Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why
Last-But-Not-Least Ideas

Philosophy Practice
Ælflæd of Duckford

Once at a mundane party (hot-tub, poker, burgers, music video party) a new knight and I got into a discussion about campaigning for peerage. I'm against it, and he saw no problem with campaigning. The discussion became animated and interesting, and his wife (the hostess) came by and said that we should talk about something else. We kind of laughed, and she went back out to the poker game, while we kept up the debate. It was a heated but friendly argument, and we started drawing spectators, and asking for their opinions, so the next time the hostess appeared we had taken over the whole living room with what she didn't want discussed. She told us it was a mundane party and this wasn't an appropriate time and place for a discussion of that nature. Well, she was the hostess and the new knight did have to answer to her later on, so we quit (nearly). What we did softly ask each other is "What is an appropriate time and place?"

I went home wishing we could've finished the discussion for the benefit of the people who had come in to listen and ask questions. This was the sort of discussion non-peers rarely get in on, and it was going really well for a while there. "The proper place and time" was a puzzle. At an event when we're supposed to be doing medieval-type things is certainly not the time - that's worse than a hot-tub party. Peers can talk about some of it in circles, but that does non-peers no good. On the way to and from events is good, but even my big van only carries eight, tops, and usually eight who've already heard the others' arguments before. It was kind of like what might be discussed at a vigil, but at a vigil there aren't more than three or four people in at once, sometimes fewer, and they tend more toward short discussions than long.

Later that week it hit me that there was no proper place and time and we were going to have to invent one. Although Outlands' peers nearly all have vigils, I was admitted to two peerage orders in Atenveldt and had no opportunity to even ask a single question. I decided to have a vigil. I called my discussion partner, and he thought it would work, so I called those people I thought could really add the most and I advertised it in the local newsletter like this:

Discussion Group at AElflaed's
or
AElflaed's Vigil

In the days when I became a peer, there were not even vigils for knights, let alone pelicans and laurels. I was jerked unceremoniously into the ranks of the peerage without a clue as to what was expected of me. Nowadays just prior to becoming peers, the candidates have a full evening (or two) of concentrated discussion of philosophy and issues, where they ask questions of peers and answer questions peers come to put to them, and sometimes where they discuss peerage with non-peers who have come to wish them well in their new status.

Having participated in several other people's vigils I have been variously impressed-ranging from awed to frustrated-by the conversations which crop up there. Often the discussions are limited to things which apply to or will not offend or upset the particular candidate whose peerage is nigh.

Is all this leading up to something? Naturally. I'm having a belated vigil at which peerage issues can, should, must be discussed-a party at which only philosophical SCA issues are appropriate conversation, and other conversations must move discreetly to the side. Since I'm not a new peer, nor a shy one, people need not be cautious and careful with their opinions. We can have verbal rough-and-tumble. (Sensitive psyches beware!)

Three kinds of people are welcome to come: 1) peers, 2) the seriously interested, and 3) the mildly curious. If you don't care anything in the world about SCA peerage, you'd hate this party. If your idealism is intact, venture not into this den of cynicism. Should your vistas be clear and calm, pick ye not these nits!

Some questions for consideration:

  • Should actively campaigning for peerage count against a person?
  • Should laurels and pelicans take apprentices/proteges as knights take squires?
  • Should a laurel or pelican back down some from strong SCA participation to give non-peers a chance to shine?
  • Is it harder to get into one peerage than another? (The Outlands tries to keep them more equal than in the past - are we succeeding?)
  • Do non-peers know what peers are doing (and vice versa)?
  • Shouldn't everyone go home and get some sleep so they can make it to the newcomers' college by noon?

Think up your own questions or issues; pick your discussion partner(s); lay on.

Keep arguments philosophical and hypothetical (when possible) and not personal or particular. Nothing decided or agreed to will be binding on anything or anybody. People are allowed and encouraged to change their minds. Those convinced are not committed to remaining convinced. Don't be disappointed if the discussions are not quite as serious as at a "real" vigil, and don't get nervous if they're wilder or rougher.

CLOTHING: SCA garb

FOOD: bring something to share-mundane or modern foods which are inappropriate for events (bring something you've missed before at events).

[appeared in the June 1989 "Baronial Shaft," the newsletter of al-Barran (Albuquerque)]

We had it in costume, by candlelight, and out in the back yard there was food and drink, so if people wanted to take a break from the discussion there was a place to go. Of course, there was no break from the discussion out there, but it was less intense, and people could laugh and be rude a little better than they could inside, where the peers were trying to impress the non-peers a little ("and vice versa," one of my non-peer proofreaders added).

The following month this ran in the newsletters:

Discussion Review

Over 25 people came to the discussion group/vigil last month. The answers to all the questions turned out to be "yes, but maybe no." In other words, and as would be expected, the problems of the world were not solved, but people had a good time and learned why other people felt the way they did about a thing or two. Here are some of the quotes that came out of the evening. Some might make sense only to those who were there, and others might not make sense to anybody.

... Then you have triple peers who make stuff, do stuff and hit stuff. [Starfire]

I didn't expect [thanks for autocrating Midwinter], because I was dealing with al-Barran. [Kathryn]

Being a peer puts you in a higher tax bracket. [Leah Kasmira.]

Party 'til you're Peers. [actually a misquote, but a good one] [1]

[Of knighthood:] Isn't there a defined career path? Aren't there certain gates you have to hit? [Robert]

If you force them to dance long enough they'll learn to enjoy it. [Koris]

Everyone's a candidate. [Gunwaldt, in an earlier discussion, quoted again.]

