[The following is guest post from Brendan Myers. Brendan Myers, Ph.D., is a Canadian philosophy professor, a winner of OBOD’s Mount Haemus award for research in Druidry, and the author of “The Other Side of Virtue”, “Loneliness and Revelation”, and other titles. Find him (and his books) on the web at brendanmyers.net.]
The recent interruption to Jason’s blog service, and the generosity of the movement which raised for him the money to pay his increased costs within a single day, got me thinking about volunteerism and community building in the pagan movement.
What does it mean to ‘build’ community? Probably the simplest and broadest answer is this: to build a community is to create and sustain relationships between people. Some are the relations of teachers to students, doctors and nurses to patients, and parents to children. Some are the relations of storytellers (that includes journalists!) and their audiences. Human relationships inform the way that food lands on our table, the way books are published and distributed, the way musicians and poets and artists create things of beauty for everyone to share. The basic relationship, perhaps underlying all others, is the relation between friends: and in ancient European pagan culture, friendship seems to have been at least as important as tribal solidarity, and sometimes more so. Indeed I will argue that the sacred itself, whatever else it may be, is a function of our human relationships. But I would like to make a different point today.
All our relationships are person-to-person. They involve people seeing, hearing, touching, and speaking to each other; they involve sharing goods; and they involve moral values like generosity and compassion.
But they are also mediated and assisted by the material infrastructure: town squares, telephone networks, internet servers, farmer’s markets, schools, libraries, concert halls, and private homes. Relationships do not happen in abstraction. They need a place; they need a centre, even a home.
And infrastructure, as you know, costs money. That’s probably why there are donation drives on the Wild Hunt from time to time. A local community wants to rent a hall for regular public rituals, or rent a campground for an annual outdoor festival. An organization wants to publish a newsletter. An elderly teachers wants to talk to her geographically-distant students on the phone, or drive to visit them once in a while. These things do not come free.
I have decided, therefore, that I will donate 50% of all my book royalties, from January to June 2011, to pagan community infrastructure projects. I also invite other pagan writers to do the same.
Most people can do more than they think they can. Indeed most people can do more than they are already doing. As for myself, I volunteer my labour and sometimes donate money for various local causes, and I also write books which (I hope!) contribute usefully to the movement’s intellectual life. But it occurred to me that, like most people, I can probably do much more than I’m already doing. I would like to encourage more volunteerism. But at least some of the volunteerism has to be in the form of cash donations, for the sake of maintaining the infrastructure. This is, I think, an indirect but very important way to support the human relationships in our community, and the values which animate them.
This may not be much money. In the last six months of last year, my royalty income was less than one month of my rent. Other pagan writers are in a similar position: we write for a niche market, after all. But if people are willing to support me as a writer by purchasing my books, then I will be very willing to support the movement in return by sharing some of my royalties with projects that will benefit many others.
Some such projects are internet-based, such as the Pagan Newswire Collective. Some are pagan owned and operated campgrounds that operate year-round, such as Raven’s Knoll. Some are annual conferences that have rental costs to pay, such as the Gaia Gathering. I invite comments and suggestions from everyone about where people think I should donate the money. I wouldn’t want people to believe that by buying one of my books, they might support a project they don’t believe in. But I do hope that my position in the movement as a writer, small though it may be, can benefit more than just myself.
Communities simply cannot be built unless its members see beyond their own immediate wants and needs, and start to take care of each other in an organized way. I can do that with my book royalties. Communities simply don’t survive unless people are ready to do something selfless for others, which will benefit everyone (and yes, including themselves) in the long run. I can donate some of my money. What more, and what else, can you do? I’m curious to find out.