Largesse

A friend whom I wanted to see was in bad financial shape. I know that he likes a particular restaurant, and so I offered to buy his lunch there. He responded “I don’t take charity.”

I responded that I wasn’t planning on giving him charity, and that I expected someday for him to help another friend in dire financial straits when he was more stable. Besides, I desired his company, and so in point of fact I was simply paying for his time in kind rather than in cash. It was a rapid rationalization, but it did the trick.

Whenever the discussion of giving without expectation arises, this interaction comes to mind. It’s such a touchy subject; our UU congregation asks us, every year, to commit to giving a certain amount to the church. A friend referred to it as the “annual strong-arming.” It is, however, less intrusive than in the Mormon church, where apparently one is expected to provide a financial statement which is then used to generate what is essentially a bill for a formulaically derived amount. I’d probably tell them what to do with their bill, and offer to install it. No charge.

Largesse is about giving. A lot of people think that giving should be altruistic; one should give because it’s right to give. My problem with that premise is that it relies on either the person’s moral code or an external code of conduct. Giving thus is a result of guilt or shame in not giving, and often leads to resentment. (There’s a whole psychological subtext in there, but we can leave that as read if you don’t mind!) Instead, giving needs to be done from a sense of self-fulfillment. Robert Heinlein suggests “If tempted by something that feels ‘altruistic,’ examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then if you still want to do it, wallow in it” (Time Enough for Love, 1978, ).

There is some truth in this. Giving to others can feel good. It can be tremendously rewarding. But giving is not giving if it is expected or demanded; at best, it’s a transaction and at worst it’s extortion. Giving because we’re expected to feel “altruistic” just removes the emotional process a step. So I don’t give because I’m altruistic. I give to things I think are important. Giving to those things feels good. Sometimes I give because I get something specific in return- I give to my congregation because my congregation provides services and such for me. I give to medical charities because I gain personal satisfaction out of it.

Another common misconception about giving is that it means money. I have two kids in private school and a single income; there’s not a lot in the way of excess money. So I must exercise some discretion in how I spend my money and on what. I do, however, have some time to give to charitable organizations. At present, however, that’s logistically difficult, as I don’t drive and me going somewhere means loading up the kids so my wife can take me there. Our household doesn’t leave- we deploy!

I do give to my church, however, and whenever possible to the charities that they support. Whenever we have an extra can of food, we donate it to our Beta Food Pantry, which feeds the homeless and housebound in our area. We also give cans to our kids’ school, which has a similar program.

One of the ways I try to always contribute my time is in our CUUPS group. In addition to rituals, we have lectures, and we try to attend those even when we’re not interested just because it’s important to have a decent audience. I also have committed to participating in every ritual for which I’m in town, so I rarely get to sit and just be a member of the “congregation.”

Is this largesse? I think it is. I give of my time and my energy when I don’t have to. We have many people who attend and have never called a quarter or invoked deity. Nobody complains at them about it, so it seems likely that I could just show up, and sit and enjoy the proceedings. I choose to give of my time so that the rit can be a successful ones that others can sit and enjoy.

There are opportunities for largess everywhere in our lives, if we know where to look for them. Our circumstances may require us to engage in some creativity. That shouldn’t be a problem for us- “the warrior’s path is creativity,” after all.

Lord Seosaidh

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Justice

“Justice” may be one of the trickier concepts in our Code of Chivalry. Not only do people not agree on how it should be defined- Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary contains 8 related but not identical definitions for the word- but how justice is to be applied differes widely. Robert Heinlein discussed in The Number of the Beast a society that took quite literally the justice concept of “an eye for an eye.” Most people in industrialized nations think that a trifle excessive, especially if it’s going to be applied to them.

However, a quote from our Arming ceremony gives us some guidance regarding what “justice” means in the context of the Code of Chivalry. “Injustice is what gives you the right to mete justice.” This suggests that it is injustice to which we respond as Knights, and that we may derive our definition of justice from the converse of “injustice.” Returning to Merriam-Webster, we find that the definition for “injustice” is “unfair treatment: a situation in which the rights of a person or a group of people are ignored.”

It seems to follow, therefore, that fair treatment and the observance of the rights of individuals or groups are recognized and considered is a basic concept behind our ideal of justice. Problem solved, right? But the difficulty is just beginning.

