Weeding the Garden
Weeding the Garden
This article is about chronically disruptive people in Neopagan groups and what we can do about them. We'll examine who these people are and why we seem to attract so many of them and talk about some of the common types of troublesome people. Finally, we'll explore a simple yet effective strategy for dealing with the problem.
As Senior Druid of Red Oak Grove, ADF, I have been leading a Neopagan group for almost 7 years and have had to deal with at least 9 individuals who were disruptive to the point where they became a major problem. All eventually left the Grove, but some of them caused serious problems for years before they left. I've also talked to the Senior Druids of many other Groves and found out how they handled their problem members. In addition, I have been on the Mother Grove of ADF (its international Board of Directors) several different times, and we have had to deal with disruptive members on an organizational level. I've also been the leader of several non-pagan groups and been teaching leadership skills for the past 11 years.
All of this experience has given me some insights into this problem that I'd like to share with others. Hopefully, other groups can learn from all the mistakes we've made and the result will be more Neopagan groups that grow, blossom and bear fruit.
I am indebted to the book Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth C. Haugk for getting me to think about this problem and its potential solutions. Although written by a Pastor expressly for Christian congregations, it's a good book and ought to be studied by any Neopagan group leader. It does an excellent job of exploring why certain people behave antagonistically and gives some excellent general advice on how to deal with them in the early stages of their discovery, but I don't think he ever gets specific enough about what to ultimately do about them. In this article, I try to explore the problem in light of our own unique situation and take his advice to its next logical step.
What do we want?
You probably belong to a small Neopagan group. You most likely joined this group, or started it yourself, because you wanted to worship the Old Gods in your own way and you want company. For most of us, it's a lot easier and more fun to do this when you have a group of friends and supporters to help. You can share the roles and speaking parts in ritual, and the magic seems so much stronger. You also probably like the social interaction of a group. There is friendship, opportunities to learn from people who are knowledgeable in areas you are not, and there may even be romantic possibilities. You can share jobs, like cooking and cleaning up, and there will be people to help you put your tent up when it's getting dark. And you can share resources, like books and ritual tools and camping gear.
When you join or start a group, you hope that everyone will be friendly and open and nice. While you may love the diversity and excitement of associating with many different kinds of people, you don't want them to be too different. While it may be interesting to talk openly with someone who, for example, has a sexual lifestyle that is completely different from yours, you expect them to follow the same rules of behavior that you do: to take turns speaking, to listen attentively, and not be too offensive or rude, etc.
Many times, when a group first forms, everything seems to work out fine. You get all of the above benefits and then some. And as the group gets bigger many of these positive aspects blossom even more, and you have more opportunities, more resources, and more support than ever before. It's great!
But sooner or later, the group has a problem.
What's the problem?
All too often a small Neopagan group begins to notice that one member, or a small group of members, are repeatedly causing problems. They might be arguing more than most people, or raising their voice a lot more than average, or disrupting the flow of meetings or rituals in some way. They may be making demands about changes they want to make in the rules or Bylaws of the group. Or the problem may be with their interpersonal relationships with other members of the group. There may be sexual factors involved, or financial problems, or erratic behaviors, or an inappropriate number of personal favors that are asked for. Frequently, there's a combination of several of the above problems.
When this disruptive behavior is first noticed, the other members of the group will begin talking about it and how it is affecting them. Chances are it will be ignored for quite a while—maybe months, maybe even years. While many people will agree that "something should be done" to change the behavior, there probably won't be a consensus of what that "something" should be. Most people will agree that any steps they take to try to correct the problem will only have a slim chance of being successful but will almost certainly be uncomfortable, so they won't be anxious to take them.
Many people will hope that the problem just goes away. Maybe the person will change on their own. Maybe they will get tired of acting like that. Maybe they will just quit the group and move on. "Let's just wait and see what happens. Maybe it will all work out."
And sometimes that's exactly what happens. Sometimes people change drastically, on their own, for the better. It could happen. But it usually doesn't. And if the problem doesn't go away, it will probably get worse.
Perhaps a few hints are dropped. Perhaps a go-between has a few words with the troublemaker, asking them to be more "reasonable". That might work; but even if it does, the change usually doesn't last. The leader of the group will get involved at some point. They may try official means to stem the disruption. Once that happens, the troublemaker will usually turn against the group's leader (if that hadn't already happened) and begin a concerted campaign to show everyone what a poor leader they have. It will become very personal.
In all too many cases, the behavior just gets more outlandish, more noticeable, and more troublesome as time goes on. The severity of the behavior will increase and so will the frequency. There may be loud arguments in which the "good people" say some not-so-nice things and some things they shouldn't. There may be some vicious emails exchanged, full of accusations and defenses. Sometimes the content of these emails will become a new problem in itself. And sometimes that problem becomes even more important than the original problems were. A tremendous amount of time can be wasted in reading and writing emails which do little more than attack or defend the contents of other emails.
