Thursday, January 10, 2013

Change is Certain - Accept it - Plan For It

The one constant in life is change. The earliest recorded expression of this idea is by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who wrote a book around 500 B.C.E. Heraclitus expressed the idea that even when the stand in the exact same place in a river, the waters flowing around you are different waters, flowing from different places in each moment. When modern Heathens discuss Wyrd and Orlog, they sometimes use the symbolism of a tapestry. There may be familiar patterns or repeating themes in your life, but you are always at a different point on the a different point in your story. For this reason, your knowledge, difficulties, support mechanisms, and opportunities are all different, even if the situation seems similar.
You will often hear people say, "I don't like change." Or perhaps they'll say, "I fear change." Essentially, this is like saying, "I fear life," because our lives are in a constant state of change. And while you don't have to like or enjoy all the changes, it is healthy to acknowledge and accept that change is a certainty. You body matures, ages, and changes unceasingly over time. Your mind-set, understandings, and emotional maturity move, shift, evolved, and can even devolve over time. Everyone your know and interact with is changing, shifting, and "standing in different waters" from moment to moment. We watch our parents grow older, weaker, and eventually die. We watch our children learn to walk, talk, and grow from nearly helpless little babies to full-grown adults with minds and lives of their own.

It would be unwise to ignore the ways our lives shift and change. It would be outright foolish to hope for long-term stasis or "sameness" in a world as complex and fast-moving as our own. But, there are ways we can build relatively stable lives upon the shifting sands. Stable rich lives full of people we love and stand with against all hardships. But, like many things worth doing, it goes better if you put some thought into it and approach the puzzle with forethought and purpose.

Currently you do not have the same friends, nor do you have the same relationship with each of those friends, that you had five years ago. And five years from now you will not have exactly the same friends that you have now, and your relationships with each of the friends that remain will be different. As human beings our needs, interests, tolerances, and life-situation change over time. Some friendships end with a loud and rowdy fight or disagreement over an action taken by one of the friends, a difference in values that can't be resolved, betrayal, disgust, or clashing interests. Some friendships simply fade away quietly due to changing interests, new people in each friend's life, or a changed life-situation that just doesn't really support the continuance of the friendship anymore. People who once liked each other can learn do dislike each other over time. People get jobs far away and need to move. People get married, find new interest, new friends, change religion, or move in a direction in life that you may not want to follow.

This is not to say that some friendships can't last your whole life. And I certainly don't mean to say that friendships should be given up on easily. But, it is clear to me that you cannot predict which friendships will last your whole life. You can't predict these things with any certainty at all. The friend you thought would never ever let you down...may surprise you by completely walking away just when you need his friendship the most. The friend who swears life-long friendship to you in the strongest terms, may forget the commitment in those words just a few months later while playing with whatever "new shiny thing" they've come across lately.

Knowing and understanding this, we can act wisely toward our friends. We must treat our friends well. Visit them often. Be generous with our gifts, our advice, our support, and our time. We must share our thoughts with them, and listen to their goals, experiences, and thoughts when they share them. If we find ourselves with a new interest, a new friend, or a new direction in life -- sharing these new things with our friends allows them to adapt to the changes in us. We should in turn encourage our friends to share those new things in their lives with us. If a friend really digs a new band or their start a band, listen to the music. If a friend starts going to a sports event all the time, ask to go with them sometime and find out what they love about the sport. If a friend gets involved in a new club, a new activity, a new interest, at least get to know what they are up to and why they love this new thing. Staying involved and interested in a friend's life and allowing them to be involved and interested in your life goes a long way toward letting you change and grow at a nice even pace -- rather than growing apart.

