Over the last year or so, the Pagan community has engaged in hard conversations dealing with issues including consent culture, sex positivity, and racism. These are important conversations, but they are also hard; in part because of what they make each person realize about themselves and in part because we look at our community–and where we fit into it differently–as a result of them. Actually, I could probably list many other reasons these types of conversations are hard, but really the point is that while these conversations are hard, they are also necessary.
Recently, I attended two conventions where such conversations were occurring, either as a result of being scheduled for the programming, or occurring unofficially (i.e. off program) because people wanted to discuss these topics. As I listened, and occasionally chimed in with my own perspectives, what struck me about the conversations is how much people hungered for them and also hungered to take action on these issues. In one sense, I think this is because, as a community overall, we have had to take a hard look at ourselves this past year and recognize that the Pagan community isn’t necessarily more enlightened or better than any other community. And, if that seems like an odd observation to make, I’ll situate it in my personal experience. When I came into the Pagan community so long ago, there was a part of me that wanted to believe that somehow we were more spiritually enlightened, and that this lead to enlightenment in other areas of life. If that seems like a naive perspective…it is; so was I when I felt that way. I was starstruck at the time and also disillusioned about the previous spiritual path I’d been on.
Over time, the scales came off my eyes. I saw that I wasn’t automatically a more enlightened person for becoming a Pagan and neither were any of the other people I met. And in a sense, I feel that part of what our community is dealing with now is a similar realization. The scales have come off the eyes (if they were ever there in the first place), and there is a real need for these hard conversations we are having around social justice issues, as they relate to the Pagan community, the world at large, and also our own positions in relationship to those issues. We need the conversations we are having so our community can continue to grow. More importantly we need them so that all people who identify as Pagan can feel respected and included in our community. And, no, these conversations aren’t comfortable or easy to have. Nor should they be. These conversations we have on issues of consent, race, gender, spirituality, or whatever else should challenge and push us out out of respective bubbles. They should force us to face the issues head on.
Conversation isn’t enough, but its a start. And, what it provides for each person involved is a chance to collaborate and work with other people. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to take a good hard look at yourself in relationship to those issues and understand your responses to what comes up during the conversations. Something I do, when such conversations is occur, is spend a lot of time listening, both to what is being said and to my internal reactions. Paying attention to both can be revealing because it shows me where my own prejudices are in relationship to whatever the topic is. Those prejudices may be unconscious, but they are there. Whether or not I overtly act on them, I nonetheless need to own them and uncover them, if only to myself, so that I can change them. That’s where change begins: with ourselves, our attitudes, beliefs, and internal values. Once we face those and own them, then we can start to work toward change with other people, because we are no longer burying our heads in the sand.
At one of the conventions, I admitted at one point that I am ignorant. It’s true. I am ignorant. And, the only way I know to change that is to continue having these conversations, continue being in a place of discomfort in order to learn and to face my ignorance. No these conversations aren’t easy. But, they are necessary, and if we keep having them, then the issues we face as a community will be ones we can work on together proactively instead of just reacting to them when they occur. Let’s keeping having the conversations within ourselves and with each other. Let’s face these issues head on. Will it be easy? No. Will our community be better for it? Yes, though there will be growing pains as there always is when such issues are faced. Still, if we choose to face them head on as a community, we will all be better for the conversations we have and the work we do.