Working with Anger, Working with Community

An article by Sophie Dòbhran and Joanna van der Hoeven

As Druids, as Pagans, and also in the role of priestess it can sometimes become really hard to stay connected with people who are cultivating rage and anger towards an event that creates a painful gap between what they wish and what is happening. One reason might be that they seem so shocked towards the event, as if they had just realized that such things are possible in our world. The first surge of anger is necessary, in order to provide a little release from the pain and suffering of the first wounding, but then we keep wounding ourselves again and again by cultivating the anger. And in doing so through our connection with others, we cultivate misery and pain together and nurture our being entitled to it.

Is it in how we resist a situation, and in doing so how we are ourselves nurturing the rage and anger and blind suffering that we so loudly condemn?

Even more troubling, is that it seems that the journey stops there: misery seeks misery, people suffer together then turn the page and go back to watching violent forms of entertainment on television and in the movie theatres but all that’s acceptable in our society. Until the next shocking thing happens. It’s like awakening sporadically is so painful and shocking that it doesn’t stick.

It is so difficult to feel the anger properly, and then to let it go. Anger perpetuates more anger, more suffering, and more pain.

Sometimes we need anger to begin a new motivation, a new revolution. However, a revolt that is perpetually based in anger turns into the riots in the streets of London a few years back, where innocent people were hurt, shops destroyed and more. That sort of anger doesn’t produce any results other than more suffering. Yet the anger that the women of the suffragette movement felt turned into courageous and defiant acts against the establishment that won women the vote, and more rights to come.

We could look at it as differentiating between holding the anger as motivation, or holding the anger as instigation. The preferable way would be the former, and then with a level-head find the solution after gone through the initial suffering. But there is a boiling anger in society that’s continuously being repressed, both here in the UK and in the USA, which will eventually explode if nothing is done about it, if there isn’t an outlet for it. Peaceful demonstrations seem to have little effect anymore on the establishment, and the media can just block it out as if it never happened. So, there’s the anger there, and it’s not going away soon…

Perhaps it has to do with the general isolation that has taken place, people being so disconnected from each other, and from Nature. We are no longer used to being mindful, to listen to silence. We are addicted to all kinds of fake relationships, superficial activities, superficial foods, and so on.

We need to remember that it’s all energy; sometimes the energy of anger isn’t appropriate. And when it’s no longer appropriate, when it becomes harmful instead of leading us out of apathy, for instance, then we need to repurpose that energy into something useful.

“Useful” is something each person must define for themselves, for each situation is unique. In order to do that, we need to step back from the situation and get perspective in order to discern just action. Anger, like a barking dog, can alert us that our boundaries have been crossed. But are we going to let the dog address this situation for us? How about when we cultivate anger together and become a pack of barking dogs?

Perspective needs distance and silence to produce clarity. No one can understand just why we are so angry better than we do. What follows is compassion. Compassion is not always soft and gentle. Sometimes, compassion means strengthening boundaries or raising one’s voice to be heard. Compassion means observing the situation with distance and clarity in order to discern the best path of action inherent to it.

It’s easy to be angry and feel desperate, lost and confused. Or to think that a public demonstration will change things, because we are now used to getting immediate satisfaction all the time. And yet if we truly pay attention, we realize that we can truly cultivate the change we want to see in the world. On a much smaller scale, maybe, but it is real and it is tangible, and it is satisfying.

Given that we are already what we condemn, we never have to look very far to create mindful actions that reverse that negative flow. It doesn’t change the world or impact politicians, but it changes our world, from our nemeton to another’s nemeton. Aren’t our nemetons microcosms?

Druidry is a religion based on locality first and foremost, and so, when we are upset or angry, it’s our immediate locality that bears the brunt of it. Our immediate locality is also the thing that we can affect most in our lives. When we’re angry at the government or our employers, we can do what we can to be heard: writing letters, signing petitions, talking and organizing unions, etc. But we have no control over what happens after that.

