Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

The Challenge

[This was posted to the Carolingian Mailing list this morning. This crosspost to my personal journal and the carolingia community are for anyone who isn't following that list.]

Okay; that was *really* interesting. Please bear with me; this is going to be long, but I think useful.

To recap: last week, I posted a note about some issues I'd been noting around the Barony lately, and asking how others saw things. I got *far* more response than I was either expecting or prepared for. I'm not going to get into the full details, but to summarize some of the high points that I got out of that:

  • Yes, a number of people have been noticing a variety of issues.

  • A lot of folks have been drifting to the sidelines of the Barony lately. This is heavily influenced by the mundane economic and political situation, although that's only one factor among several.

  • However, this is far from universal: some of the subsets of the Barony (notably Towers) seem to be doing quite well.

  • Feelings on the subject are often vehement, but not consistent. Different people see different problems and different solutions. A substantial number of people see this past year as an aberration, a number see it as part of a trend.

  • There appears to be a lot of energy floating around, but it's rather raw and unfocused: a lot of people are having trouble figuring out what to *do* about the issues they see.

There's a huge amount more; those who want to wade through it can find it at:


That said, I personally consider that exercise to have run its course and then some, and I think it's time to shift gears.

We could start a big debate here on this mailing list, but I don't think this is quite the time for it. That's for two specific reasons:

1) We're about to hit Pennsic, when many people aren't on email. So anything that we start here is likely to fizzle very soon.

2) Discussions here have a particular character, and that character is a little premature yet. What we really need now is brainstorming, frankly -- ideas coming from all directions. This list, unfortunately, tends to shut down brainstorming: loudmouths (including me) tend to criticize too much too fast, and a lot of people get too shy about putting their ideas out if they feel they're going to immediately get thrown into the lawnmower of debate.

So, putting those two facts together, I'd like to propose something different: a challenge. The challenge is, for the next three weeks, to *talk*.

Some of that talk could happen here, but like I said, I don't think it's the optimal time and place. The objective isn't (yet) to have a big all-encompassing debate about Life, the Universe and Everything; it's to talk personally and privately, to figure out on a *personal* level what we want to see happen.

This isn't about winning people over to a particular viewpoint, or coming up with the One True Solution to Everything -- it's just thinking together, talking with a variety of folks, and seeing what comes out of it. It's dinner-table conversation. It's email conversation. It's *especially* campfire conversation. Pennsic is an opportunity here, when a lot of the Barony will be hanging around with time to chat. I strongly encourage those who will be there (not me, sadly) to take the opportunity to think and talk.

Rules of the Challenge (every challenge has rules):

  • Keep it Specific and Personal. The question I'm asking here isn't "What's wrong with the Barony?". It's "What do *you* want to do? How could the SCA be more fun for you? If there are things we could do better, how would you like to join in?" Yes, this limits the scope a bit. That's intentional, as a way to keep us from talking too much in the abstract.

    It's easy to say, "The Barony should do X", but it carries a misapprehension -- The Barony really doesn't do much at all. When we decide that The Barony should do something, it usually doesn't happen, because it's ultimately a way to pass the buck. Things happen when the individual *citizens* of Carolingia decide to make them happen.

    I'm not asking you to take personal responsibility for a thousand different tasks; rather, I'm asking for you to come up with various things that make sense for you. If you're reading this email, then you're a citizen of Carolingia -- an owner of the Barony in every important sense -- and that carries with it both the right to have fun as part of the Barony and the responsibility to help make it fun for yourself and others. If we all come up with a bunch of ideas of what we'd like to do, and compare notes, odds are that a lot is going to be covered. (And odds are that, even if you don't have time for one particular idea, someone else will *also* find it fun and cool once they hear about it.)

  • Be Active. Start some conversations, and start them with a variety of people. If you're at Pennsic, take the chance to talk to people you don't usually talk to when you're around the campfire. If you're staying home, then use the phone or email or parties to talk with folks. (I promise to engage in any and all email chats on this subject, if you can't think of anyone else to bounce ideas off of.) Take the active part, at least sometimes, in chatting about this stuff.

    Understand: while the objective here is to come up with answers that work for you, that's hard to do in a vacuum. The whole point of brainstorming is to bounce ideas off other people. When two people, each of whom have one idea, talk to each other, they often wind up with six ideas between them by the time they're done. And they often find that they like each others' ideas at least as much as their own.

    Start the conversation *especially* if you don't have an idea of your own yet. One difficulty about the brainstorming exercise is that the question of, "What do you want to do?" is so *big* that it's a little hard to wrap your head around -- it's easy to just go in circles and not land anywhere. But people are social animals, and ideas come from conversation. Many of the best concepts start as idle chat. So keep this challenge in the back of your mind as you're sitting around the parties or campfires or wherever, and see what springs to mind.

  • Be Open. When someone has an idea they want to talk about, listen to it, and listen seriously. *Interact* about that idea. It's very easy to dismiss ideas that you haven't internalized yet; try to resist that temptation. Often, an idea that seemed preposterous at first glance looks really good after you've worked together to refine a few details.

  • Avoid the Blame Game. It's dangerously, terribly easy to decide that Things are Broken and It's Somebody's Fault. It's also wrong, in most important respects. Yes, there's going to be some need to talk about specifics. But insofar as there are problems, they're mostly due to institutional inertia and lack of imagination on *all* of our parts. Finger-pointing is a child's game; try to stay away from it during this challenge.

  • Don't Be Afraid of Subtlety. Often, what you want out of the Barony isn't something you can directly affect. Think about how to *indirectly* help it instead. For example, if there is an art you appreciate but don't practice, think about how to patronize and encourage it so that it's more fun for the people who *do* do it. If you want to see more newcomers in the Barony, think about how you can help make things more accessible and enjoyable for those newbies. And so on -- the most effective ways to help are often the most subtle and indirect.

  • Keep it Positive. It's easy to fall into the trap of paying too much attention to the problems, and winding up thinking of them as intractable; heaven knows I'm as prone to this as anyone. Focusing too much on problems generally leads to some mix of anger and despair, and let's be frank -- while that can be oddly comforting, it is *always* useless. If you instead think of these issues as puzzles to be solved, the process becomes both more interesting and more satisfying.

  • Perhaps most important: Be Imaginative. Don't let yourself get lashed down by the way things have always been done. One of the worst mistakes we make, over and over, is assuming that just because we do things one way, that's the only way we can do them. Often, there are better options we haven't considered. That's one of the main points of this challenge: to find those roads not yet mapped, so we can explore them.

Let me state this clearly: I am certain that there is nothing intractable going on at this point. I do think we've made some mistakes, but they're ones we can bounce back from quite well, *if* we all work together on it. Hence this challenge, which is the first step in that process, starting some serious creative ferment. We have a lot of smart and imaginative people here, and I sincerely believe that collectively we can do an enormous amount.

Obviously, I can't make anyone pick up this particular gauntlet, but I urge everyone to at least toy with it. Talk together over the next three weeks, and see what we all come up with. Then, after Pennsic, we can take stock, look at the ideas that have been generated, and figure out how we want to move on from there...

  • The Third Way: Beyond Fun and Authenticity

    I just came across this marvelous essay on the SCA fun/authenticity false dichotomy, and a different way of looking at it. It was written some…

  • Fairy Lights

    One surprising highlight from 50 Year doesn't seem to have made it into many accounts -- I think our encampment was particularly well-placed in this…

  • Animal-friendly events are just *different*

    (As usual for when I've attended something long, I'll be posting some random reminiscences.) Being held at a 4-H Fairground, SCA 50th Year was just…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded