The Art of Defining Without Defining

13 01 2008

A conversation that I had with M on our field trip has stuck with me and I wanted to share it; it centred about the impossibility of stating your beliefs and getting someone else to understand you correctly.

Now, this on the face of it, doesn’t appear to be a difficult thing to do. A, on WW this week, asked for answers to some similar questions for a college project – she wanted to know what we believed and what way we would define Wicca should we have to. I gave her the requisite three-line answer and thought no more about it.

However, it’s one thing being dispassionate and concise to someone who is already in the life; you can short-circuit the process because you know they know what you mean by certain words – or if not, that they will not willfully misunderstand you.

Assuming people in the life understand you carries little or no detriment; if they don’t it doesn’t have huge implications because they’re already on the same side of the fire. They are unlikely to be alienated.

But if you’re talking about friends, about family members, well, that’s different.

This comes back to the broom closet debate. The old chestnut. But it’s an ever-present bone of contention because people like us are constantly having to wrestle with it. Who to tell? And what do you tell them? And how do you say the words?

There is a natural need to present the facts as you see them in a way likely to appeal to the interlocutor; we want to be understood so we already begin second-guessing the recipient of our confidences by trying to couch the news in a way they are likely to find palatable, or at least understandable. Already, we are needy; we need them to like what we have to say; on the most visceral level we’re begging for their buy-in.

The most likely result of this is that whatever you say is likely to be inaccurate, or at least not the full picture.

M and I agreed that definition can be limiting as well as dangerous. How about trying to describe what we are not?

It sounds negative, but really, when you take away what we are not, only positives remain. Surely, that’s good news for anyone who’s listening?

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10 responses

15 01 2008
The Shepton Witch

I have read and re-read this item and each time my fingers want to fly as strong feelings well in me. This is one thing on which I think we shall have to politely agree to disagree, at least in the greater part of it.

I suppose that I was blessed with a reasonably secular upbringing, Both my parents believed in a Christian God; my father had been raised in a Catholic orphanage from the age of 11 and although he rarely stepped inside a church, he was a true believer. My mother’s beliefs are still a muddle and confusing (I’m not sure if she understands it at all) but she is a believer, even if she doesn’t darken the doors of any church either. Luckily, because one was Protestant (ish) and the other Catholic, they agreed that we children should be allowed to make up our own minds and so I never experienced Sunday School or any of the other delights of insidious indoctrination in my childhood. Not, at least, until they had to put me in boarding school and the evil penguins wouldn’t have me without a baptism certificate. Anyway, without wanting to bore you to tears with my pedestrian life, I know my life with, or without, religion is very different to yours and I am trying to understand.

My questions are these: why do you have to define yourself to anyone? Moreover, why do you have to define yourself by one particular set of beliefs? Surely that’s like trying to explain who you are by describing the contents of your ‘fridge? Do you really want these people, whoever they are, to “buy in” to what you are saying or what you are? Why? Will it make you any different, better, more valid?

Is not the shining, bright person you are ambassador enough to the world, without putting yourself in a neat little box? We’re all very good at pigeon-holing ourselves and the act of doing so limits us in my opinion. Let the way you are, the brightness of your soul, tell people all they need to know. If they want a definition tell them to bugger off and mind their own business… or tell them to attempt a definition of you.

You have a spark of the divine within you and which of us would attempt to define God? Why not let the little people shuffle the boxes of definition around while you go out and live?

16 01 2008
wiccanwanderings

Actually, I happen to agree wholeheartedly with you Mereth… I’d rather like to tell all and sundry to eff off with their attempts to define me and mine…

PiedPiper and I are hoping to go to Witchfest International in November, which happens to be in Croydon near my father’s house. I called up last night to ask if we could come stay and my stepmother asked what we were going to see and I said Witchfest. Just like that. I explained a little of what was likely to be there and that I had an interest and let her take it how she likes. It felt good!

I think the original discussion that I tried to describe (not very well) wasn’t so much an attempt to work out how I would tell the family if I had to, but a stab at thinking about the themes surrounding. I’m very much in the closet with my mother’s side of the family, for example, because despite the fact that I’m ‘good’, and I try hard to be moral and a pleasant person, it wouldn’t be enough for her.

So, I’d like to try to be open with everyone but I’m afraid the judgement would arrive before I knew what had hit me!!

Why should I care? Well, no real reason, except like many I hate confrontation and being painted into emotional corners… and I don’t want my religion to become a banner that defines me without having some input to the definition!

Making no sense, as usual… but this thread is helping me no end. I’d like to hear more of your opinions on this – πŸ™‚

16 01 2008
wiccanwanderings

In fact, there’s a new light dawning over one of my personal horizons, and I realise, perhaps for the first time ever, that I am under no obligations in law to disclose a damn thing about what I do in my spare time! You are right, Mereth – why not let my actions speak for me.

And another thing – if Certain People Who Shall Remain Nameless insist on trying to engage me in religious debate I can set a good example and refuse to discuss my beliefs. If only they would, too!! We’d all have less earache in our day!!

16 01 2008
fox

Learning to walk as who we are and allow our actions to define us to others is hard. I see explaining our beliefs as a way of defending ourselves and our choices. It is something that you shouldn’t have to do but is still often demanded of us from those that just don’t get that it really is none of their business.

16 01 2008
wiccanwanderings

That’s true, Fox. I think the problem is that we get a ready-made fight brought to our door, that we either have to engage in or lose.

The aggressive prejudice – literally prejudgement – made about anyone different makes it impossible sometimes to keep your own counsel and just be.

However, I intend to try at my end, because I’m sick of equivocating, and making light of my beliefs to appease the worried fundies that comprise my family.

Wish me luck! πŸ™‚

17 01 2008
The Shepton Witch

I can’t imagine having fundies in the family; the nearest thing I have is a sister who is Catholic and so disapproving of everything that she has ended up with a cat’s bum mouth. I suppose I never quite managed to take her disapproval with anything more than a dash of ennui.

Maybe the best thing to do is use the playground analogy when you think of your situation. You can let others force you to play the games they want to play, or you can walk away, leave the playground and find a game you like better.

I suppose it’s easy for me to say, not having been brought up in that sort of atmosphere. I’m also singularly independent and though not immune to what others think, rarely swayed by it. It comes from having fended for myself since the age of nine. One day I shall write about my car tax incident and you’ll get the idea!

Don’t fight the fight. Don’t let them pick the playground or the game. Walk away, politely and with dignity, and if they are desperate to talk about a Christian topic or God, let them find another Christian (and I’ll bet they have a long search on their hands! πŸ˜€ ).

17 01 2008
wiccanwanderings

More and more, I’m with you on this. Bugger the lot of them. Whose life is it? And although a certain amount of this defiance could be put down to irritation, there’s a large well of calm certainty in me that this is the way to go.

17 01 2008
The Shepton Witch

Enjoy your journey, it will be a hoot!

18 01 2008
The Shepton Witch

I just saw Amadahy’s signature:

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
~ Thomas Jefferson

I had to share. πŸ˜€

18 01 2008
The Green Witch

… and that, I think, says it all!!

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