Monday, May 28, 2012

Frith - Avoiding Selfish and Self-Centered Behavior

While this can be a little difficult for any modern person to understand or fully comprehend, our Heathen ancestors lived in a state of Frith with their kin.  In a sense, the individual did not exist as a social unit, with the family as the smallest unit within society.  When one member of the family accomplished something good, the whole family was credited and benefited from it.  When one member of the family did something wrong, every member of the family suffered some degree of shame and would pay the price for it.  Having a family or kin group meant that you mattered or had value as a member of that group.  An individual without a kin group had no one to speak for him/her at Thing, no one to avenge his/her death, and that individual was essentially nothing.  Alone.  A Nithling.  With no more powers or rights than an out-law really.

In modern Heathenry, one of the biggest barriers any kindred faces, is the individualism and selfishness taught to us by our mainstream culture.  Our modern culture tells us that our invidual feelings and needs are paramount, and need to be deeply examined, analyzed, and understood.  In a sense, the modern world tends to encourage us to view the world as something of our own creation, and that everyone else is just a secondary character in the story that is our individual life.

Mainstream religions are heavily focused on "individual salvation," the "free will" of the individual, and an individual's personal relationship with the divine.  Our mainstream culture encourages a disposable consumer world, where the individual's pleasure and every materialistic need should be pursued or bought on credit.   Our modern culture has slowly turned marriage, the structural and legal basis for family stability, into a rotating door of multiple marriages, baby's daddies, and a wink-and-a-nod regarding the idea of life-time commitment.  

So, this is the cultural environment from which potential or current members of your kindred are emerging.  A cultural environment completely at odds with the long-term keeping of oaths.  Completely at odds with the concept that the needs of a family or kin group are more important than the needs of any one individual in that group.  Completely at odds with any effort to create a kindred where the members live in true Frith to one another.  Completely at odds with the sort of generousity, openness, and selflessness it takes to fully invest one's efforts into a kindred and to have the best interests of that kindred at the forefront of your thoughts and efforts.  Completely at odds with following the Thew of one's kin group and accepting and participating in the consenus-building at the heart of the successful efforts of one's kin group.

And we wonder why kindred's fail.  We wonder why over time, kindred members leave and new ones take their place, only to be replaced in turn when the those replacements eventually leave.  We wonder why some give up the idea of building strong kindreds amid the frustrations to dealing with pervasive selfishness, drama-seeking, and discord caused by those that can't get out of their own head long enough to really be a full and Frithful part of the group.

So, the point of this essay is to directly address this selfishness, both describing some examples of when selfishness is at play, how to avoid it, and how to deal with it effectively when it happens.

Frithful kindred members understand that everything they do and say, is an extension of their kindred.  They know that their words and deeds directly affect their own personal Gefrain (reputation, renown, fame), but that more importantly their words and deeds directly affect their kindred's Gefrain.  Many modern Heathens have trouble keeping in mind their own Gefrain, let alone the Gefrain of their kindred.  But this is an important part of a honor-based culture, with shame-based consequences for bad actions.  How will something you do affect your kindred?  How will something you say or do affect your kindred?  If what you say or do will have a positive, helpful, and good result for your kindred then move forward.  If what you say or do will have a negative, hurtful, or bad result for your kindred then don't move forward.  This seems a like pretty simple common-sense idea on paper.  But, you will see over and over again, Heathens failing to think about this, or to take it into consideration when making choices.  

Frith demands that part of judging whether your words or deeds will have a positive or negative effect, is considering the Thew (unwritten traditions, expectations) of your kindred.  If you truly know your kindred brothers and sisters well, then you will know how they will view your words and deeds without even having to ask them.  But if you aren't sure, then it is a good idea to ask for rede (advice) on the matter.  And if you say or do something that all or most of your kindred feels had a negative affect on the kindred and they bring it to your attention, you owe it to them to listen and closely consider the rede (advice) they are giving you.  If the matter is serious enough, then the payment of completion of Shyld (obligation) may be required to set things right.

Selfish kindred members care only for their own needs and viewpoints, and give very little, if any, thought to the impact their words or deeds will have upon their kindred.  They don't take kindred Thew, the kindred's Gefrain, or the feelings of their fellow kindred members into consideration when making decisions.  When a kindred member or the kindred as a whole points out something negative that selfish kindred members have done or said, they will tend to get angry, defiant, resentful, and rebellious.  This negative reaction tends to happen no matter how reasonably or calmly they are approached regarding the matter.  Excuses are given, lip-service may be paid, and there may be all kinds of assurances given that it won't happen again.  But, the selfish kindred members will often be right back at it a day or a week later, because they never really bothered to consider or internalize the advice given by the kindred.  Selfish kindred members see kindred Thew as an unwelcome and unfair restriction of their own personal needs and wishes, because the world is all about them.