We all have a different definition of fair. And many have differing views to what constitutes a “right.” We have a right to privacy… except when we don’t. We have a right to marry… except when we don’t. We have a right to keep and bear arms… except when we don’t.

My older daughter is offended because if she behaves badly, she loses something that her younger sister doesn’t have anyway. It’s not fair, she reasons, that if she fights with her sister she loses her dance class while her sister only loses TV time that she was losing anyway because she has to come along to dance class. Although I have explained repeatedly that “fair” does not mean “equal,” she continues to insist on this point. And, perhaps she’s right.

As a parent, however, I have an obligation to address inappropriate behaviour as best I can. I acknowledge my imperfections in this, and accept that from time to time I will make mistakes. My responsibility in that situation is to learn from those mistakes and to not make them again.

The same is true for Knights. We may be called upon by people to “mete out justice” because they believe they’ve been wronged. When this happens, we have to consider a couple of important points. First, has harm actually been done? Being offended doesn’t mean one has been harmed. Not liking something doesn’t mean it harms you. Just because someone is offended does not justify our action.

Second, there is the matter of proportionality. What “justice” does the person seek, and is it out of proportion to the harm that was done? If it is out of proportion, we must refuse, not because justice is satisfied but because injustice does not balance injustice. As Pagan Knights, we are rarely called upon to mete out justice in the instant. There are times when an instant response is called for, but never have I been called upon in a mediation situation where the resolution had to be decided and implemented immediately. One has time to consider an appropriate response.

Third, and frankly most importantly, is our intentionality. Whatever energy we put to the universe is attuned to us. If we put angry, vengeful energy out, the universe recognizes us as angry, vengeful people and gives us more of that energy that we apparently like so much. (I imagine an energy barista serving up cups of resentment. “Man, everybody’s getting that stuff, what’s up with that?” “I don’t know, I can’t stand the stuff myself, but a lot of people seem to like it.”) As I said previously, injustice won’t ultimately balance justice, and if we set out on a path of injustice it has the potential to harm many, including ourselves.

Like a parent, we must learn from our mistakes, and strive to do better next time. We must consider our actions in the context of the Wiccan Rede, and remember that “harm” cares not for good intentions- if we acted to harm except in absolute need, it sends a message to the universe as to what kind of person we are. If we do so constantly, the universe accepts this as a constant personality characteristic. Such a person is not a Knight. At best he or she is a well-meaning bully, convinced that the righteousness of his or her actions despite repeated evidence from the universe that harm has been caused.

A warrior is a person who takes a searching and fearless moral inventory and uses that knowledge to change the world. If we are to be Knights, we must be fearless about our truths… especially the ones we don’t like.

Sir Seosaidh

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Truth

I have talked about truth before, in my essay on developing the ability to see the truth in all matters. In it, I talk about the different truths that we perceive- subjective and objective truths- that are often very different. As Knights, we offer ourselves to stand in the way of danger, to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. In order to do so, we must perceive accurately the nature of that danger.

I should at this point be clear that part of my bias as a therapist is not to feed into distorted realities. There is a balance that must be found, however, between subjective and objective realities. I’m reminded of a client whose boyfriend had hidden drugs in her belongings, and she got caught with them. It delayed her possible discharge by a couple of years, and she was understandably not so happy about it. The boyfriend, to be fair, did work to turn it around, got serious about his substance abuse treatment, etc. But when she talked about getting back together with him, she said “He lied to me, and that cost me two years of my freedom. I can’t trust him.”

I knew the boyfriend, and I think that he was sincere, that he loved her, and that he’d changed. But her reality was that she couldn’t trust him, ever. And while that was technically a distortion of reality (probably!), it was a reality that we couldn’t change. The relationship was not repaired, even though that’s what she came to therapy to work on. And at the end of our time, I had to say “I can’t help you achieve that goal. I can help you accept that the relationship is over, to grieve the loss of it and to learn from it. But I can’t help you repair the relationship because your truth won’t allow it.”

When I think about truth and Magick, I am often reminded of the section in Modern Knighthood that talks about those who believe they’re under attack, and “fire off energistic salvos” because they see themselves as being under siege. This brings to mind several people that I’ve worked with who claim that they can’t ground negative energy. They’re not happy when I tell them that this inability has nothing to do with the energy and everything to do with their perception of it. Somehow, they have the idea that “dark” or “bad” energy is… I don’t know, sticky, I guess.