But, the point of this essay hinges on the fact you can do everything right, and still a friend may go away. You can attempt to follow the flow of change, manipulate it, and make it work for you. But, in the end you can't stop change and you can't predict where it will go or how it will affect your life and friendships. So, a skill in life that must be learned is how to let go of friends. Sometimes friends begin exhibiting behaviors that make it clear something is wrong. Perhaps they are taking actions that are very selfish, or possibly even hurtful to you or mutual friends. Perhaps they are expressing dissatisfaction with who you are, but the things they are asking you to change or alter are not things you want to change or alter about yourself. Perhaps they make it a habit to let you down and not follow through with plans you've made. Perhaps they are befriending or offering "comfort and aid" to your enemies. Perhaps they simply disappear from your visits, no calls, no interest in remaining in touch.

You can address these behaviors with your friend in an open and honest way in the hopes that these matters are misunderstandings and can be resolved or worked through. During this process of working through problems, pay much more attention to the actions and deeds of your friend, and not so much attention to their words. There is a type of person out there that likes to say all the right things to keep you on the hook, without really being willing to do the right things or take the right actions. In the end...if you find these matters cannot be resolved or worked through, it is time to let go. It is sad and disappointing to let a friend go. Some are more sad and disappointing than others of course. But, life is too short and our decisions about who we associate with too important to drag out a bad relationship that has no real hope of becoming good again. Let go with as little drama as possible. Let go with as much honesty and clarity as possible. Let go in a way that does not do any more harm to either of your interests. But, let go.

Hanging onto to failed friendships wastes your time, your energy, and your emotions on someone who has usually shown by their actions that they aren't really interested in being a loyal friend to you any longer. There are plenty of good and loyal people in the world that you can spend your time, energy, and emotions your mutual benefit.  Toward this end, it is good to be open to new friendships.  Especially when you encounter someone who has the values, interests, and qualities that you know would make for a good and loyal friend.

Much of the advice in the Friendship portion of this essay goes for marriages as well, with one major difference. A marriage is an oath between two people, usually made with a high degree of permenance in mind. An oath made before their family, their friends, and their Gods. This oath becomes even more important once the married couple take on the responsibility of raising children in a healthy and stable environment. So, even more so than with friendships, both spouses need to work very closely together to ensure they are growing and changing together in complimentary ways, and not growing apart. New friends, interests, and directions in life should be shared between the married couple, at least enough so that these new factors do not create wedges in the marriage.

Any long and successful marriage can almost be mapped in phases. The marriage relationship changes of it own accord. There is the time when you are first married and honey-mooning. This can be a time of great joy and plenty of little fights as the two of you figure out how to live together in one house, sharing one life together. Then the children come, and things shift into new parent mode. Eventually the children are old enough to not need constant attention and the marriage moves into another phase where the married couple has a little more time together, for each other. And so on. Every marriage is different, but they all experience a shifting focus and evolution of purpose over time. If the married couple is determined and intentional in working on their marriage and keeping is healthy and positive, then they will work through all the changes together as a team, communicating and making adjustments as they go.

As I've stated in other essays, while maintaining the marriage oath is enormouly important to the married couple, their children, their extended families, their kindreds, and their friends -- there are circumstances where a marriage is better off being disolved and the oath released. In general, spousal abuse, chronic alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addiction, and infidelity are obviously some areas of failure where it might be better for all involved if the marriage is ended. But, it should never be done so lightly and without a full understanding of the consequences it will have on everyone connected to the failure.

