As peers, we must serve as examples of courtesy and chivalry to the rest of the populace. We also must serve as examples to ourselves. Thus, this rather rambling collection of thoughts on ethics and the peerage.
Gossip and Rumor are -evil-. To carry gossip, and to spread rumor, is a blot on a person's honor; on the honor of the person repeating, or starting, the gossip.
It is a stain that says "I am a person that likes to hurt people." If you hear a rumor, squash it. If you hear a rumor about someone else, GO TO THAT PERSON AND ASK THEM ABOUT IT. Find out the truth FOR YOURSELF. If they deny it, give them the benefit of the doubt and believe them; a liar will expose themselves eventually.
And if you hear malicious gossip about someone, tell the gossiper
to shut the hell up and walk away from them. They have shown themselves to
have no honor and no clue.
To be blunt, talking of subjects discussed within a peer Circle is spreading gossip and rumor. Those who hear it have no idea of the context of the remarks made, and (being human) will assume the worst. This is why we have always had the 'rule' about NOT TALKING outside our Circles about people and subjects discussed within them.
However .... we all have squires, apprentices and protegés, and many times those are the very people being discussed, with comments made that will serve to improve our students, -if they can be made aware of them.-
The question becomes, therefore, "how do we communicate these suggestions?"
First of all, we do NOT:
What we -can- do is this: we can provide our students with a chance to learn the things they need to learn, and say things like "It's important that you learn this, and then demonstrate that you've learned it."
We can, to use one example, ask a lady to request our student to dance .... or ask a lord to ask our female student to dance .... and thus show the rest of the peerage that they either already know the skill, or are learning it .... we are being more of a 'guiding hand' and we have thus violated no confidences by so doing.
If a person is not any peer's student, then we -all- can help by engaging them in conversation and casually mentioning the needed improvement, for example, "Lord So-and-so, you might find that a visit to dance classes would improve your footwork on the field ...." or "Lady Such-and-such, you'd probably enjoy what Mistress So-and-so has to say about costuming."
We can even provide a mini-class in the subject at a fighter practice, and simply dragoon the person (along with several others) into attending .... although that last might be a bit extreme!
After that, it's up to them to carry the ball. We can't shepherd them along each step; THEY have to show the interest.
Each peer will have their own solution to the problem. The important things to remember are to NOT TELL WHAT WAS DISCUSSED IN THE CIRCLE, and to NOT TELL THE PERSON THEY WERE DISCUSSED.
How do we know if a person is a Peer? For the Laurel, I use a simple rule-of-thumb: 'If the person was given a knowledge of the language of their persona, and dropped thru Time into the -real- Middle Ages or Renaissance, could they earn their living at their Art?"
I also tend to add "do they know enough about their chosen culture to get along in it? Do they dress reasonably real? Do they 'play the Game' well?"
I also agree with King Morgan of Drachenwald's codification:
Henry Best, of Atlantia, offers one of the best rules-of-thumb
that I have yet seen:
"My favorite test of whether a person is a peer is the "George Bailey Test", named after the hero of "It's a Wonderful Life"."
"The test is simple: pretend, for a moment, that the person in question never ever participated in the Society. Look at the result and see how much you like or dislike it. How big a hole in how many hearts do you see? "
"This is usually enough to identify a peer. The next question is whether your peer is more suitably a knight, laurel, or pelican."
We have a lot of lesser awards at Baronial, Principality and Kingdom level. In my opinion, a person does NOT need to have these awards before they recieve a peerage; they are neither merit badges, nor ascending ranks. They are -local- awards. If a person is qualified for the peerage, then they should be recognized as peers, no matter what other awards they might have.
Now, let's talk about rhino-hides.
We all know about rhino-hides. They're the fighters that just can't seem to take a blow....they use the concepts of personal honor to -cheat- at this game we play.
But.....the non-fighting folks have their own rhino-hides too. They're the people that just can't seem to let anyone else outshine them... that can't seem to find anything good to say about someone else's efforts in the Arts, or in Service.
And they tend to do their best to withhold recognition from people striving to better themselves in Arts and Service.
They are just as much -cheaters- as the fighter that can't take a blow.
Arts competitions are our 'fighting events,' and they are just as important to us as tourney combat is to the fighters.
But we have no real 'Rules of the Lists.' We have no real, codified 'Conventions of Combat.' There is a lot more room for pettyness, cruelty, and outright cheating in our part of the game.
The artist that uses a position of power to denigrate and beat down another artist's efforts, whether in judging a competition or in casual conversation, is -worse- than the fighting rhino-hide, for the hurt that this conduct engenders hurts a person's personal Dream .... and enough such hurts will inevitably and inexorably -kill- the Dream in that person, their family, and their friends.