It is not my responsibility to convince these people that they are wrong. It’s not my job to make them understand. I know, however, that I am a Knight in part because I want to help others, and I need to resist the urge to try and help those who don’t really want help. Those who seek an external source for their problems, regardless of the evidence to the contrary, don’t want help- they want excuses. I would suspect that many Knights could fall easily into the trap of wanting to help those who don’t really want help.

It is for this reason that we must be able to see Truth, and to speak it- but let us not in speaking the truth succumb to the desire to force it upon another. Consider the symbology of the sword, the edge that cuts away illusions. There are, in most western examples of swords, two edges, and that double-edged sword is used in our Magickal tradition for a reason. Every story has two sides to it, and so does every truth. As pagans, it is not our mission to force our truth upon another. As Knights, it is not our responsibility to accept another’s truth if it does not agree with our own, nor are we obligated to allow ourselves to be drawn into another’s dysfunctional reality. At some point, then, we needed to develop the ability to say “No. I can’t support your truth. It may be true for you, but I don’t see it, and I can’t contribute to it.”

In other words, we have develop the ability to say “I can’t help you.” That’s not something we’re good at, acknowledging that we can’t help- especially to ourselves! However, as Knights serving our community, we need to be aware that saying “I can’t help you” is part of self-care, and that’s true regardless of whether the reason is that the person is wrong about the cause or because the situation is beyond our capabilities to handle.

Truth is not always pleasant- in fact, it’s often unpleasant. The ability to accept the truth, regardless of whether or not we like it, is an essential quality of a Knight, and one which our Code of Chivalry says we must learn to cultivate “in all matters.”

Not just the ones we like.

Sir Seosaidh

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Perseverance

By now, it’s probably apparent from my essays that I take little at face value and rarely take the direct approach to any issue. The discussion of perseverance is no different, I’m afraid! It is important to understand that any part of our Code of Chivalry has a converse.

Without perseverance, it is rather difficult to accomplish anything. Rarely is there anything worth doing that does not require some effort on our part, and if a skill is something that can be improved, it will require sustained effort to accomplish that task. Anyone who attains the rank of Knight within our Order has demonstrated the principle of perseverance, as this is a journey which inevitably incurs obstacles (if only those of daily life’s demands).

Closely related to this virtue is that of self-discipline. Perseverance, however, represents the ability to return again and again, despite obstacles, to the focus of the self-discipline. Though your body may scream at you to quit, though your spirit may beg for rest, perseverance enables you to push through to the goal at the end. It is the ability to sit one more time in meditation, to recite the Warrior’s Admonition again and again until it is known perfectly, or to practice the Zwerchau until it is perfect.

There is, however, the shadow side of perseverance, and it isn’t sloth, or indifference, or giving up. Those are merely opposites. Perseverance has a side to it that hurts us and those around us.

It’s stubbornness.

You may ask, how can a Scotsman decry stubbornness as a failure of perseverance? And it is true, there is a certain amount of the pot looking at the kettle and saying “your ass is all covered in soot.” Because I understand my shadow self, I recognize that the potential for unreasoning, unrelenting stubbornness exists within me.

Stubborn doesn’t know when to quit. It does not understand that discretion is the better part of valour. And it can get you killed.

My daughter was recently allowed the opportunity to play on her school’s football team. After one practice, she hated it. She hated the drills. She hated the coach’s way of running practice. She hated that she was the smallest, least experienced person on the team, and hated the fact that because she was the least experienced person on the team she got to play a total of two minutes.

But she wouldn’t quit. She wanted to, but she would not quit. I know that she wanted to quit, because when my wife said “no way, there are boys out there twice your size and you’re going to get hurt” she put up only a token resistance. But my Scottish/Dutch child has some difficulty with the concept of “surrender.” Go figure.

The line between perseverance and stubbornness is a fine one. It’s not always clear when one should “shut up and soldier”, and when discretion is indeed the better part of valour. As Knights, it behoves us to consider this idea carefully, because we will be called upon- by the community, by the Gods- to persevere in the face of adversity. It’s sort of our thing. At the same time, we must learn to temper our stubbornness and understand when it can hurt us or others around us.

