We were enjoying a mountain view (and some alpacas), ensconced under a canopy. With an alcoholic beverage in one hand and a cookie in the other, I announced to the other Witches present: “In 10, 20, or 40 years from now, when I run into younger people, I resolve not to be a jerk to them just because they are younger than me. Or different in some way. No snap judgments. Call me on that crap if you see me doing it.”
Maybe it was all the fresh air, or perhaps a coagulation of experiences over the last couple of years culminating all at once as we gazed at the mountain. Who knows. But I was inspired to vocalize my intentions to not let myself become jaded or overly judgmental by visual impressions – at least upfront without reason.
When I was a Witchlet, I bristled at being dismissed by older practitioners at first glance – yet I understood there was an order to things. I typically just had to go about doing my work until I was considered worthwhile and interesting. Now, I did have wonderful experiences where elderfolk listened to what I had to say, and gave kind and/or astute input. I recognized where I was on my path, and they on theirs, and we both benefited from sharing different viewpoints. But those experiences were rarer.
A couple decades later, I have to say I’m over dealing with dismissive snap judgments among Witchfolk and I endeavor to not fall into the trap of making them myself.
While this is something I have experienced myself, it’s not personal indignation that led this exploration of thought. It’s a fairly common phenomena that I’ve observed a lot and others have reported to me. A while back, I polled fellow workshop presenters about certain challenges/negative interactions they experienced from their audience and who they received them from. Women (especially those under the appearance of ~60), gay/queer men under the appearance age of ~45, and folks identifying outside of the gender binary at any age received the most amount of challenges – most typically from older men. On the flip side, men who appear to be mature and more traditional or conventional in nature (even if they’re not, and I’m not saying traditional or conventional is a bad thing), reported far less of this behavior.
This information got me thinking: why? The reasons are wide and wormy. Sometimes people just don’t understand the material, or are so set in their previously acquired knowledge that they feel affronted by someone presenting new or different ideas – especially if that person doesn’t match their mental idea of a teacher. Then there are those people who see a workshop or class as an opportunity for attention in some way. That by ruffling the dynamic or challenging someone they might perceive as non-threatening or not on their perceived level, they think can exalt themselves in some way. And yes I know, there’s a fine line between wanting to contribute information and interrupting the flow. I’m a Gemini, I so want to tell you all the things – but I also respect that this may not be the place or time for it.
But what about general interactions at an event like a gathering or festival? Not in the middle of a class, ritual, or workshop, but in the hallways, meeting grounds, meal tables, and bathrooms? How are you engaging with the people around you in a respectful manner? The awesome thing about pword events is that you can go: gee, everyone else here is some kind of weird- just like me! Outside of the general social awkwardness that comes when meeting new people, I think it’s best to focus on what you can discover about folks, versus dismissing them right off the bat.
There’s also the “don’t you know who I am?” game, that I don’t care to play. I’m not special. No one is. I don’t expect someone to know who I am or what I have done prior to or moments upon meeting me. But dismissing someone because they appear to be younger than you, of a different culture or path, or don’t fit your preconceived notions of gender or sexuality is bogus. As is the “you’re not of interest to me until I come to recognize that you might be someone important.”
Effective Witches never simply rely on visual information – because rarely is that your most reliable source of information. We must be able to perceive beyond the surface, feel what’s going on within our guts, watch, and listen objectively. Otherwise we trip ourselves up and miss out on amazing opportunities.
To avoid falling into the preconceived notion trap, when you run across a new person, take a moment to contemplate your immediate reaction to them.
– How has your vision and brain tried to label them right off the bat?
– Ask yourself: Why is that, and does any of it have any REAL relevance – their age, gender, sexuality, subculture, etc?
– Reflect upon what those first few thoughts say about you, versus instead of them.
– Next, go beyond that initial visual look and relax your focus. How does this person in front of you, outside of those labels – make you feel? What kind of vibe are they putting off? How might they be feeling according to their body language, facial expressions, and vocal patterns? Now how do you feel about them?
– Gauge your reaction and try to start by fostering an atmosphere of respect and consent.
Congratulations! You just succeeded in not being a jerk! Let’s keep it going!