Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Ælflæd of Duckford

A recurring theme in these writings is that people should use their imaginations and be creative in their service to and participation in the Society. Here's something I wrote as part of another article some time back, but I marked it "too dangerous" and shoved it away. Now that I've come across it, I've decided to risk putting it out.

"All the power is in the Barony of Far-from-us." I heard that from someone in a barony that housed a kingdom seneschal and chronicler and treasurer. If those three together had no power in the kingdom it could only be that they had no imagination or were waiting for someone else to come and tell them what they might do. A dynamic seneschal / chronicler / treasurer team could turn a tawdry shire (or any other group) into a glorious showcase in a few months.

So that's it. That's the paragraph I was easily dissuaded from publishing. People complain about power (usually complaining about not having any) but anytime I've gone past the complaints into discussing the nature of power in the Society the audience seems to get very nervous.

CALM DOWN, FOLKS! There's enough power for everyone. See the section on royalty, and that on seneschals, if you're really into reading everything I've written on the subject, but here are some things I believe about power:

  • Many people can be powerful all at once.
  • Power is not a bad word. Think of it as strength; confidence; energy. (If you think of it as control and domination, no I don't want you to have any.)
  • Power is given to you by others; demanding it is just being a bully.
  • Power/influence can be earned by just about anyone.

The following article first appeared in the October 1991 Outlandish Herald. Its title was to have been "How You can get Power in the SCA (or Maybe You Can't)." I chickened out of using that title.

Lesson one in power: Power is given to you by other people. Influence you earn by yourself. Influence is always power, but power isn't influence. A king, an officer, an autocrat—they all have the power to screw things up; they don't necessarily have the power to make things great. If you think you want more power, what you probably are wanting is to be more influential.

Here's the recipe for influence. It's not regional, it's not given by the king, and you don't need the whole list: integrity, credibility, intelligence, humor, knowledge of law/history, service to the Society, concern for others, humility—HEY WAIT A MINUTE—I'm just listing requirements for peerage. Does that mean that being named a peer makes one influential? No, it means that influential people generally become peers.

Another factor is authority. Authority is second-hand power. Our kingdom seneschal has authority based on the power of the steward and the Crown. She also has her own power, given specifically by kingdom law. Add this to her influence, based on personal Ariel-specific attributes [1], and you have a strong kingdom seneschal. People are not listening to Mistress Ariel because she's a peer, she was made a peer because people were listening to her.

If you take a person who has no following, whose voice never carries an argument, who isn't sure what's going on and make him a seneschal, what have you got? An ineffectual seneschal. Take a person, a newcomer, who's friendly, sharp, helpful, thoughtful, and willing to serve and make him seneschal. What have you got now? A good match of disposition and position. Find someone with influence and give him authority. That's power.

Some people seem to think the only power is in being king or queen. It's frightening—people who believe that would probably make really bad royalty, because they see it as a presto-chango situation.

Power Not Power
Influence Office
Integrity Physical Strength
Credibility Ownership of Coronet
Service Lots of friends

In many cases of discussions of "power" it turned out that the people who were coveting power wanted to hurt people, not to better the lives of their neighbors. The "if I were king" fantasies that are expressed are often "I'd fire so-and-so," or "I'd throw out the law about ..." I'd be afraid to hear some of the unexpressed fantasies.

If you are respected you will have power whether you hold office or not. If you have squandered your honor, even being king wouldn't make you really powerful. The power to do good begins with goodness. What are you doing this afternoon?


[1] This phrase got much attention back home—poor Ariel was saying "what are 'Ariel-specific attributes'?" I meant her own integrity, credibility (see the paragraph just above for the full list) plus her own charm and height and blondness and singing voice—all the things that make her unique and which contributed to her having the position in life she has—she's a member of the Order of the Pelican, was a really great seneschal of Caerthe (Denver) and has been seneschal of the Outlands for a quite a while, at this writing. After Ariel isn't seneschal, you could change the line to "personal attributes" and it will still work. Change the next line to "People are not listening to [name a name], for example, because [he or she] is a peer ..." (This note is for people who might want to reprint this.)

All articles from the CONSIDERATIONS section:
OTHER SECTIONS: Considerations · Etiquette · Royalty · Being an Officer · Seneschal · Heraldry and Heralding · Tournaments Arts and Sciences · Chronicler · Treasurer · Chirurgeons · Autocrat · Welcoming Newcomers · Peerage · Language Use · Last-But-Not-Least Ideas

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