apart each other. This is not growth. This is the disease.

All of the world religions have issues with the power that is in the hands of the priests. That power corrupts. Some more than others, as there are individuals who resist. But at the top that power inevitably turns it’s gaze toward money, to how they can profit from religion. Look at the mega churches. Even the Hindu temples in India – one of the longest unbroken “polytheist” (our definition not theirs) traditions – often demand huge amounts of money from devotees.

At the top, that power turns it’s gaze to control. To determining religious experience, to deciding canon, and who is worthy of their religion and who is not. Again, look at the world religions. Look at the history. This is not conjecture or conspiracy. This what we see happen again and again and again.

We have an opportunity to do differently, to try. Yes it means hard conversations. It means it will take time. But if this is not the work, then what is? If this is not an act of devotion, of dedication, then what is? I am led to believe that this is why some particular powerful deities, and the Dead, are making Themselves so known right now.

This is the time. We have to change. We have to do the Work.

But what about creating structures to support the growth of polytheism? What about religious organizations? What about those who approach polytheism from a religious, as opposed to a Witchcraft perspective?

I’m not disparaging the creation of structures and religious organizations. That is good, hard work and I’ve done a lot of it myself. They aren’t for everyone, but they do serve a purpose for those who want/need them.

If that is one of the paths that people want to take, one of the directions polytheism is going, then it becomes essential to examine the power structures within them.

Whose responsibility is it then?

It is all of our (those that identify as a polytheist) responsibility. Organizations do not exist in a vacuum; structures rise from the ground upon which the foundation is built. What are we fertilizing that ground with? How are we remediating it?

I have a hard time separating it from the same responsibility that requires us to examine privilege, to call out bigotry, to say “this is wrong and I will not tolerate it in my community”. It is all a symptom of the same disease.

The tendency that I see within religious and spiritual circles to withdraw, to insulate, to isolate and say “this is my practice and my community and I don’t care what happens over there” is troubling to me. On the one hand, I get it – we are an individualistic bunch focused on claiming our own authority and power. But I don’t understand how we can advocate full community engagement with social justice issues, and not with our religious/spiritual communities. How is that behavior any different from the Christians that ignore and tolerate that awful Baptist Church (whose name is escaping me at the moment ironically)?

Yes the first line of responsibility rests with those who are directly involved in the organization. But we all know that that does not always work, and that being in the center of something often renders people blind to the dynamics at play. It requires outsiders to call attention to it.

And if we are, as I see, in a position to truly examine and improve these issues, it is going to require everyone’s involvement. We are not to blame for the influences at play, but we are going to have to be responsible for resisting and changing them. If not us, then who?

So yes, we can start with the ground upon which our feet rest (our immediate community and community relevant issues). But we can’t ignore that there are other patches of ground (communities) all around us, stretching as far as we can see and beyond. And that all that ground is a part of the same planet (global community) and is all being poisoned by the same things (power, greed, the -isms).

Are we excluding people?

I think we are, sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently. People should feel comfortable claiming whatever identity and associating with the group that they are most comfortable with – and if something is keeping people out from what should rightly be their place, that needs to addressed and corrected.

What about the growth of Polytheism and making sure we only include polytheists?

This question echoes the questions that many groups ask around inclusiveness and identity. It is the same question asked of, for example, “women only” groups, which often receives huge amounts of rancor and pushback.

Self identification is my sticking point. Once someone self selects, if then their behavior is determined to be detrimental to the group, the behavior can be addressed and ultimately they may be asked to leave.

But even larger than community based groups, I hear from MANY people that they are not sure if they are welcome in polytheist spaces, are not sure if the Polytheist movement is for them. This seems to stem largely from interactions with a vocal minority of people seeking to define what Polytheism is for all of us, and intentionally excluding other input and conversations.

I also want to see polytheism “grow” in that I want people to be validated, to have access to the community that is the most relevant to their experiences, and to be able to share what we learn with the wider community – including those outside polytheism – because there is much wisdom in the way we (sometimes) approach the world.