I have seen far too many talented people -leave the SCA-, their Dream shattered, because of the thoughtless, cruel actions of a loud, heartless, thug-like minority.
We are not here to play games with people's emotions. We are not here to employ brutal "gamesmanship" and "rules manipulation" to enhance our own perceptions of our own personal worth. We are here to -learn- and -teach- our arts.
People are encouraged by rewards. These rewards can be something as simple as a single word of encouragement, or an award from the Crown or Coronet.
But of the two, the word of encouragement is probably the most important because it lets the person know that you, personally, care enough to say something.
But slapping someone down with no consideration of their feelings is perhaps one of the most reprehensible acts I can think of. IT HURTS. If you must critique, do so -constructively- and -gently-. Offer to -help- by making your knowledge available to them.
Beorthwine of Grafham Wood puts it quite well:
"A&S Competitions are not good or bad: they are good _and_ bad. In many ways, they are a microcosm of our Society, displaying the best and the worst we have to offer."
"Arts and Sciences Competitions are not free of any of the ills that afflict our Society. In today's context, one is inclined to think that poor administation is our worst ill (and A&S competitions have been known to suffer from this) but this is not our worst problem. Most of us realize that if the SCA administation blew away tomorow, the people would not. When the efforts of gentles submitted to an A&S competition are ridiculed or belittled, the people will go away. And well they should, for we have shown ourselves, with all our self-righteous claims of gentleness, to be a lie. The attitude shown at times in the SCA befits a kindergarden playground, where words are used to shame and to wound. People, proud of their place, shun those "below" and flatter those "above". Petty, smug, and clique-ish behavior is the worst problem I see in the SCA. Far from being free of it, A&S competitions are often the platform for such conduct."
"This is especially grievious, as A&S represents much of the very highest we can attain. Certainly it is true that it can encourage authenticity and often remedies the problem of getting the cart before the horse: doing the work before the research. But all this can be done without competitions. In competitions and displays, we show just pride in our accomplishments while remaining open to improvements. The inspiration recieved from the work of others furthers the beauty in our own labors and the well-considered advice of judges increases our skill. In considering and commenting on others work, we gain insight into our own and recieve new inspirations, points of view, and cultural influences, if we are humble enough to accept them. By commenting on the accomplishments of others, we put courtesy as well as scholarship into action: Seeking not our own agrandisement, we only try to find the best way to help some gentle along the shared path to excellence. This is the best we can accomplish, whatever the chosen avenue of our labor. For we are all advocates: not of ourselves but of each other, and of the dream we share."
Don't offer to judge an Arts competition in any area that you are not at least more than generally knowledgeable in. If you -have- specialized knowledge, -offer to judge-. And, if you are the Autocrat of the Arts competition, -find *qualified* judges.-
If you are a Laurel, you are considered to have a great deal of knowledge in your art. You are, in my opinion, -obligated- to attend Arts competitions and -serve as a judge in your art.- Contact the Autocrat and offer to help ... don't sit around waiting for the phone call.
And you are obligated to judge -fairly-, without jealousy or favoritism. If you allow your personal hatreds, or your personal fears, to enter into your acts as a judge, then you have -failed- to live up to your Laurel.
Take people at their word, in their documentation. That's part of the concept of 'honor' that we live by. If they are lying, it will show up sooner or later. If you are not sure of your facts, give the entrant the benefit of the doubt. Let them call the shot, just as the fighters do. We have no Marshall to appeal to. We have a -harder- task in our fields because of that, and thus -must- walk a fine line between a 'strict interpetation of the rules' and fairness.
Take the time to -read- the documentation. It may sound amazing to some, but it -has happened- that a judge has refused outright to even read a person's documentation!
If you are a professional in your art in the mundane world, remember that you are judging amateurs ... and the words 'novice' and 'expert' on the judging sheet do -not- mean the same as they do in the 'real' world. Our 'expert' in an Arts Competition may be simply slightly better than a beginner in reality. Cut them some slack!
If you are an academic in the 'real' world, remember that these people have not had access to the resources and information you have had. And they have no concept of the common practices and attitudes of academic debate; they don't center their lives around 'being right.' Cut them some slack!
And, if you are an artist that has been slam-dunked by one of these Rhinos, whether in Arts, Service or Combat, don't quit. If you quit, then the Rhinos have won, and you, and those of us that truly believe in honor and courtesie, have lost more than just a competition.
And feel sorry for those Rhinos and Gossips, for while you may have lost a
competition, they have lost their souls.
Permission is REFUSED to reprint in any corporate SCA publications. Unofficial publications may reprint at will. Send a copy to the author if you do at: PO Box 35190, Phoenix AZ 85069