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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

tolerance and acceptance

  Last weekend I attended the Changing Times, Changing Worlds conference, an annual regional conference on metaphysics in the northeast United States. I've done workshops at the conference 4 out of the 5 years its run and I really enjoy attending. This year was no exception, with many good workshops and panels as well as excellent conversations with both attendees and other presenters.

   One of the most interesting panels I saw was "When is it okay to tell someone they are wrong?". The five panelists discussed various scenarios within the pagan community where someone was either publicly lying or falsely claiming things, such as experience or titles, and how they might each deal with the situation. I was surprised by the number of responses that advocated kind private interventions and mentoring to handle people making such claims. There was also a strong emphasis on accepting that wrong didn't include different, and that we as a community needed to be more open and accepting of varieties within traditions and practices. In other words there is no one correct Wicca, no one true witchcraft, no exact Reconstruction, so it is foolish to have so-called witch wars over differences in approach and method. I found that while I didn't agree entirely with everything that was said I did walk away with a lot to consider.
   One of the nuances that I think is consistently missed in the wider community is the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance is simply being able to allow or endure the existence of something, including things we don't like and things we disagree with. I can tolerate a lot within the community because I do not expect everyone to practice, believe, and act the way I do. Acceptance on the other hand is agreeing that something is good or suitable. There are many, many things in the pagan community that I do not particularly accept. I do not accept them as either good or suitable beliefs or practices and given a chance I'll usually expound on why. However - and herein lies the crux - I can tolerate what I do not accept. More importantly I should and must tolerate what I don't accept because it is pure ego to think that every single pagan - or even every Irish recon - would or should think and do exactly as I think and do. And I fully expect others to tolerate my practices and beliefs which they do not accept.
   So then, if I am tolerating that which I don't accept when is it okay to tell someone they are wrong? Well, my short answer is usually always, at least in the sense that I think we should all be open to questioning and criticism of what we do. I don't see anything wrong with telling someone I disagree with them, nor I do think that voicing disagreement must always be condemnation or attack. It is entirely possible to say "I don't agree with doing that" in a civil manner.
     I do also think that as a wider community we do need to be willing to speak up about the things that matter, the big things like abuse and fraud, without feeling constrained by a false propriety. This idea that we don't want to rock the boat or be confrontational seems to be so misapplied to me, when we can have huge intergroup issues over someone blowing candles out instead of snuffing them but no one wants to accuse another person of an actual serious crime when they should. That kind of behavior we should never tolerate, and yet we do while simultaneously refusing to accept minor theological differences between traditions that shouldn't even be a concern. I mean why should I care that a group I don't belong to does something I find silly or pointless, or even offensive? Whereas I should obviously care if another group is hurting children or stealing money from people.
    When should we tell other people they are wrong? When they are publicly putting something out that opens up a discussion; when they are making statements of fact; when they are speaking as any kind of authority - then I think we should speak if what is being said is objectively wrong. When it is a question of personal belief and ideas, then it is less telling someone they are wrong and more about engaging in conversations and dialogue and expressing an alternate viewpoint. I'm sure there are many valid reasons for silence as well, especially when its wiser or more strategic not to speak, but I think there is too much of that in many areas. We argue over inconsequential things, but we stay silent over what really matters.
   Accept what you agree with; tolerate what does no harm and doesn't affect you; speak your truth

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