But at what cost does that growth come? Our current examples of growth in movements and organizations are not the most healthy. We can do better.

And if our entire religion/movement is going to crumble because we “let in” a few of the wrong people, or because not everyone agrees with us, then it was probably not very strong to begin with. We have to build it to withstand those things. We have to have healthy soil and solid foundations, a strong guiding ethos. We have to practice what we preach. Or we deserve to fail.

RWS_Tarot_16_Tower
The Tower from the Ride Waite Smith tarot. Wikimedia.

Guidelines for Effective Meeting Facilitation

I’ve been attending many community meetings again recently, and it has reminded me that meeting facilitation is a skill to be learned, practiced, and perfected, like any other. Here are some guidelines for how to facilitate an effective meeting, gleaned from my own experiences and training during 10+ years in community organizing, spiritual service, and non-profit work.

Connecting_hands

You need a facilitator. No really.Many community based groups are non-hierarchal and function with shared power, and rightly so. Unfortunately I have seen meetings devolve into counter-productive chaos in an effort to avoid appearances of any one person being in charge. The purpose of skilled facilitator(s) is to help create and hold the space for the work of the group, so that the group can achieve its goal. It is a position of care, not authority.

Select a facilitator. This may be the person who organized the meeting, or the group could agree on a facilitator. You could also share the role – for example, having one person as a time keeper, one as a discussion guide, one who is responsible for keeping the group focused.

These are the essential responsibilities of the facilitator. A facilitator should have an understanding of group dynamics and feel comfortable pulling quieter individuals into conversation while also keeping the more talkative people in check so that they do not overrun the meeting. (How many meetings have you been to where one person took up the majority of the meeting and never really said anything of relevant importance? Yeah. We’ve all been there. That is an example of poor meeting facilitation.)

Set the goal of the meeting. Even if the purpose of the meeting is to socialize with the goal of networking, setting an intention is essential to a successful meeting. Not everyone will have the same goal in mind when coming to a meeting; even if it has been discussed prior, perspectives will differ. Establishing the goal at the beginning of the meeting will help make sure everyone is focused on the same thing. You can state the goal verbally or write it on a piece of paper and display it. Displaying the goal also gives the facilitator something to bring the group back to when the group begins to lose focus.

Create the framework. Once the goal is set, you want to establish how that goal will be accomplished within the context of the meeting. This includes setting an end time, discussing the activities that will occur, and reviewing the points of discussion. This process will help alleviate any lingering confusion. Depending upon your group, this may also be written down and displayed, or it can be a verbal process.

These steps are a part of building the container for the work, of establishing the focus and boundaries for the meeting so that participants are able to comfortably explore during discussion, feel valued, and leave with a sense of accomplishment. This does not have to take more than the first few minutes of the meeting. Think of the beginning of many wedding ceremonies “we are gathered here today to…” Gather everyone together, state the intended goal, go over what will happen, remind everyone what time the meeting should wrap, and then (if appropriate) ask if anyone has any brief points or questions to add. Then move into the meat of the meeting.

Check in/Introductions.Depending upon the size of the group and the familiarity of the individuals with each other, it is often helpful to do a brief check in and round of introductions. If the group is new, or if there are new people in attendance, doing brief introductions will lift comfort levels and give everyone a better idea of who is present and what perspectives they bring. The facilitator should give an example of what should be shared during the introduction, such as their name, what brought them to the meeting, what experience they have with the subject, and what they hope to accomplish, and reinforce that this is a brief introduction and should not take more than a minute per person.

If the group is familiar with one another, a brief check in will help everyone get settled, enhance group cohesion, and improve flow. Allow each person no more than a minute to say how they are feeling, what they want to accomplish during the meeting, and any questions they may have.