[On people who are offended by newcomers not using their highest titles:] If you use "lord" or "lady" you're safe from everyone except jerks. You're never safe from jerks. [AElflaed]

[Nearly unquotable:] On why knights always wear their belts, a chorus of answers came up- "To keep our pants up," "To keep our tunics down," and one accidently mixed them up and said "So we can keep our pants down."

[Worst math of the evening:] If we make 10 knights, are eight of them average, two good and one bad? [Koris, caught by Bertrand]

[In response to "That's my opinon about the whole thing."] Any opinion's better than none. [Beau, to AElflaed]

[July 1989 "Baronial Shaft"]

It worked out so well there were two more sessions before the end of the year, at other peers' homes. Since then we've expanded the range of topics and have taken to calling the meetings "philosophy practice." It's a good opportunity to throw an idea out to ten or twenty people and see what they do to it. Non-peers have had a chance to ask direct questions of peers which might be considered rude in other circumstances, and peers are able to defend their beliefs to members of other peerage orders at some leisure. Peers' circles will never last several hours, so discussing fine details of issues is a luxury, even for the peers.

If there are issues going around your area which could be discussed dispassionately and without names, this is a good kind of forum. It's not a meeting, it's a party. Anyone who wants out of the discussion can just go into another room. You do need a moderator to stop the discussion or re-direct it if someone's about to get hurt or angry, but enough informality to interrupt and ask questions is good. Each group has a different style of interaction, so you would have to work out what's most comfortable for your local people. If it doesn't work at all where you are, let me know when you're coming to Albuquerque and we'll work one up just for you.

What are some advantages of discussing peerage issues in large, mixed groups?

  • People who are interested in long-term SCA commitment learn more quickly what people's likes, dislikes, expectations, and peeves are.
  • As in brainstorming, having many people in a discussion at once polishes and develops ideas at such a rate that people can have their minds changed twice in an hour. It's not like the slow thinking with an occasional flash that people do on their own. It's like a festival of flashes.
  • A person with no opinions can try some other people's.
  • A person with opinions can test them against opposing theories.
  • A half-baked theory can be put forth for examination.
  • If the group is diverse enough it can be a laboratory for how an idea or project might do in real life. A new way to run a tournament can be discussed, or issues about local traditions. Rather than experiment with changing traditions "in the field" (in real life), you could put it out verbally and see how the group thinks they would react. (A little applied role playing, if you will.)

Who should and shouldn't be there? Don't try to force anyone to participate. Some people really don't enjoy teaching or verbal sparring at all, and would find the whole thing torture. Very new newcomers probably would do better to wait a year or so until they have some questions or complaints. If they see backstage too soon, they might not enjoy the play any more. (See the section on "Becoming the Source/Illusion" in the chapter called Considerations.) If a newcomer really wants to come you might tell him he might not enjoy it, and not to let it depress him, but if you absolutely forbid him to come, that'll spoil his game faster than letting him hear whatever discussion might ensue. If he's warned and politely discouraged, you did your bit. If the group is all peers, you miss an opportunity for education. A mixed group is ideal, with a balance of experience, interests and politics. If you can't get a large mixed group together, even a group of three or four who pretty much agree on things can polish up some ideas together.

What if people get really angry and out of hand? If they're normally very friendly and you know they'll still love each other in the morning, you might let it go a while unless there are impressionable newcomers who will be scarred by witnessing a duke and a countess turning red and beginning to insult each others' moral fiber. The best way to cut tempers is with humor. One of your quick wits should say something gently hilarious and while the others are laughing, take over the conversation so the hot spots can cool. This sort of interruption is an act of mercy sometimes. There should always be a host/ess or moderator whose job it is to make sure the discussion stays more or less productive and on track, but I don't recommend making it a formal meeting or debate. The person should function more as a marshal (concerned with rules and safety) than a chairman (concerned with time limits and technicalities).

What is all this really good for? It's good for improving the level of thinking in the individuals who participate and in the group they interact with. It's good for turning vague ideas into plans and convictions. An idea you have all by yourself at home can't be a conviction; ideas have to be tried out, and turned over and prodded. You have to take your idea with you everywhere and test it on people and situations, and if it holds up it can become a conviction—a strong, proven idea with some importance to you. Which do you think shows more depth of character - a person with thirty ideas or a person with one or two convictions ?

What can go wrong? Riots and destruction of property spring to mind, but I always think big. [2] People's feelings can be hurt. People can come away from an unfinished discussion thinking none of the old timers there have any better idea about it than the newbies, so if a discussion is to be dropped midway, someone should make a comment along the lines of "There are people here who've thought this out and know how they feel about it, and you might ask them later if you're still interested, but let's talk about [whatever] for a while." People who are very stubborn and don't want to have their beliefs challenged will probably just not show up, but if anyone does show up and become extremely defensive, another individual might direct them to the refreshment table, show them some scrolls, use gentle distraction and humor to get the biochemistry calmed down, and maybe by then the subject will have changed.

Don't let the discussions become attacks on individuals.
If enough people know who you're talking about, even if you haven't named names, either drop it or pull back and discuss it in more general terms.

Some of the ideas in this book were tried and proven at discussions like those described above. Some ideas I used to have were rejected there, and some ideas I would never have come up with on my own were planted to mix with mine.


Footnotes:
[1] Someone said something that sounded like that but wasn't, and it was repeated in this way as a play on the infamous quote of a king of Atenveldt who said from the throne in an extremely public place "Party 'til you Puke."

[2] See the section on autocratting to learn how to put negative thinking to work for you!



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