Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trust and reputation

I've had a lot of cause recently to contemplate the value of matching words to deeds. I'm plagued with one form of this issue. I get great ideas and then allow myself to be distracted from bringing them to fruition. It's a fear/ADHD/bad habit trifecta that I'm slowly working to overcome. It has an impact on how I'm perceived. I'm not painting myself as some great elder, but reputations are built, not granted.

What has me moved to say more than "I'm flighty" to whatever audience I still have is how I've had pokes from more than one direction lately about the standards to which I hold people who present themselves as leaders in the pagan communities I have contact with. It's not so much that I need to change them as I need to express them. They may change later, but that's how it is with opinions. I'd like to think this set of standards will only need minor tweaking over time, though.

This one's kind of a throwaway that I wish was more obvious to more people, but based on some discussions I've had, I need to point out the issue of image. Dressing for respect doesn't have to mean suits and business dresses. It would, however, tend to involve sticking the wizard's hat into storage for at least some public events and learning how to pull off the eclectic look in a fashion that doesn't resemble a historical re-enactment costume cop's idea of a nightmare.

Age doesn't always bring wisdom. I've had people claim I should treat certain older pagans with more respect because of what they did 40 years ago when everything they've done since that phase of usefulness has carried the aura of self-aggrandizement and suckering the rubes. I remain unconvinced. While I find the "one bad act cancels out a lifetime of good ones" approach people often take with volunteer labor to be more than occasionally ridiculous, the reverse is always silly to me. If you look at a stopped clock and insist it's not stopped because you only remember the two times a day it's right, you're doing it wrong.

Then there's the issue of authority in a tradition. Duration of personal practice can often mean you have a decent grasp of a tradition's ins and outs, especially in one with a set corpus of practices. If the tradition is still in the "fly by the seat of our pants" phase, this is harder to establish. This is when I look at who is setting up the healthiest combination of guidelines and building tools for others to work with. The health level is also gauged by how they respond when people use the same or similar tools to get to different conclusions. Analyzing the logic and/or willingness to recognize that the same thing doesn't work for everyone shows a security in one's viewpoint and practice. Emotional reactions, whether passive-aggressive or outright insulting if not somewhere in-between, lead me to wonder if the self-proclaimed elder is fantasizing while counting their gray hairs again. This also winds up linking back to the "what did you do recently" vs. "what did you do X number of years ago" argument. Consistent visibility and sound guidance are more important to me than simple duration of presence.

The authority issue is also related in my mind to whose opinions are significant. This can be more personal than general in scope, but the broader gallery of observers does speak up from time to time in almost anyone's life. The standard I'm working on applying more assiduously is "solicited over unsolicited, solicited from people who are currently guiding my education over those who aren't, and consider the reputation/behavior of all of the above regardless of degree of solicitation." J. Random Blogcommenter who claims to know better than me about some point of Celtic practice without sourcing their citation will not sway me much. If JRB turns out to be a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies who had a memory fault as to the name of the book they'd read, I'll at least try to do some legwork myself to see if I can find what they're talking about. But if Dr. JRB is also a known troublemaker, even if the cite is accurate, I will look at it with a sharper eye.

If I were to keep a mental list of "Top Ten Ways Neopagandom Could Improve," stricter standards for who to trust as valid instructors and sources of criticism would be very high in the rankings. But pinning that sort of list down is an activity I'd rather do when I feel like amusing myself with pie-in-the-sky fantasies that don't involve the CA state lottery.