Omphaloskepsis: “Real Life Comes First”

Today, on that Other Social Network, I noticed a group dedicated to a century drill of service. For those not knowing what a century drill is, it’s 100 days of combat work, whether it be at a pell or with another person. It’s a good use of bettering yourself as a combatant. It also works well for A&S, too. (a similar thing in the modern world is the practice of Inktober, of which I’m planning on doing this year.)

Service, well, I have a harder time accepting this sort of discipline for a service-related activity. Here’s why I think this, and why I think there are better ways of supporting volunteerism across the Society (and out of the Society, too).

To better clarify what the century drill of service looks like for this particular group, it involves creating a log-in and then doing 10 minutes per day of SCA service for 100 straight days. with the caveat of “If you miss a day doing service, your 100 days starts over again.”

So, here’s why I have some problems with this.

The biggest aspect of this is that while we often say things like “GPA before SCA,” “real life comes first,” or “we’ll be here when you get back,” many SCAdians don’t actually mean this. We question someone’s devotion to the hobby if someone has an attack of life! If a person cannot attend certain events, especially if they’re on a service track, they are snubbed for not giving their whole being to their kingdom, their local group, or to the Society itself.

Story from my life: I was principal herald of my kingdom while my mother had been diagnosed with leukemia, and even though she fought well, I had to make some tough decisions, with the toughest being that of taking her off of life support the day of a Crown Tournament. Most people in my kingdom knew what was going on, and even though I had made appropriate plans to cover for emergencies, the expectation of following through on kingdom duties was still there – the job still had to be done.

I remember being asked when I’d be coming back to events mere days after the funeral – I was still not done mourning! Some even mentioned that they felt that I needed to give more service to the kingdom just to “get over” my mother’s death. (By the way, I think this a poor way to start any healing process. Taking time for oneself is not a bad thing, especially over major life changes like this.)

Now, while I came back, albeit a bit sooner than I should have, this is not an appropriate way to handle another member’s attack of life. Nor should we hold their brief disappearance as a reason to exclude them from orders. (now, if you’ve been gone for over a decade or so, there’s probably some discussion on that, but that’s probably for another blog entry.)

So, point the first: let’s actually let people have breathing space between their hobby life and their home life. If people need to concentrate on getting a degree or caring for a family member or just need brainspace that isn’t filled with medieval life, then we as an organization need to be okay with that, and we need to recognize that people can and will do things that aren’t the SCA and it’s a perfectly acceptable way to spend their time. Their loyalties to the organization won’t magically disappear because they’re off at a LARP or a comic con or cleaning their house. Priorities will shift and that’s perfectly okay.

The other reason why I think logging one’s service in public is a bad idea is less related to time needed away from the Society and more of a personal standpoint. My faith tradition has a saying about prayer being that of “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

The same goes for service.

Sure, there’s types of service that are very public. Examples can be that of being principal herald, serving in a Society office, or always doing a particular job. There’s absolutely no problem with that. Let me repeat: yes, you can do service in a very public way, and it’s okay. It starts being not okay when in your execution of the public job is making life more difficult for others in the Society.

At the same point, though, there are some service activities that can be done in secret. One of the jobs I did for a crown was go on order of precedence dives and pull up awards for individuals going to certain events. The only other person (besides the crown and me) that knew I was doing that activity was my Pelican – and that was fine. I didn’t log the activity as sort of a merit badge rubric point, but rather did it because the job needed to be done. (and admittedly, I love going on order of precedence dives because there are always interesting data points out there. . . but I am also a nerd when it comes to things heraldry.)

In short, I did the job because I found it fun, and that’s really the point. If we are to play the SCA for fun, then our fighting, our creative expressions, and our service needs to be fun. (I mean, I know plenty of people who can make literally crappy jobs like mucking out the portajohns fun, so . . .)

So, rather than posting what service a person does on That Other Social Network, perhaps, just perhaps, we just need to concentrate on the quality of service a person does. If they took a break from the SCA, would that service be missed? If that person is burnt out on service, are we giving them space to be themselves outside of a service-type activity?

If so, then we are building an organization that is safe for volunteers. Until we 1) give people space to grow and learn both in and out of the Society, 2) recognize that service doesn’t have to be public for it to be just as valid, and 3) recognize that doing service for the joy of serving, not as a merit badge rubric point, we’ve got a lot of room to grow.

For more information on volunteer management and how to put those tools in your service toolbox, please check out my handout from KWHSS ’19 and my article from the KWHSS ’17 Proceedings.

3 thoughts on “Omphaloskepsis: “Real Life Comes First”

  1. There’s also the 100 Days of A&S. While I like the idea of doing something every day–and the fact is, the days that I DON’T do something SCA art related are few and far between–, the idea that “if you miss a day you have to start all over again, and trying to remember to post it every day, turns it into an obligation. I am in the process of embroidering a coif as my “just for me” project, and I’ve been working on it, even if it’s just a few stitches, every evening before bed. It’s almost done, but if I turned it into an obligation, it would slip down the list of other, more prioritized, obligations, and probably never be finished.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mean, it goes back to this concept of the Society has to be the *one* thing in people’s lives. . . and that’s just not realistic.

      It’s okay to like and to do other things outside of the SCA. (now, I will say that doing art as part of a limited day challenge does help show growth, but it should never feel like an obligation. Part of the reason I get so frustrated with the Society some times is because we treat people who do A&S as an endless font of stuff making for *free* without looking at the actual material or worse, time costs! It’s a set up for burnout if people are not allowed to walk away and to not do the thing for a bit.)


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