Finding other Asatruars or Heathens can be difficult, and building a lasting kindred can be even more difficult.  Friendships and trust must be built.  Understandings and boundaries established.  Structure, decision-making, and methods need to be discussed and agreed upon.  So, once you have a kindred that is operational and moving forward, the last thing you want to see is change.  You don't want to see anyone leave, and when people do leave it feels like a failure in some way...or a disruption.  It is completely natural to feel this way, if not a little unrealistic.  Change is going to happen no matter how much you attempt to prevent it.  It doesn't matter how air-tight your kindred oath is and it doesn't matter how serious you believe every oath-taker is when they make that oath.  Some will burn out.  Some will move away.  Some will lose interest.  Some will self-destruct.  Some have never had a family, and don't have a clue how to be a part of something like a family.  Some unintentionally seek drama in their lives, and your kindred will be no exception.  We could go on and on here, and I'm sure many readers would find examples from their own lives to contribute.
But here is the bottom-line.  If your kindred is five-years old, then it is enormously likely it does not have the exact same members it did when it started.  And look around your kindred right now.  The people you see around is enormously likely they won't still be there five years from now.  Sure, some members will be in a kindred for its entire existance.  But, just as with friendships, it is impossible to predict who will stay and who will go.  That's just how life works.  You'd like to believe that you know who is going to stick with your kindred effort for the long haul, but it is hubris to believe you can predict that.  The guy or gal you have 100% faith in could be gone in six months.  And the guy or gal you aren't completely sure about, might be there for the next 30 years.
So, how do you build a stable kindred on such shifting sands?  You have to be smart about it.  Choose your kindred members wisely.  Choosing wisely will at least limit or reduce the turn-over in membership over time.  Carefully structure and plan your kindred, its traditions, its decision-making, and its processes to maintain stability even as kindred membership evolves slowing over time.  Protect your kindred from all threats to its existance and stability, from both within and without.  Have a process and method for dealing with those members that may flake-out on you over time.  Address problems within your kindred openly and honestly -- and be direct about it.  As with all human interaction, generous communication and seeking of understanding and common ground can avoid a lot of problems...and solve many of the problems you can't avoid.  Especially within a social group that has been established on the basis of trust and Frith.
What do you do when kindred members fail or when problems develop.  Just like with friendships, you tackle any problems that come up in a forward and direct way, in hopes of resolving or fixing the problem.  But, there are times when the actions of a kindred member repeatedly show that it is time for them to go.  Much like with friendship, there is a time when hanging onto a failed kindred member wastes your time, your energy, and your emotions over someone who is showing by their ongoing actions that they don't want to be a loyal and frithful kindred member any longer.  Letting go of a kindred member should never be done lightly, as a kindred oath and your relationships within the kindred were established to be stable, strong, and lasting.  But, there are people out there that will take advantage of your loyalty, when they have no intention of truly being reciprocal in the oath they hold with you.  Some of these people don't even know they are doing it...but their actions and the consequences of their on-going actions tell the tale very clearly.
When you find yourself in this situation, let go with as little drama as possible. Let go with as much honesty and clarity as possible. Let go in a way that does not do any more harm to either of your interests. But, let go.
Acknowledging that there will be at least some turn-over in kindred membership over time, necessitates making efforts to meet and add new members to your kindred over time.  Sometimes existing members will resist the addition of new members, arguing that they "just want things to stay the same."  The problem with listening to this advice, is the person who is arguing against adding any new membrers over time may not be there in a year or two.  The kindred, its health, its survival, and its goals are more important than any one person within the kindred.  The kindred is paramount because if the kindred has been built and maintained correctly, the kindred itself may very well outlast every current member's involvement or time on this earth.  So, directly argue against selfish and short-sighted advice of kindred members who just want everything "to stay the same."  Nothing stays the same.
There are also incredible benefits to the kindred in addiing new quality members over time.  New members are much  more than just an extra set of hands to do the work.  New members tend to be fired up about the kindred and heathenry, and this energy and excitement can be contagious for more tenured members.  New members naturally bring new skills, new knowledge, and new opportunities to the table for the kindred.  They also bring a fresh eye and fresh approachs to challenges or problems that have affected the kindred over time.  It is important that you choose your new members carefully and do the work necessary to properly bring them into the Thew and traditions of your kindred.  But, if you have chosen well, new members can be a spark for positive change within a kindred and a sign of the kindred's potential longevity.
You may not like change.  You may fear change.  But, change doesn't really care.  Its going to happen anyway.  So, accept it.  Acknowledge it.  Plan for it.  If you really think it through and learn from your experiences, you can build a stable life, with a stable marriage, stable friendships, and a stable kindred on top of the shifting sands of change.  And these powerful and meaningful successes in your life prepare you and shelter you from everything and anything that might come your way.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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