This period of the meeting does have the potential to go off-track rather quickly, so it takes a skilled facilitator to manage. Setting the guidelines and sticking to them, by reminding people to stay on track and within time limits will help. It is up to you whether to do this before the goal and framework is set or after, and will depend on your group. I have found it is more helpful for the flow of the meeting if it is done afterwards.

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the process. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits.

Facilitate discussion.Now that the container has been created and everyone has been brought into the meeting during check in, the hard part of facilitation starts. In any group there will be a variety of personalities, experience, and comfort levels; managing that so that the meeting is effective and everyone feels like their time was well spent can be a challenge.
The role of the facilitator is to guide and encourage discussion, help people stay focused, and reign in tangents. A variety of skills will help you as a facilitator. A basic understanding of group dynamics, power dynamics, and individual psychology particularly as it relates to intro- and extra-version will go a long way. This will help you pick up on subtle energy shifts and notice when someone is on their way to dominating the discussion. Introverts are not necessarily shy, but they do take more time to process information, and thus are slower to respond. Extraverts are not always domineering, but they do like to process information out loud, and thus are often the big talkers.

A solid grounding in active listening is a great benefit to a meeting facilitator and will help to balance the needs of introverts and extraverts, who will both benefit from the practice. The facilitator can also help the talkative individual get to their point quickly, and then summarize their main point succinctly, thus giving the less talkative people an opportunity to process the main point and respond. It may be necessary to actively engage the quieter individuals. Putting people on the spot doesn’t always work, and I have had success with saying “I would like to give us a minute or two of quiet to reflect on what has been said. Then let’s hear from some people who haven’t spoken as much.” This brings some air into the conversation, puts the breaks on the overly talkative and allows space for the quiet individuals to be heard. (I am an introvert myself, can you tell?)

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the discussion. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits. This can help balance out power dynamics, and give everyone an opportunity to speak, but it can also be a bit cumbersome. Try it out in your group and see if it works.

It may also be helpful to have someone who is not the facilitator take notes of key points brought up in discussion, so that they do not get lost. To wrap up the meeting, review the key points, give a few more minutes for discussion, and then decide on next steps. You should always end the meeting with a synthesis and “what’s next” so that people don’t leave wondering what was accomplished and what happens next. And of course, a big dose of appreciation all around for getting through the meeting, which hopefully was much more enjoyable for everyone with proper facilitation!

If you have any questions or would like some individualized help with developing your facilitation skills, or would like to discuss a group dynamic you are trying to manage, please do contact me!

Resources

Here is a great tip sheet from AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance)

Some thoughts on evaluation and roles from Training for Change

On Leadership, Mentoring, and Embracing Change: A First Timers Reflections on PantheaCon

(This is the second post in my series based upon my experiences at my first PantheaCon. Though I discuss one of the PCon panels, the issues of leadership and developing communities reaches far beyond. I hope this contributes to continued discussions on how to create healthy networks of communities)

One of the panels I attended at PantheaCon was Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change.  Many of the panelists discussed their challenges as leaders, and the strides they have made in trying to reach out to the next generation. There were some very good points made, and overall I wish we had much more time to really delve into the topic.

 

The recording is now up on Elemental Castings. I encourage you to listen to it – you may hear things differently and leave with a different take away.  Besides, there was a lot of laughter. Don’t take my word for any of it. Go listen!

Now, this panel was not staffed by young people – they all seemed to be around 30 and over – and this fact was owned up front by all of the participants. Jason Pitzl even yielded his chair to a younger leader when (teasingly) called out on it. I have great respect for many of the participants that were on this panel and seeing that this subject, which is something I am passionate about, was going to be discussed was one of the reasons I decided to attend PantheaCon for the first time.

I’m also glad that I did not agree with everything that was said, because it got me thinking in different ways about how we approach creating networks of healthy communities.

