Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Peer Reclamation Project

The Problem:

The SCA has a problem at the highest levels: long term retention among peers.

My Laurel, Master Iefan and me.
Pillars of various communities give, support and help through thick and thin while the aggravations continue to pile up against them. Irritating politics, a bad experience, being passed over for thanks- all of these little infuriations keep building up until one day, the peer realizes they are no longer having fun in the SCA. Maybe they are a knight who has aged out of being able to fight well, a Laurel who now feels irrelevant or extraneous, a Rose who no one asks to Champion, or a Pelican who no longer gets asked to help with projects. However it occurs, it does happen and we lose these treasures of our society in ones and twos, sometimes in clumps of friends who move on to other endeavors.

These exiting peers have vast and remarkable knowledge. They once contributed so much to the SCA that they were named peers, so they are or were experts at something. Since their elevation, the have probably helped as a community leader and likely have a broad skill-set that is so vast, you'd likely never even guess all of the things they know how to do. When we lose one peer, as a Society, we lose the breadth of their knowledge and the wealth of their expertise, but we also likely lose a few of their friends and associates who follow to different venues where they can continue to spend time with their friends. It is like a star that dims and then winks out leaving an empty spot in our Society.

Why Does This Matter?

No, peers are not the only people who matter in the SCA and I would never suggest that. However, retention at our highest levels is important to the continued growth of the SCA and peers often serve as the inspiration and awe that is needed to keep newer Society members interested in achieving and going the extra step. Without them, we lose our institutional knowledge, our oldest traditions and the Society becomes a little bit less for it.

We also lose our friends when peers leave. Once they are gone, people who used to spend time with those peers will likely miss them and then feel something is lacking in their own SCA experience which may cause them to look for new opportunities for joy.

The Peer Reclamation Project

The idea started as a joke years ago, when I started watching friends drift away from the SCA. Some of those friends who left were peers, and I watched the hole that was left in the fabric of the Society as they went away. Sometimes that hole was filled, but often knowledge or momentum was lost, setting an art or project back several years. Sometimes the hole left by the departure of a peer was never refilled, and the SCA just moved forward with a gaping empty space where something cool had one been. 

My Peer Reclamation Project (as I jokingly named it) was a mostly secret task force and ad-hoc campaign to "reform peers gone astray and bring them back as useful and contributing members of the Society". This sounds hilarious and silly, but look past the silliness of the idea and think carefully about the concept:
  • What if we could reach out to those peers who still had connections in the SCA, as they were drifting away and try to catch them? 
  • What if we could find out what made those peers happy and brought them joy and then helped them have chances to be part of those things again? 
  • What if we could set up "play dates" for those peers to work with people who had similar interests or even senses of humor and helped them to make new connections within Society?
  • What if we could keep a peer and help them find a new direction for their time spent in the Society?
  • What if we could retain even just a few of these amazing individuals, and what if they also were glad again?
Answer: we could do a lot more and we could do it better.

So, my SCAdian friend, think about it: how many peers do you know that seem to be drifting away from Society. What knowledge, craft, tradition and friends will disappear with them if they take leave of the SCA? Do you like how that SCA looks to you? Maybe not. 

Think for a moment about the peers that have inspired you over the years who have already left the Society. What did their departure do to their friends, their local groups, their community, their Kingdom?

The Early Years are Important

Peerage can be hella rough on a new peer. Things change really quickly, and not always for the best. From what I have observed, we tend to lose a lot of new peers within 1-3 years of their elevation. The reality of peerage can be like a sucker-punch when you discover that this thing you have worked for is not really a cool accolade but is actually a job and it is a job that often sucks. There is no pay and you are expected to always perform at the highest level, without slowing down or making a mistake.

How Can You Help?

When you work with a new peer, no matter if you are an OD (Old Dragon) or shiniest of newcomers, please remember that they are new at this, don't have a ton of experience and don't have all of the answers. They are still learning and that really is part of the process. Treat them with the same respect that you want to receive. Maybe you can help inspire a peer to be even better.

Peers- 'partying' with exhaustion at 8pm.