However, in our own environment, in our own bodies and for the most part, in our own houses and land we do have some control, and these are the areas that we can affect to effect change. Only we can change ourselves. We can think and act locally first and foremost, instead of the usual “think globally, act locally” because our range of influence is not all-encompassing. We can think all we want (and post all we want on social media), but that does not effect change. If we bring it down into bitesize chunks that we can handle, then we’re able to really do the work that needs doing.

So, we work in our area, to clear litter, to do ritual work, to contact the Fair Folk, to work with the ancestors and the spirits of place because that is where we live, because that is where we get our nourishment and sustenance. It is also useful to become members of their parish council, or join other committees in the community. That way, we have a real vote on planning applications and housing developments, environmental and health issues and more. In doing so, our environment affects us and we affect it. Then, like little ripples from a pond, that changed and charged energy can spread out. We create an effect in the world.

Think of your locality, think of your tribe. When your tribe is strong, let that energy permeate the rest of the world. This is not to say that we must become insular, separatist and isolated, but more as a ways and means of really affecting change in our own worlds. Become aware of the energy of anger, and how it is being used. Take care of your community, of your locality, and be conscious of the choices you are making and the reasons behind those choices. When we are conscious of our behaviour, we work with right action, and our work will benefit in a holistic pattern that emanates from a strong and true core of personal sovereignty.

Sophie Dòbhran was born in Quebec and lives in a farmhouse on a small island near Quebec city with her husband, her son, two cats and a dog. She studied under Swami Premananda Saraswati for a certification in Hatha yoga and also studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. She joined the Sisterhood of Avalon in 2014 and has been actively cultivating an avalonian spiritual practice since. She facilitates Red Tents once a month, as well as druidic rituals and an SOA learning circle in her community. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.ileauxpommes.wordpress.com.  

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years and is also a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. To find out more, please visit http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Beware of Trolls

Can we look for reasons behind why some people behave the way they do?  Psychologists have been attempting to do that for hundreds of years, perhaps priests and other members of the community who wanted to help said before that.  In today’s day and age, we have the internet phenomenon of “trolling”.

According to Wikipedia, trolling is when someone attempts to sow discord on the internet by trying to start arguments and upset people.  They can do this in a variety of ways – posting off-topic messages to detract from the original intention, or posting inflammatory words on groups and online forums in the hopes of kicking things off.  From the wiki site:-

“Early incidents of trolling were considered to be the same as flaming, but this has changed with modern usage by the news media to refer to the creation of any content that targets another person. The Internet dictionary NetLingo suggests there are four grades of trolling: playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling, and domination trolling. The relationship between trolling and flaming was observed in open-access forums in California, on a series of modem-linked computers in the 1970s, like CommuniTree which when accessed by high school teenagers became a ground for trashing and abuse. Some psychologists have suggested that flaming would be caused by deindividuation or decreased self-evaluation: the anonymity of online postings would lead to disinhibition amongst individuals Others have suggested that although flaming and trolling is often unpleasant, it may be a form of normative behavior that expresses the social identity of a certain user group  According to Tom Postmes, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the universities of Exeter, England, and Groningen, The Netherlands, and the author of Individuality and the Group, who has studied online behavior for 20 years, “Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure.” Adams, Tim (24 July 2011). “How the internet created an age of rage”. London: The Guardian (The Observer).

“Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group’s common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they – and the troll – understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll’s enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one’s online reputation. “ (Donath, Judith S. (1999). “Identity and deception in the virtual community”. In Smith, Marc A.; Kollock, Peter. Communities in Cyberspace (illustrated, reprint ed.). Routledge. pp. 29–59. ISBN 978-0-415-19140-1. Retrieved 2009-03-24.)

The term trolling these days can refer to not only those people who have a clear agenda in creating discord or playing identity games, but also those for whom bullying is an enjoyable pastime.  Online bullying tends to fall under the category of trolling, perhaps because it is simply easier to call all those who misbehave on the internet with a single label.