One of the things that got me about this panel was that, when it came time to ask questions, a few college-age Pagans spoke up, and asked about how to get invited into established spaces, how to be taken seriously, and what can they do to pursue the path of leadership. The responses that were given by the panel came across to me like a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. The suggestions included “just be persistent, knock the door down, push against the glass ceiling, make yourself be heard, fake it until you make it” and eventually people (implying people in positions of leadership) will take notice. I know the people on the panel are not proponents of bootstrap mentality, and I understand what I believe is the sentiment behind the responses: Don’t give up, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, don’t let anything hold you back.

But I’ve also heard these same pieces of advice from people who were in powerful positions and used them as ways to abdicate themselves of their responsibility to mentor and guide. And the same rhetoric is used by the individualistic, self-determination, capitalist proponents.

I was a young leader. By 25 I had co-established the first Goddess Temple in the Southeast, was leading large group rituals, had been teaching for several years, and facilitated a few small Circles. I’m not the majority, I understand that. But I had a lot of support along the way, people that somehow recognized what I was still figuring out, people that showed up for me, who welcomed me and guided me. It was hard. And I did a lot of it by my own determination and persistence. But never was I told to just pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. The people that I am honored to call my friends and supporters (both here and across the veil) were always there to help me – even if I didn’t always see it at the time.

I’m in my early 30s now, and personally I feel that it is an even more awkward stage than the 20s… but we’ll get to that later.

How does this expectation that young people are supposed to figure it out on their own help to create healthy, creative, accountable communities? As one friend put it, in the 70s and 80s we(they) had to figure it out as they went along, because it hadn’t been done before. But now, there are at least two generations of Pagans that can help the next generation. They don’t have to make it all up. The way I see it, this generation is the first to truly have the opportunity and the burden of learning from those who came before and then working towards building a better future. But, it is up to us (the old guard) to change the culture so that it welcomes new leaders, new ideas, and new experiences. That is our responsibility, not theirs.

We seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the next generation.

We’ve allowed a very culturally-embedded difference to become a battleground – the generation gap. All too often I see an Elder or a Seeker denigrated because they said the “wrong” thing or don’t follow the same theory of tradition and practice that someone thinks they should. The younger generation looks at the older generation as people on pedestals that are holding them down, and the older generation looks at the younger like up and comers who are trying to change everything they worked so hard for. There is no trust, no love, no appreciation. This generation gap is only serving to divide and conquer. If the elders are always dismissive of the youth, and the youth are always angry at the elders, how will we ever learn and come together and work on the really hard stuff? We won’t. And then the ‘Oppressive Powers That Be’ win.

Our movement is inherently resistant to authority and rejects the idea of there being centralized leadership, which is a powerful resistance in this world. But the fact is we do have leaders and people who step into roles of leadership. These people are the Big Name Pagans (rightly or wrongly so) and the person who decides to start a group in their town because there is nothing else. We can acknowledge this and choose to model a different way, a healthier way, of shared power and well-developed leaders. Or we can continue to ignore it and suffer from those who will use the opportunity to seize power and wield it harmfully. I think it is time to model a better way.

So, how do we help develop the next generation of leaders? How do we create healthy networks of communities?

There are many ways to develop leadership, but as a movement Earth Based Religions (which I use as an umbrella term) are just starting to figure it out. So we look to other religions and other fields, gathering what feels right to our bosom and cutting away the rest. It’s a process, and with all of the other causes that are so front and center (and rightly so) it sometimes feels like this one should take a backseat. But I think it is essential to the healing and change we need. We haven’t been doing it right – and I can tell you that the younger generation sees it, and feels it, and doesn’t want to inherit it… and has some pretty damn good ideas about how to change it.

I actually don’t believe that you can ‘teach’ leadership. You can teach some tools, share your own mistakes and talk theoretical scenarios. But you can’t just get up in front of a group, give a presentation on leadership (or a hundred presentations) and then say they are ready to be a leader. Leadership must be developed. It is a continuous process. It means making mistakes again and again and again. And it takes ongoing support.

