Anthropologists say that humans are social creatures by nature, and (aside from the fact that I know some outliers), I pretty much agree. We tend to group together, and very often into specific categories of people – those who are related (by genetics, relationship, or choice); those who share interests; those who share employer; those who share geographic region, etc. By grouping as we do, it is inevitable that an “Us” and Them” dynamic develops, even when we’re tied to each other by a shared goal.
I’ll give an example. I attended Paganicon 2014 this year (I know, you’re all going, “No, really???), and I chose to attend despite the fact that I probably could have benefited financially from not going…although, to be fair, a bunch of my friends actually picked up most of my expenses (attendance fee, lodging, most meals, rental car, and I did my flight through miles). I wanted to go, and ended up going, for a bunch of reasons, but primarily I wanted to see and hang-out in meat-space with my friends from The Cauldron.
(Oh, and I also gave a talk.)
This year, which was my fourth attending Paganicon, I spent a lot of time noticing the amazing similarities between conferences. Regardless of the topic(s) being covered, the reason for the conference, and the audience, the horde of people coalesces into groups along the following lines:
- I’m here because I’m working! Yay!
- I’m here to learn!
- I’m here to spread knowledge!
- I’m here because everyone I know is here!
- I’m here because I needed a break from <insert stressful thing>!
- I’m here to meet new people!
- I’m here to PARTY!
These groups overlapped from time to time: the “working” group overlapped with “spreading knowledge” and “everyone I know”; the “learning” group overlapped with “need a break” and “meet new people” and, on Saturday night, just about everyone landed in “PARTY”. I didn’t notice any obvious problems between groups (although I’m sure there were some issues behind the scenes because CONVENTION), but I did notice that once people associated themselves with a group, they tended to remain within that group and go along with whatever that group was doing.
The need to form groups is human nature – we’re (if you believe those anthropologists I mentioned earlier) conditioned to form little communities. Put a collection of humans in any situation (in this case, a pagan gathering) and they will form alliances along lines of similarity and break off into little groups, even if they’re able to keep the goal of the gather in mind. And, I don’t think this is unique to pagan gatherings; I’ve seen similar dynamics at scientific meetings, and in continuing education, and at political rallies. Very rarely is everyone in attendance there for the same reason, and can lead to misunderstandings between groups. Those working an event, for example, might be so overwhelmed by what they have to do that the exuberant person who is JUST SO EXCITED TO BE HERE may break the camel’s back. Likewise, those who have a definitive agenda of attending workshops, or earning CEUs, or learning as much as they can may become annoyed at those who are there to socialize, or those who they see as distracting them or preventing them from achieving that goal. Without thorough and honest communication between all groups, rifts can form and the overall community of the event is affected by the little communities that form within it.
This is why we, as FlameKeepers, work on our Bright Flames – the pieces of us that touch others are critical to ensuring community exists. This is why we attempt to approach being with other individuals from the standpoint of recognizing differences and similarities between us, and why we strive to encourage connection. We are all connected; as pieces of the Divine, we are linked to the Universe and so to other people, whether we choose to be or not. We can rail against the connection; we can try to ignore it; we can deny it exists and act as such, but sooner or later we end up ricocheting back into the brick wall of association with others. If we’re going to hit the wall anyway, does it make sense to deny it up until our skulls crack?
We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (especially my LEFT SHOE). Recognize the connections that bind us to the Universe and nourish them.