and I belong to an e-mail list for the “serious people committed to self-improvement through attendance at fire circle festivals.” Who, exactly, is on this list is not really important, but there are a lot of heavy hitters from that community, and a lot of people who are apparently committed to becoming more noble, more excellent, and more humane human beings.
Both and I are really feeling disillusioned with the online community, right now. While I don’t think either of us intend to give up on fire circles, because we both have a good time and do some things at them which we find deeply important, and I have just come up against the limits of what “people committed to self-improvement” really seems to mean.
In the last few weeks, there’s been a regular cycle of resolutions and prayers for self-empowerment and transformation, as people express their highest vision of who they are and who they hope to become. It’s only natural, I suppose, but it’s also a total washout. At the same time that everyone is posting what their new higher vision is supposed to be, there’s this metaphysical riptide caused by the tsunami, and the knowledge that people had their houses and boats and lives ripped out from under them. It’s really hard to be working for self-transformation when you’re conscious of suffering people halfway around the globe.
And yet. And yet, a couple of days ago, posted a message from a friend of hers, Bill, who happened to be in Thailand (though not on the coast) at the time of the tsunami.
Bill, as says, is a sweet and genuine human being, and was quickly moved to compassion. He left the comfort and safety of his hotel, and went down to the coast to see what he could do to help. There, he discovered the existence of a kind of Sea Gypsy folk, who fish in the Indian Ocean, coming to land in one country or another every few days. Not really clearly belonging to one nation or another, these Sea Gypsy folk are getting screwed over by the relief efforts, because no one really wants to claim them; and yet, being on the sea, and working in close to shore, they lost boats and nearly everything else they own.
Bill decided to help these people. He arranged to stay in Thailand (indefinitely? I’m not really sure), and to send out an appeal to his friends in the US for funds to help him help these Sea Gypsy folk. He’s not an organization to , he’s a friend, and one who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Now, and I are not very financially secure just at the moment; the winter Yule season was kinda more expensive for both of us than we wanted it to be. We’re not in a position to send a whole lot of cash. So passed this e-mail from her friend Bill on to this e-mail list of “socially conscious fire-circle people interested in self-transformation”.
And she gets the electronic smack-down.
Suddenly is getting the worst sorts of e-mails: Bill is a fraud. He’s trying to scam us and make money for himself. He’s just trying to play on our sympathies for those people over there, and steal money from us. You’re deluded if you think you’re not being scammed here. You obviously don’t know anything about international relief efforts; you should never donate to people in disaster areas, you should donate to organizations that can put people on the ground in the right place. You must be in league with him. You’re helping him try to scam us. Who the fuck are you, anyway, to send this to us? Stop sending this shit to us. You must not be interested in personal growth or self-transformation.
First, to get on this list, you have to be added by the moderators, and at least one or two of the moderators have to have met you in person. You don’t just join up by clicking a button on some web-page; you have to be nominated, seconded, and ‘vetted’, for lack of a better term, before you get on this list.
Some of the response I can understand. OK, yes, technically it’s not really a great idea to donate money to a disaster-stricken area directly through a person; it’s not exactly a fail-safe way to transmit money to help people, and it means you can’t get a tax-credit for charitable donations. But knows Bill, and was welcomed into this e-mail community as a result of personal, face-to-face contacts with a number of its members. She didn’t seek to join up, she was invited (“Ils sont invité!” to quote from Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and she sought to help everyone on the list, and her friend in Thailand, and the world. And in exchange she gets handed shit by a bunch of people who are sending off poems about their vision quests and essays explaining how they have become truer to their higher selves, and prayers to their totem animals to help them become more in tune with the planet and the world.
Virtually no one (Julie Woods [http://www.juliewoods.com] being, of course, the perfected and perfect exception) wrote to on how to fix the problems with Bill’s request. They just dumped on her for being naive, trusting, hopeful, optimistic, passionate, compassionate, and eager to help. Julie’s organization, Fans with Cans (available at http://www.fanswithcans.org) made a genuine offer to be a funnel for funds to Bill’s work, provided that the paper-work could be filled out, and Julie offered to communicate with Bill. ‘s friend C also offered some moral support; other than that, I think every comment or response Leah got to her forwarded e-mail was negative.
What a bunch of shit.
There are few pagan relief organizations of any kind — few food banks, few clothes banks, few homeless shelters, and so on. They tend to be short on funding, because maybe pagans aren’t very rich. But sometimes it seems like we don’t do nearly so good a job of opening our hearts to people who need it, even when those people are allegedly our friends and tribe.
Maybe that’s where we need the real self-transformation.