My favorite leadership development model is a mentorship model. This model is one of the most time and energy intensive, but also has the greatest potential for individual and collective reward. To be successful, it also has to have a solid foundation of respect and trust, with a clear understanding of expectations and commitment.

Learning never ends, and even the most experienced and skilled among us will have times when another perspective or someone else’s guidance is helpful. Never should we place a leader, elder, or mentor up on a pedestal and expect them to always have to figure it out on their own, either. Being in a position of leadership (as opposed to claiming a Title) is often tiring, draining, stressful work with little reward and few opportunities of reciprocity. We must build networks of support; communities that share power and value each other’s experiences and insights.

Naturally, these networks must be developed. You can’t create community-by-policy. And reciprocity becomes a huge issue – it can easily start to feel like you are doing all the giving and none of the receiving while mentoring. We can’t – and shouldn’t – dictate community or try to create it through policy. But we can create some loose structures to support the nurturing of community. For quite some time, I’ve been tumbling around the idea of a mentorship network.

Now, I actually detest the term “mentor.” So, in tumbling around this idea, and discussing it with my dear friend Byron Ballard, I came up with the idea of Buds and Blooms.

 

A healthy community, like an ecological system, is one of diversity, solid roots, room to breathe, supportive shelter, and healthy nourishment. The smallest beetle to the largest mammal and everything in between all have an important role to play; without any of them the entire system collapses. We must remember this in our networks and models of leadership as well.

So, a healthy leadership network has buds and blooms – but even the blooms need the support of the rest of the community to thrive, and the buds need the support so they can come full bloom. Different plants have different blooming cycles, just as different people come into their own bloom at different periods of their life – and they may die back and re-bloom again and again.

This network of buds and blooms would allow everyone the opportunity to mentor and guide someone else, thus fulfilling the need for a feeling of reciprocity and building a community of support. Everyone would be paired up with their own bud, even those in their first sprouting. (Ok, am I losing you in the metaphor? Let’s just break this down into straight-forward terms)

My ideas for the development of healthy leadership are based in the belief that all voices and points of view are valued, and everyone has something to offer. The newest of newbs can support other newbies on their journey, and offer perspectives on the experience to the person guiding them, so that person can continue to grow as a leader. Experienced leaders can support one another instead of compete, and help each other through the journey of leadership with all of the ups and downs and mistakes and victories and exhaustion.

Its been shown in mentorship models (yuck) that it is best to partner with someone who is not so far removed from your own current level of experience, so that they can still relate and feel the relevance of what you are experiencing. So when looking for a mentor, keep that in mind. Don’t aim for the BNP with 30 years of experience if you are fresh with 2 years of experience (and that is for many reasons). Discuss your current experiences, what you are struggling with, what you hope to learn – and if the person can’t relate to any of it or talks down to you in any way, they are probably not the person for you. Get references, ask around about their style and if anyone has any concerns. Once you find someone you can relate with, then it is time to set very clear agreements and expectations for the both of you, and create clear lines of communication.

Ok, back to my metaphor of the buds and the blooms and creating some structure to help nurture leadership and communities.  I know we (as in the umbrella we) are generally resistant to structures – but, given the minority of our religions and spiritualties, and that many people do not live near others who can provide them guidance or can’t publically seek others out for any reason, I think some structures can have a place. So creating a network of individuals to guide one another could be a huge gift to our communities. There would have to be some kind of vetting process, particularly for Blooms. People would be paired and grouped in small nexuses (like galaxies), according to a diverse yet complementary mix of experience and needs, sharing support and power among one another (which would also help prevent any abuse). The validity of all perspectives and levels of experience would be emphasized and valued, while also creating the space for guidance for all regardless of experience.

Let’s take each other off the pedestals, offer our hands to those patiently waiting in the wings, and call each other in to the circle. We are all sacred, all divine, all worthy of respect and all inherently valuable. It’s time to co-create the future we deserve, take back our power, and show the “normals” how it can be done.