Okay, I’m motivated to write this article by some things that happen in my life.
In the past those who have decided that since I’m not their brand of Pagan (TM), that I’m not any kind of good practitioner or even a moral person at all have attacked me. They decided that I am, in fact, trying to define my brand of paganism for all.
I had several people attack me over this, coming to my site specifically to sling mud and shit, painting me with the “One True Way” brush. I have no clue why since I have never attempted to do this, but hey, I don’t control the psychotic.
As a result of this, I became a reactionary. I went seeking “fluffy” sites, poorly written and designed sites and attacked them. I won’t say that they didn’t deserve it, but my methods could have been different. One of those I attacked was DragonGoddess (and you can find her site at http://www.osage.net/~lwaite).
Well, the wheel turns like it always does, and I changed and so did she. I grew and she did as well. If I helped her at all, then I’m satisfied to have done so. However, the point of this article is this; disagreement can be good.
One thing I see in the online pagan communities is that there is generally a call by others whenever there is a disagreement to get along. The refrain rings from the rafters of “Can’t we all just get along…” usually followed by a disparaging remark against some other religion and their constant infighting.
There are many things wrong with this on many levels. The first thing wrong is that it’s running down another at the expense of our own dignity. It is trying to promote Paganism by tearing down another. Maybe if we tear them down enough, we will be on top. That’s the subconscious thought and it’s the wrong attitude.
This is analogous of taking bulldozers and tearing down Mount Everest because not everyone can climb it. So we make a mountain that everyone can climb, and that’s a good thing, right? The problem with that attitude is that it was tried in a story “Harrison Bergeron” where everyone was handicapped and it still didn’t make people equal. All it did was make sure that extraordinary people couldn’t do what they had the ability to do. And it didn’t keep conflicts from arising.
Instead of leveling the playing field for everyone, why not assist those who can’t do to achieve? I have seen stories on the television about paralyzed skydivers, people in wheelchairs scaling mountain cliffs, the blind going deep sea diving and more. Even better, I have seen those who lost in one area make extraordinary progress in other areas. Ever hear of Ray Charles, the blind musician? Or Beethoven (deaf music composer) or Stephen Hawkings (the physicist who is confined in a wheelchair) or how about Marlie Matlin (deaf actor)? All these people didn’t let the simple lack of being able to do something stop them. They continued to go and work, and they became the best inside their area of experience despite their disabilities. They did not let those define them.
So getting along with everyone all the time is not an option. It is simply a band-aid. But what I think these people are calling for truly is not total agreement as much as respect and courtesy. And those two things I can get behind giving anyone.
Back to DragonGoddess: She and I had some massive and major knock down drag-out fights about her philosophy on life and her expression of Paganism. I contended that it was discourteous to take from others without their permission. I also felt that she would be better served by looking critically at what she promoted and judging it against the standard of what was provable. She disagreed, violently.
Now I’m not going to say that I am a saint. I *did* in fact “attack” her first by criticizing, and she reacted as any creature who is wounded would, by attacking back. But since I take criticism in stride and I can look at what is being said behind the critique, without making it personal, the attack from her looked to me as though it was out of order. So I attacked back, with (and here I’ll compliment myself) scathing criticism, really hitting home a few times. Some of it was undeserved, and some was over the top, but I’m a creature too, and I react to pain.
But time passed and as best as I can tell, some of my words made her rethink some of what she expressed. I think this is what happened, I’m not sure. All I can say is that some of the worst articles on her site started quietly disappearing. There were still problems, and I pointed them out to her again, with the same attack/defense cycle as before. Then more time passes and those start vanishing as well.
Finally I went back to her site after being absent from it for about a year and a half. I looked around. What I saw (while it was essentially the same) was reflective of HER personality and HER spirituality. She had a site that was DragonGoddess, not a site that was everyone else with a little DragonGoddess thrown in. I took the time to tell her so in her guestbook.
I think I stunned her. Really. I didn’t criticize; I didn’t attack. Just a sincere compliment on how it looked now. So much so that she mentioned my compliment to another person who loves to attack with the littlest criticism, Norm. And he reacted with “OMGWTFBB!?!?!?!” to that.
I can understand the confusion. Here I am, a major anti-fluff protester, one who goes out and finds those who are fluffy and persecutes them. And I come to a site that I had previously tagged as “fluffy” and I compliment them on their site. I can see why they would be confused.
But while they saw that happening, that is not what I was doing. I did suggest that some improvements could be made, only from wanting to see Paganism presented to everyone in the best light. I suggested that the documents that were taken from other sources could be replaced by documents they wrote reflecting their own beliefs, and I suggested that inaccurate information could be replaced by accurate information. When they reacted defensively (because they could not separate criticism of their creation from criticism of them), I reacted by being sarcastic and defensive. But I have always been able to separate criticism of myself from criticism of my work.
It is a very hard thing to do, but it can happen. See, whenever an author writes anything (and I suspect that anytime a painter or sculptor or composer makes anything) an awful lot of them goes into that creation. It is part of the process. I put myself vulnerable here on the paper, and I leave that part of myself here. It is the inner reaches of my soul and it makes me hideously vulnerable. But because so much of myself and my mind and soul are invested in this article, when it’s criticized, it is taken (in many cases) as an attack on me.
But here is the thing: Yes, I put a lot of myself into the process of creation but not all of myself. Once the act of creation is complete, the article is done, and ultimately it’s only words on the paper. I am no longer vulnerable because now, the article is complete. It is no longer part of me; it is its own thing, whole in and of itself.
And because of that, critique of the article is attacks on the article, not me. I am only the one who brought it forth now, like a father. Yes, I wish to defend my article if it is being attacked, but if it can be improved in some way, well, don’t I want it to be the best it can be? And I also understand that what I say is not going to be for everyone, therefore if someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine.
But when a person cannot separate himself or herself from the creation any criticism of it can be seen as an attack on them. And that’s where problems happen. Normally time, maturity and patience are enough to cure this problem, but not always. It depends entirely on the maturity of the person whose work is being criticized. Some people mature, others don’t.
And I’m not saying that DragonGoddess didn’t mature. Far from it, I’m saying that she did mature and was able to see that while I disliked elements of her site, I was able to criticize those without making it personal.
It’s been said in the past, “This is business, not personal” and the corollary of that is “It’s always personal.” To this statement, I call bullshit. You can dislike something without disliking the person. I have a lot of people that I know that I dislike elements of them, their dress, their hair, their way of walking, while still liking them as a whole.
And that’s the problem. Things are getting so homogenized by our society that we forget conflict is good and necessary, that without conflict we don’t grow or achieve or overcome our fears. Heck, there was an article I read not too long ago and I linked it in my my blog and I’ll repost it here: A Woodland Lesson.
We have been taught that any conflict is a bad thing (TM) and that we must all get along. Well, conflict is what happens every weekend in the various Gladiatorial Arenas of the baseball diamonds, football stadiums and wrestling rink. It happens in NASCAR, in fishing and any sport you want to point to. Blood transfusions came from one of the World Wars, so did defibrillation machines and many other advances in medicine.
Conflict is good. UNREGULATED conflict or conflict FOR NO PURPOSE is the bad thing. We need to stop POINTLESS debate and arguments, but as long as understanding is being fostered on both sides, argue away. That is my point.
But there will always be people like Norm Vogel who think that an attack on his article is an attack on him. Well, I attacked DragonGoddess’ website, and now I count her among my associates, the people I enjoy spending time with.