Frithful kindred members understand that as an extension of their kindred, any first impression of them will also be a first impression an outsider will naturally extend to their kindred.  So, it is important that their words and deeds reflect the honor, the commitment, and the loyalty with which the kindred approaches our Folkway.  Selfish kindred members tend to be loose-cannons that say and do whatever they want, whenever they want, with very little concern for how others will react.  And by extension, they are showing very little concern for how others will react to their kindred.

Frithful kindred members understand that kindred events are at the core of what the kindred is attempting to build, maintain, and accomplish.  They pay careful attention to the kindred schedule, and schedule non-kindred events and other obligations around kindred events as much as possible.  When Frithful kindred members have a lot going on in their lives, they use their time wisely so that they aren't forced to sacrifice time with their kindred in order to get things done they should already have gotten done.  Frithful kindred members don't give constant excuses for missing kindred events, because they understand that everyone in the kindred is busy as well...but that everyone in the kindred is expected to make the time to be there for the kindred.

Selfish kindred members are selfish with their time and don't seem to understand the importance of kindred events.  The often complain about the time-commitment to the kindred.  They don't bother to schedule their other commitments around the kindred, and tend to miss events with a handy excuse every time. When the selfish kindred members have a lot going on in their lives they don't use their time well, forcing them to sacrifice time with their kindred in order finish things they should have gotten done rather than playing video games, watching television, or partying in their free time.  Selfish kindred members can be found at the kindred events that they consider fun or rewarding, but strangely absent at kindred events that weren't their idea or events where work is involved.

At events the kindred is hosting, Frithful kindred members can be seen working hard, anticipating problems, and contributing in every way they can to the effort.  You will see them communicating with one another, supporting each other, and lending a hand whereever it is needed.  

Selfish kindred members have trouble seeing themselves as part of a greater effort, and will often have trouble communicating with other members of their kindred.  They will point out problems for others to solve rather than fixing the problems themselves.  When there is work to be done, selfish kindred members are often difficult to find.  Selfish kindred members often feel or look "lost" in these situations of collaborative effort, as they are unsure or unable to get outside their own heads and see themselves as part of the machinery of the kindred.  They tend to accomplish one or two tasks during the event, and feel satisfied in their effort or even boast about their effort, while others in the kindred complete literally scores of tasks during the same amount of time. 

Frithful kindred members are self-aware enough to know when they are acting on unhealthy patterns in their own lives.  If they aren't self-aware enough to know, then they will at least listen when a kindred member or the kindred as a whole points out some sort of unhealthy pattern they seem to be acting out.  Once the unhealthy pattern has been pointed out, Frithful kindred members factor this into their decision-making, looking for any sign of unreasonable or emotional behavior on their part.  And they freely welcome input from other kindred members at times they are falling back on old unhealthy patterns.

Some examples of unhealthy patterns:
  • Reacting defiantly to anyone who makes a decision or exercises any authority
  • Needing and seeking any form of attention, even negative attention
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Needing to be the center of attention in every situation
  • Doing things for shock value
  • Needing strife and conflict to feel normal, and thus causing discord out of habit
  • Rudeness to other people on a regular basis
  • Drinking too much, coupled with the behavior problems that result
  • Seeing others as parent-figures, and the need to rebel against them
  • Showing a lack of empathy, thinking only of one's self
  • Procrastinating anything difficult or anything unfamiliar
  • Over-committing to events or efforts, and rarely following through
  • etc.
Selfish kindred members do not have any self-awareness.  They never get outside their own heads long enough to really look at themselves, and analyze what they are doing or why they are doing it.  So, they are either unaware of unhealthy patterns they follow, or in being aware of them they have no interest in actually changing them.  When approached by a kindred member or the kindred as a whole about an unhealthy pattern they are following, selfish kindred members refuse to listen or accept what is being told to them.  They will make excuses, justify their negative behavior pattern, and usually attempt to turn the blame back onto the kindred.  Selfish kindred members will sometimes pay lip-service to changing their unhealthy pattern, but because they never fully accept it as true, they refuse to change or correct the problem. 

One factor that inhibits a selfish kindred member from accepting input or criticism from a member of their kindred or the kindred as a whole, is the fact they live according to a "script."  They live the world from inside their own head, and everyone and everything is forced to conform to how they view the world.  All advice and input is put through this filter, and selfish kindred members hear only what they want to hear and understand only what they want to understand.  The kindred can spend scores of hours over many months working with a selfish kindred member to correct a troublesome pattern in their behavior, but very little of what is said is absorbed, understood, or accepted without first going through the filter of what the selfish kindred members think they are should be hearing.  This disconnect in communication will sometimes make it impossible to fix a problem and ultimately, in order to protect itself, the kindred will need to move beyond simply communicating the problem to the selfish kindred member.

Regardless of your kindred structure or the leadership functions you have in place, a kindred fuctions best when decision-making is done by consensus.  A Frithful kindred leader knows to build consensus in his decisions and accept input whenever possible, prior to putting his decisions in place.  Frithful kindred members know that the key to building consensus regarding the direction and efforts of their kindred, is communication.  One must be able to communicate one's ideas, explaining what they entail and the benefits and opportunities they will create.  Frithful kindred members understand that kindred consensus, carefully built and agreed to by the group as a whole, is more likely to succeed and build Luck for the kindred, than the ideas of just one person.  As such, even when they don't 100% agree with an idea or how it is being done, they will trust the consensus process and accept the collective direction the groups want to go.

