Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Am Not A Shepherd And These Are Not My Sheep

The longer you work in festival or convention safety, the more likely it is you'll run into the perception that the rest of the people, the ones not on your team, are somehow the 'sheep', who need to be protected.  They are, as an aggregate, dumb and thoughtless and unable to make good decisions for themselves.  I've heard them called 'gomers' and any number of other names, all of which imply that we, the safety staff, are the only thing standing between them and their messy, embarrassing demise.

This is, frankly, bullshit.

The first team I worked on held this perception.  Perhaps it was a cynicism, or an egotism, but either way I'm faintly embarrassed now at the way I nodded, smugly, when it was explained to me that "We protect the people.  Mostly from themselves."  It was easy for me, because I only ever saw the people having trouble, to view those others as a collection of bad decisions and personal frailties waiting to happen.  It was easy to view myself as a voice of calm reason and sanity to a childlike population.  I bought into that particular line of patriarchy without even thinking about it.

As I began to consider my own warrior's path, away from my earliest influences, I evaluated my relationship with those around me.  I considered how we would interact, what role I would play in their lives, and they in mine.  It started to chafe at me, this perception of a mindless mass of helpless sheep.  These are people, I thought, my equals and my peers.  Together we form community, and together we create, sustain, and protect that community.

Over the last two years, as I've been training to lead my own safety services team, I've had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to lead and guide that team.  What would we do?  Would we be physical warriors, standing up bodily in the face of harm?  Would we be spiritual warriors, focused on magical defenses and energy work?  How would we protect the people?

The more I thought about my own history, and what I saw in it, the more I realised that I don't protect these people.  Not in the traditional way.  I protect this community, and that's something entirely different.

There is a part of it that is the taking up of arms, of walking into battle in the very real sense.  That is a minuscule part of this commitment, but many groups treat it as the default expectation, a physical defense against a clear threat.  They walk with swords and arrogance, looking for obvious battles, but when you begin by looking for a fight, you almost never find anything else.

No, the real work is elsewhere.  To speak up with integrity in defense of those who do not feel empowered to speak.  To model the actions you want to see in others.  To choose empathy and compassion in the face of anger and confusion.  To walk out among your community, opening doors and creating bridges, wherever you can.  To be a resource for clarity and understanding.  To build trust.

I consider what may happen, and how best to respond.  I marshal resources and maintain, in my head, a list of people who can be depended upon to be calm and patient when it is needed, and fierce and passionate when it is needed, and who have the wisdom to know which is which.

The people of my community will usually, if given good information and the time to think clearly, make reasoned, intelligent decisions.  When there is not time to think clearly, I have to call upon the trust that I have built rather than the authority I claim, to ask them to do something on my word because important things are at stake and I cannot stop to explain.

I worry, but with a plan.  What is the worst that might happen, I ask myself, and then what will I do?

Through it all, I remember that I don't stand between these sheep and the wolves.  I stand among these people.  I am of them, and we are united in the future of this community.  I am often asked why I'm so adamant about the difference between "I am on the safety team" and "I am on the security team."  The difference is that the safety team is always thinking about the health and the safety of the community.  They understand that flexibility and understanding are critical to the dynamic situations affecting the tribe.  The security team simply enforces the rules, by force if necessary.  There are too many instances of 'force' in that for me to be comfortable with it.

A shepherd protects and tends the flock, but he also culls it for his own sustenance.  A sheepdog will ward against danger, but if it becomes hungry enough it will turn into a wolf in the blink of an eye.

A warrior walks among the people, of the people, and stands united with them for the good of all.

That is what I want to do.

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