I have been subject to various trolls over my online lifetime – both those who simply wish to sow discord on online forums, those who have a hidden agenda and those who are simply bullies.  The question remains – why on earth would someone want to do such a thing?

In a way, I’m not sure this question can ever be answered, for we cannot get inside someone’s head. We can understand some of their motives, but unless we have access to every single second of their lives which may have influenced their behaviour, we are still making assumptions, which may never be proved.

Some of “my” trolls have sought to change the topic of conversation, for reasons only known to them. I can speculate that they didn’t like my opinion, or that they may be working with those who are on the “other” side of the situation, debate or discussion.  Trying to return back to the subject time and again can be futile, especially when there are several trolls working together. In this case, I have simply walked away from that discussion, forum or group if I feel that the moderators are not doing their job correctly in keeping things going forward on topic, troll-free.

Other trolls have been bullies, such as on this blog where a particular troll was attempting to silence me from any further posting for whatever reason.  Swearing and telling me that I should seek psychiatric help among other things led me to believe that the individual in question was projecting their own fears and anxieties onto me, a faceless person (they may or may not have known me personally).  At any rate, any of my thoughts on this person’s behaviour would simply be speculation.

So, what can we do about it? Are we simply to accept that there are trolls online, and we are to ignore them, as many people have suggested – “Do Not Feed The Trolls”? Or is there something that we can do?

For moderated online communities, I feel the responsibility should like with those who claim to be moderators. Some moderators may have their own agendas, however, and so are perhaps not the ideal people to perform such a task.  If a moderator on an online forum, group or community was part of a company, and a discussion was taking place in where the objectives of that company were in question, they may simply close down the thread or delete it for no apparent reason.  In this instance, freedom of speech is being impinged upon, and there is very little we can do about other than try to work around said moderators, to try and go over their heads to a “higher source” who may or may not listen to our opinions, suggestions or queries.

If it is a “personal” attack, such as on a personal blog, what can we do? Do we delete all the posts that this person has made, and simply ignore it?  I haven’t – I have left these person’s posts in place to show how life is for some people – it is a testament to human interactions, to human behaviour and to society and culture as a whole.  Only when the remarks have become so antagonistic as to resort to swearing and using violent terms have I decided to no longer accept posts from these people.  I am using these trolls as an example to other readers as to how some people behave, either in an online community or, heaven forbid, in real life.

In a way, I have a very real sympathy for these trolls.  This may be totally imagined, and it is only a personal assumption, but I believe these people to have very unsatisfying lives in general.  Why else would someone want to do such a thing?

In our world of ever-increasing virtual interaction, it is my fear that more and more people will not be able to engage with others in a respectful and honourable way. Without that face to face interaction, will we see an ever-growing increase in such bad behaviour, which could also impact upon real-life situations?  Will this bad behaviour, ingrained and learnt from an early age be taken out into the real world, where this will occur more and more in face to face situations? I sincerely hope not – it’s bad enough that it is occurring online.

So, what can we do about it?  We can make people aware of what is occurring, for starters.  We can then deal with each interaction with as much respect and honour as we are able.  We can make points known, and then if the discussion falls into chaos and disrespect due to trolls, we can refuse to engage, simply stating why we are refusing and then walk away.

Sometimes walking away from a bully doesn’t work, however. Sometimes they get their best shot when your back is turned.  All we can do is to remember that, as the heathen saying goes, “We Are Our Deeds”.  Whether these are online opinions or not, I feel that this saying is applicable to everything that we do in our lives.  Sure, not everyone of us is a shining example of humanity, and simply because we have done less than honourable deeds in the past does not mean that we continue in dishonour – we can work to gain that back through everything that we say and do today.

And so, for all the trolls out there who may be reading this – remember this saying. We are our deeds.  It’s not too late.

And for those who are being plagued by trolls, I offer up a previous blog post which may help to overcome any feelings instilled by this abhorrent behaviour:  https://downtheforestpath.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/is-that-so/