We’ve been talking a lot lately about the intersection of race, culture, and self-expression. Some, perhaps most, of that discussion has been very heated and fraught with terms and language that encourage and widen divisions in our society. The arguments become about the terms, rather than the goals. Rather than what we believe in. This happens because being affronted and being angry, personifying your frustration and then castigating it, is a release. It’s a way to take a difficult, fuzzy, nebulous and thorny problem and turn it into something concrete. I can’t yell at an idea, but I can yell at a person. I can FIGHT a person, even if I can’t win; We get to cast people as hero and villain and say that this person is right, and this person is wrong, and there are clear, simple delineations in the world. It’s an appealing concept to the way our brains are wired.
And I want you to stop. I want you to stop today. This hour. This minute. This very moment. I want you to stop because, deep down, it isn’t the person you want to be. It isn’t the society you want to be a part of. It isn’t the person I want you to be.
What we should strive for instead is to be the best possible version of Amtgard. The version of Amtgard that is inviting, open, and fun for people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds. The version of Amtgard that grows by leaps and bounds through both welcoming new members and keeping current members interested and positively engaged. How we achieve that version of our society is a wide topic. Some of it focuses on how the rules operate, or how we run the elected offices, or how we manage local and interkingdom events. The narrow slice I want to address right now is how we handle disagreements with each other and how we manage perception to the world at large.
Handling disagreements within a group as large and diverse as Amtgard is about each individual in the group following some basic guidelines. When these guidelines are followed, we get conversation and resolutions. When they aren’t, we harden our opinions and get nothing but frustration and resentment.
- Avoid language that is designed to upset or anger the people you are communicating with. Instead, use words that serve to explain clearly and conversationally your concern or problem without attempting to aggravate the person you are speaking with. Consider the differences between the statement “You are the problem” and “this is an example of behavior that is problematic.”
- Avoid applying labels with negative connotations. Calling somebody a “closet racist” or a “social justice warrior” changes the discussion from being about the root behavior and becomes an argument about proving or disproving the label. This solves nothing, and is inherently unproductive. Instead, address people by name and talk about specific behavior you find problematic.
- Don’t engage with or respond to baiting. If you feel like you can’t see another response from a person without responding negatively, use the “block” function in Facebook.
- Don’t post angry. If you have a strong immediate, visceral reaction to a message or comment don’t respond to it for a while. Get up, go for a walk, play fetch with your dog, or get a cup of coffee. Do something else, come back in an hour, and then respond to it. It will keep.
- Finally, allow people an avenue to apologize and admit a mistake gracefully. Everybody will make mistakes from time to time, and that’s all they are: Mistakes. Assume the best intentions of your fellows and they will be more willing to change their minds when presented with an alternative.
Managing perceptions to the outside world is tricky. Even with all of the mainstream progress combat sports and LARPs have made in the last twenty years, it’s still a very strange and niche concept to a lot of people. It’s something that a lot of people have a very disjointed or incomplete view of. Somebody who views the “FIREBALL” video is going to have a very different concept of what we do than somebody who views an Armored Combat League promotional video. Both are partially true, but both are also completely inaccurate in their own ways. The primary way for us as a society to manage those perceptions is through our online resources and activities, and the primary goal of managing those perceptions is to present our best face to the rest of the world. Here are some things to keep in mind regarding our presentation.
- New people know very little about us. They don’t have any Amtgard context to apply to Amtgard. Things that we know do not have racist intent can appear that way to people without context to guide them. That doesn’t mean those things are wrong to do at Amtgard, but it means we must be conscious of when context is vitally important to what we’re doing.
- Amtgard is disproportionately white and male. It’s great that we are so successful with the white male demographic, but it makes it daunting for people who don’t look like us to reach out and join the organization. This isn’t because Amtgard is inherently unaccepting of diversity, but it does mean we need to take extra steps to be welcoming.
- Our online resources are about expanding our potential recruiting pool, not limiting it. If a resource can be made to appeal to more people rather than excluding people, and that doesn’t cost us a lot of effort, we should take that step. It’s the efficient, reasonable step to take.
- Things that are acceptable in person and between friends are not always appropriate for impersonal, public consumption. A prime example of this is the use of subtle irony that revolves around the audience knowing you personally. A warlord making a joke about “those dirty cheating warlords are ruining Amtgard” is funny to the people who know the warlord, but it’s just a guy complaining about cheaters to the new player who just joined your community. That sort of thing can be inadvertently harmful when applied to the concepts of race, sex, religion, or culture.
Given all of our personal views, backgrounds, and cultures it’s obvious to me that Amtgard is not an inherently discriminatory society. Furthermore, I firmly believe that when it comes to true acts of intentional discrimination on race, religion, or culture Amtgard shows its best side and deals with it expediently and professionally. What we, collectively, are bad at is being willing to assume the best in one another. Being willing to listen to one another and be flexible in our attitudes and behavior in order that all of us should get the best experience we can from our society. What we are struggling with isn’t a culture of racism or discrimination; It’s a culture of being obstinate simply because we would rather be “right” than actually be in the right. So take a moment, take a step back, and realize that tearing each other down achieves nothing. Instead, help Amtgard be the best version of itself, and show that version to the world.