Selfish kindred members are frustrated by any changes or additions to an idea or opinion they bring forward.  They want what they want, and the idea of spending time building or agreeing to a kindred consensus regarding a decision is time-wasted to their way of thinking.  Because the idea is "theirs," they feel a sense of ownership in the idea and any suggested changes or improvements are intrusions upon something they own.  Selfish kindred members do not understand that a consensus carefully built and agreed to by the group as a whole, is almost always stronger and more likely to succed and bring Luck to the kindred, than the ideas of just one person.  They may understand it intellectually, but emotionally they react completely against the concept.  It is selfish kindred members who are more likely to invoke the "it is my football, and I'm taking it home" rule when they don't get their way.

Frithful kindred members see the efforts and accomplishments of their kindred as something that belongs to the collective whole.  As such, they work hard, take initiative, and when they see something that needs to be done, they do it.  They don't expect anyone to do it for them.  When they see someone else in the kindred that needs help or assistance, they offer that assistance freely.  When Frithful kindred members anticipate or spot a problem, they point it out and offer solutions...they may even offer to fix it on behalf of the kindred.  Frithful kindred members are more likely to be concerned about the kindred succeeding in its goals and efforts, than any concern for who may individually get credit for the work.  They understand that when the kindred succeeds, they succeed as well.  Frithful kindred members say the word "we" as a matter of reflex and this is a window into how they view their relationship with their kindred.

Selfish kindred members tend to wait for things to be done for them.  They often have to be told to work, rarely take initiative, and when they see something that needs to be done, they ask why someone else hasn't done it.  When they see someone else in the kindred that is having trouble with completing a task, they are more likely to offer criticism and judgement than they are offer assistance.  When selfish kindred members anticipate or spot a problem, they tend to empahsize the problem and assign blame, rather than offering any real solutions to what is happening.  Selfish kindred members tend to emphasize their own efforts, and seek credit for those efforts individually.  Selfish kindred members say the word "I" as a matter of reflex, because in their world they are at the center of everything.

I've structured this essay in a very black & white way, pitting Frithful kindred members against selfish kindred members, and comparing and contrasting them.  Almost no-one is flawlessly Frithful in every case and in all but the most extreme cases no-one is utterly selfish.  Encouraging Frith within one's kindred is a constant process.  Over time, Frith becomes a state of mind...a new norm, that replaces the selfish norm of our mainstream culture for those that work at it.  For our kindreds to grow in size, strength, and stability Frith must prosper within our kindreds, and selfishness must be addressed and corrected.  It is my hope that by out-lining some of the symptoms of selfishness, we can see it for what it is and discourage it when it rears its ugly head.

This essay is certainly not about a specific person, and no one reading it should feel the need to get defensive about what is said here.  If you think I'm addressing this essay directly to you specifically, then that is probably a pretty good sign that you are one of those people who thinks "this is all about you."  But we could certainly all benefit from asking ourselves the following questions and carefully considering our answers:

  1. Do you view yourself as an individual that happens to belong to a kindred or do you view yourself as a part of your kindred?
  2. Do you consider the impact your words or deeds may have on your kindred before you speak or act?
  3. Do you consider the thew and expectations of your kindred when choosing your words and deeds?
  4. Do you make every effort to attend kindred events and schedule your calendar around your kindred's calendar?
  5. Do you manage your time, so that you aren't forced to sacrifice time with your kindred due to the time you've wasted playing video-games, watching television, and seeking selfish diversions?
  6. Do you find yourself frequently telling everyone in your kindred how busy you are and why you can't help with things or interact with them as much as you'd like?  Have you ever considered they may be just as busy if not busier than you?
  7. Do you work hard on kindred efforts, contributing in every way you can, solving problems, and making things happen?
  8. Do you examine what you are doing and why you are doing it to make sure you are not acting out unhealthy patterns of behavior?
  9. Do you listen to input and criticism from other kindred members when they point out an unhealthy pattern of behavior that keeps coming up and causing problems...or do you blame such criticism on kindred members being judgemental or "not understanding you?"  Do you often feel like the victim?
  10. Do you sometimes get accused of "not really hearing what people are telling you?  Do you sometimes get accused of "hearing what you want to hear?"
  11. Do you like getting input from other kindred members on your ideas?  Do you accept the collective decision making process and trust the final decision made, even if it doesn't fit exactly with what you wanted to happen?
  12. Do you tend to offer help or offer blame more often when something is not getting done or something is not going as planned?
  13. Are the often the center of drama or discord within your kindred?  Why is that do you think?
If those questions make you uncomfortable or you don't really like your answers to the above questions, then get to work and fix the problem.  You will be happier and more successful and your kindred will be happier and more successful.

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