The Longer Years

SCA Peerage is much like a job, but one day you realize that you have had this position for a while and there is no hope of promotion or raise. You don't get to retire. That's daunting. Unless a peer can find joy in working with associates or is self-motivating to an extreme, they may start to get bored or tired. After a few years of peers putting an awful lot of time and effort into the club, they might not be as enthusiastic as they once were and may not volunteer to help with things that they have already done dozens of times. They might be bored. There might be some friction with another member. They may no longer find joy in their original area of expertise. 


How Can You Help?
Remember that peers are people too. Be polite. Treat them as you want to be treated. Smile and compliment them as you would anyone else. Ask them what they like and enjoy. Find out what they still want to learn and what interests them. If you have the opportunity to work on a project that you think a drifting peer might enjoy, invite them to help. They probably also don't get a lot of invitations to just hang out with other SCAdians that they don't know well. Invite them for a local movie night, a game of blood-sport boccie, a potluck dinner, game night or whatever. They are people and they like all kinds of stuff.

Can't Catch 'em All

No, we can't get back every peer who has left the SCA. Some of them are too angry and are not over the hurt that made them leave. Some of them will have found other things that they enjoy more than the SCA and will have moved on. Some will have moved forward with their careers and families and may no longer have a space in their life for a club that takes up so much time. It happens. Don't badger people who tell you they are not interested in coming back to the SCA. It won't help the cause and it will likely just hurt your friendship. Sometimes, you just need to understand that they no longer want to be part of the SCA, and that that is entirely ok. Wish them well and try to keep up your friendship as there was probably a pretty good reason you were friends in the first place.

Be Welcoming

Returning peers may have a lot of trepidation and a bit of guilt hanging over them when they return. They likely fear the same situations that drove them away, like miserable politics or negative interactions with someone they did not enjoy their first time around. While they may have spent a few years changing, so likely have the people they left in the SCA. If you see someone returning to play that you used to have drama with, figure out if that drama even still matters. If it does not, why not drop it? Walk on up to the returning peer and introduce yourself and admit that a lot of time has passed. Create an opportunity to start fresh that will benefit both parties.

As pointed out to me by Earl Lorcan, returning peers may also feel a lot of guilt or that they have somehow shirked their responsibilities. Everyone needs time to themselves, even peers. Sometimes you need to get something else accomplished or get some clarity and perspective. Take a moment and let the returning peer know that you are glad to see them back. Don't make them feel more guilty, just make them feel welcome and help them edge back into the Society. 

Perspective

It's shocking how much perspective time can provide. After just 10 years of peerage, I've seen so much in Society change. I've watched people come, and friends go away. I walk around an event now, and sometimes realize that I don't know any of these new people that I see. When I wander past a campsite, I don't recognize anyone and don't wander in because I don't want to be a bother. How will I feel in another 10 years, 20? I have no idea.

What I do know is that I have met some of my best friends and most amazing family of choice in the SCA, and I don't want to imagine a future where this group of people isn't in my life. I'm choosing to keep myself involved and interested, surrounded by amazing people but I recognize that not everyone has that option. For now, I'm going to make the conscious choice to reach out to other peers when I have an opportunity and make sure that these people that I look up to and respect know that they are cared for, and that I am better just because they are in my life. In working to "reclaim a few peers", I have made and strengthened some incredible friendships and have gotten to know some truly amazing people on a new level. I also get to see those friends at SCA events, so I'm going to mark this as a 'win'.

3 comments:

David Hofmann said...

Well Said

troy tallent said...

I agree with a lot of what your saying. You also might mention that sometimes people just need to take some time off.
This club can be so consuming that it literally takes over your life and often the most involved and devoted ones make the best peers. At some point anyone who has been in this club long enough wants or needs to take some "mundane time". We should be understanding and encouraging when someone feels that need to take a step back for awhile. The SCA will still be here when they come back.
A barrier to resuming SCA activities is sometimes the conception, whether real or perceived, that they have somehow been remiss in their duties and have let people down. Sometimes people may leave the club thinking that are done for good and leave hard feelings behind.
These are all things that keep people from resuming when they are otherwise ready. It may help when they do come around to just let them know that you are glad to see them and not say things that may add to any guilt or anxiety about not being around.
Sorry to leave such a long comment it's just that this is something I have considered quite a lot over the years as I have seen so many people come and go.

Kristen said...

Solid point Troy. I should add something about welcoming people back without guilt to the post. Thanks for making me do some more thinking :)