Being a Knight isn’t about being stupid, and if we are to avoid the failings of our spiritual ancestors with regards to being hidebound traditionalists we must be prepared to persevere and when to withdraw and regroup to engage once again at a time and place of our choosing, as Sun Tzu enjoins us to do.

Sir Seosaidh

(Joseph H. Greene, L.C.S.W., Clinical Social Worker)

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Compassion

Seosaidh Blackwolf

July 29, 2014

There are many words that the general public gets wrong. Ambivalence, for example. Most people think that “ambivalence” means “I don’t know what I’m feeling.” In fact, it means “feeling two separate emotions at the same time.” Often, this leads to not being able to separate the two, but that uncertainty is not an inherent part of the meaning of the word. Likewise, “empathy” is often described as the ability to feel what another person is feeling, an idea supported by science fiction (Star Trek is one major culprit here!). In fact, empathy is the ability to understand what another is feeling, and to some extent comprehend what the experience is like.

Compassion is another word that I think many people misunderstand. Some see it as a force, driving behaviour. “If you had any compassion you would…” But compassion is simply having concern for others, especially those having misfortunes. It’s an emotion. It does not direct our behaviour. No matter how strong that emotion is, it does not choose the behaviour.

I do not give money to panhandlers or people collecting money in front of stores. “Would you like to help feed the homeless?” they say, with their bucket for donations placed conveniently for my contribution.  When I continue on my way, they say “God bless you,” and don’t realize that I can, in fact, hear the unspoken “asshole” that they repress. “Pardon me, do you have some money so I can ride the bus home?” says the man in the parking lot who was trying to get bus fare home this morning when I stopped at the same Starbucks. Or he has a story- “I ran out of gas, I’m just trying to get to Bakersfield, I forgot my ATM card at home.” And I do not give them money.

At some point, someone who knows me will ask “why don’t you give them money? You’re a Social Worker, I thought you’d have some compassion.” And it is at that point that I must explain that compassionate doesn’t mean stupid. The company that put that guy out in front of the store spends pennies on the dollar on the homeless. I’ll give my money- or my time- to the city mission to feed the homeless, or get a list and go shop for them. The guy in the parking lot has been trying to get to Bakersfield for three weeks, and is wearing long sleeves in the 100+ heat so I can’t see his track marks. And when I look at his arms and meet his eyes, he knows that I haven’t fallen for it.

I have compassion for him. Being an addict is hard. His life is a misery and he doesn’t know how to fix it. I want to help him. But I will not help him by giving him money to get his fix. I will only delay the inevitable. “Hey, bring your gas can over, I’ll throw ten bucks worth into it.” “Uh… I don’t have a gas can.” “Okay, I’ll buy you one.” “No, I don’t want to hassle you.”  Sometimes, if they’re asking for money for food, one of them will take me up on an offer to buy them something. Yes, he’s still an addict- and he will use someone else’s money to buy his drugs- but he’s not using mine.

One of my patients has a voice that tells him horrible things about himself, things that make him, literally, cry during therapy sessions. He has no control over it, and he’s on Clozaril, which is our biggest, baddest gun. He’s never going to leave our facility, and I don’t know that he should. Because he’s so crazy that there is no way that if his voice tells him to do something dangerous for long enough that he won’t eventually do it. He’s going to die here. Underneath the crazy, though, he’s a really sweet guy, who doesn’t mean harm to anyone. He built a fire in the wrong place and didn’t consider that anyone might get hurt- fortunately, no one did- and for that he’s going to die here.

I don’t think that’s right. But unless someone is willing to take him under supervision out there in the community, I can’t tell the court that he should go. He really just is that crazy, and someone is going to get hurt if he’s not watched, because he doesn’t have the ability to make good decisions. That saddens me greatly, because no human being should be in such a situation. But- despite my compassion- I will not support letting him go until he can be supervised, because I also have compassion for his potential victims.

It is good to be concerned about the welfare of others, in my opinion. To allow that concern to dictate your decisions when you may not have all the facts isn’t compassion, however. As warriors, as Knights, we will often see people in bad situations of their own making. To decide to swoop in and rescue them won’t help them, will hurt us, and may leave us unable to help others who really need our help when they need us most.seosaidh