Letters from Midgard
Compassion in Cold Climates
Frith and Grith: Happy To See You versus We'll Put Up With You. While I'm sure we'd all prefer to deal only with those people we really like, the world works better if we are open to the possibility of going beyond that. There will always be lots of people we don't like, and they won't just go away. When dealing with such people, it's also helpful to have some protocol for piloting through these episodes without resorting to steel or, more recently, lead.
The ultimate Inangard is the self. There are whole philosophies based on the idea that this particular Inangard is evil, and must be blotted out of your mind and your actions. When you encounter such ideas and the people selling them, I suggest that you recognize them as Utgard and not even extend them Grith. They are working hard at selling themselves the idea that they may disregard you and your interests whenever these become inconvenient to their plans. If you argue the point, you are just being selfish, which by their definition is automatically bad if the self is you. This becomes especially evident when they want something, whether for themselves, or their friends, or people they don't actually know but like to think of as their friends. When this happens, they will expect you to simply give them what they want. Don't. If they won't take No for an answer, you may eventually need to rephrase your answer in terms that words alone cannot afford you. Much of the history of the 20th century was precisely this discussion with increasingly aggressive physics, and some people still haven't learned.
For most people, the next layer of Inangard is Family. I think it's interesting that pretty much everyone thinks their own family is so strange. But compared to whom? We won't often understand, or even see, the real workings of a family unless we're in it. And most families, even those that dislike each other, will lock together as a unit when presented with certain kinds of stress.
In Viking Age culture, there were other layers of Inangard: for example, Household and, in some circumstances, Tribe, Godord, or Kingdom. These days, we each have many different circles of involvement, based on different kinds of acquaintance, and operating at different scales. The world we live in quickly becomes very complex, and you have to balance the interests of all these Inangards. Some people, especially politicians in election years, will try to tell you that they've already figured all this out for you, and you only need to follow their instructions. Sometimes, they might even have some good advice, but don't count on it. Please think for yourself.
The better you manage your Inangards, the less help you need from your Utgards. Also, you are better able to help others that you know are deserving if they need it, which becomes a pleasure of its own.
You can try to solve the world's problems. You will fail. Or you can try to solve your own problems. You might succeed. You can work at various scales, but focus on things close at hand. The world will be better for it, as will your place in it.
I expect that many readers are now having either or both of two reactions. First, that what I'm saying here is somehow simplistic. Second, that it is rude.
Yes, it is simple to describe. Now try living it. As for rude: much of the way I see people trying to fix things doesn't seem to work very well. If you ask me to do something that doesn't work because people will otherwise think I'm not nice, I will tell you flatly that I don't care, and I might add a Hail Thor! onto it.
We each have our own set of Inangards, and our own set of interests. Those who weren't born yesterday can hardly expect otherwise. The problem with Self-Interest is not that it exists. It can involve a lot of what people call compassion. If you want to live well, it will. But when it is applied foolishly or ignorantly, it can easily make things worse. That's something people don't say very often.
So let's get back to Steinthor's shivering visitor. Will admitting him to the household put the household at risk, either from his behavior, or simply from his consumption of scarce goods? If not, he will have a place by the fire, something to eat, a place to sleep. As a matter of Grith, he will be expected to mind his manners very carefully. By the time the weather breaks, Grith may have turned to Frith. We can always hope.
Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
Abell's column, "Letters from Midgard," is published on occasional Thursdays on the Pagan channel. Subscribe via email or RSS.