My partner sometimes tells a story of the early days of our relationship. I actually don’t remember the conversation, per se, but it is part of the structure of our life together. As the story goes, I sat him down and offered him a simple agreement: we will both agree to say what we mean and we will both agree to believe what the other says. If you say you are OK, I will trust your word. We aren’t perfect at this, but it has generally been a helpful guideline by which to live together: a goal of perfect trust.
On FaceBook recently, I linked to a rant article about Pagan Standard Time. I was mostly interested in the cultural aspect, where Pagan culture has made flakiness, lateness, and lack of preparation and planning into values. It’s as if we subconsciously believe that you can’t be “magical” or spiritual and still be capable of reading a calendar. My experience with assorted community organizing certainly bears this out: there are the volunteers who don’t show up for their shifts and never respond to emails about whether or not they are OK; there’s the criticism of leaders who insist on event licenses and insurance with their associated costs; and there’s a general acceptance of everything running late from the unapologetic leaders and the shrugging “Pagan Standard Time” response from participants.
After I posted the link, a fellow Silver Spiral member pointed out the ableism in the article. When you narrow the focus from the general culture of Paganism down to the actions of individuals, you can’t tell the difference between flakiness and invisible disabilities (or other life challenges) that might stand in the way of someone being prepared and on time. There are those who would prefer to be thought of as flaky rather than share the private details of their physical or mental health or other life circumstances, and we should respect that.
In a perfect world, the Pagan community would have a simple agreement: everyone would do the best they can to be on time and to be prepared, and no one would question or complain about those who don’t succeed. We would give up the mythology that our magic interferes with our ability to be practical. We would trust that everyone’s doing their part, even if that part seems small. We would make room for those who need more support or more time because they’d no longer be lost in a sea of people who choose not to take their community commitments as seriously as their schooling or day jobs.
Given that I can’t single-handedly change Pagan culture, I will commit to this: I am going to do the best I can to start my events on time out of respect for those who made the effort to be there promptly – especially those with challenges; especially those whose challenges are invisible or unknown. I am also going to hold space for those who aren’t on time or prepared. When they arrive, they’ll be welcomed and included. I’ll try to work with the assumption that everyone is making their best effort and that they should not have to explain or justify themselves. I will try believing the intentions and words of others with the impossible goal of community-wide perfect trust.