Other people in the group will find themselves talking about the troublemaker a great deal of the time. It becomes a favorite topic, something that almost everyone can agree on. Sometimes people may even enjoy talking about the problem person. They'll make jokes at his or her expense, behind their back. People will roll their eyes when the person speaks or indulges in their objectionable behavior. They will catalog the many instances of the bad behavior and recite them to each other, back and forth, many times, memorizing the details and fixing the chronology in their minds. This division of "us good folks" vs "that problem person" can actually become a focus for bonding—bringing other people closer together in a mutual cause. Bonding is good. But there are healthier ways to do it.
Very often innocent people that had nothing to do with the original problem will quit the group or just quietly fade away. New guests may show up once or twice and never be heard from again. It will probably be suspected that the troublemaker is the reason for this, but it may be hard to prove.
If the problem gets bad enough, eventually something will have to snap. People will form clear sides and make a stand. Someone may say something like, "Either she goes, or I go!" The troublemaker may quit or be forced out of the group through social pressure or by established group procedure. Because almost everyone has a few friends, very frequently other members of the group will also leave at the same time the troublemaker does. If the group survives the split, it will usually be weaker and probably quite bitter about all the aggravation that it went through. Many groups completely dissolve over a situation like this. Other groups stay together but grumble about each other for years after the split. Their ongoing mutual hatred can hang over the entire Neopagan community in that area, influencing decisions about who to invite to what events.
It's a very nasty scenario, and unfortunately it has occurred over and over again. Will we ever learn?
All churches attract a share of "odd" people. Even the most conservative Christian church is likely to contain a few individuals that don't integrate well with the others. It's to be expected. Most people desperately want to associate with other people in groups for mutual support and social interaction. The vast spectrum of human personalities covers a very wide range, from saints to sociopaths. While most of us would be called "normal" (by definition), there are plenty of people on the fringes, and many of them want to belong to clubs and churches as much as we do. So in any group, there are bound to be a few that fall far enough outside the norm that they cause problems for the others.
A Neopagan group is probably much more likely to attract unusual people than the local Presbyterian congregation. The fact that we are a minority religion with beliefs and practices far outside the mainstream makes it more likely that we will attract people who live far from the mainstream in other areas. Neopagans are usually very open to alternative lifestyles and sexual behaviors. Count how many people have tattoos and body piercings in your Neopagan group. And how many are either gay or bisexual or engage in alternative practices? Compare that percentage to other groups you have been in, and you'll probably see a big difference. Perhaps there is some correlation between people who choose a Neopagan lifestyle and the tendency to exhibit other unusual behaviors. Or perhaps the range of Neopagan behaviors is wider than it is for non-pagans.
Because Neopagan groups are usually much smaller than the average small-town church, the presence of even a single disruptive member will cause far more damage and commotion than it would in another group. In a group of 150 Methodists, a single person complaining about the service is far outnumbered by all the people who liked it. If the dissatisfied person finds one or two friends to agree, they are still in a very small minority. But in a group of 10 Neopagans, that person would make a considerable influence and, if joined by one or two others, would seem to be a much larger percentage of the group than they really are.
Neopagan groups are so small, in fact, that many of them are constantly on the verge of being too small to function. We tend to have fairly complicated rituals that are normally conducted by 6 to 12 different people, all working together. Frequently, every member of the group has a part in the ritual. If several people all seem upset at the same time, maybe we bend over backwards to keep them happy, rather than risk losing so many people that we feel we need. So we tolerate outrageous behavior and let it grow worse.
And because Neopagan groups are composed of many people who live outside the mainstream in other areas of their life, we are probably conditioned to be extra tolerant of strange behavior. So we might not notice a problem person as quickly as the First Baptist Church would, and once we do notice the problem behavior, we may be more hesitant to object to it because we aren't so "normal" ourselves. Our standards for "normalcy" are far more flexible than those some people.
What can we do about it?
We want to play in a garden of beautiful flowers. We want to be supported by their company while we enjoy their diversity and be enriched by their abundance. But every so often, we find a nasty weed right in the middle. No amount of watering and fertilizing is going to turn it into a rose or a lily. It just gets bigger and tougher, and usually it spreads. Where there was one weed, now there are two or three. They are taking over the garden. There's only one thing we can do: we have to pull out the weeds and throw them out of our garden.
Do we have the right to weed our garden?
Of course we do! In America, we talk about Democracy so often that we sometimes get mixed up about what it means. It means that every sound-minded person over 21 years of age has the right to cast a vote and be represented in the Government, but it does not mean that we have to let a few individuals spoil things for the rest of us. The Bill of Rights grants us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to associate with whom we want, when we want and to not associate with people we find objectionable.
Although there are certain cases where a person cannot be excluded (you can't refuse to serve Spaniards in your restaurant, for example), we generally have the right to form groups of supporting individuals to accomplish common goals. We have the right to restrict membership to those people who are actually helping and to keep others out.
On June 28, 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had the right to bar homosexuals from membership because the scouts felt that the homesexual lifestyle was inconsistent with the BSA message. It doesn't matter what you think about that particular case, the important thing is that based on the right of associative expression, the Supreme Court has upheld a group's right to determine who its members are. It is unlawful to bar membership based on certain specified characteristics, such as race or gender, but the law does not require clubs to accept everyone who seeks admission to the group. Ironically, the same law is being used by the United Way to protect its right to withdraw financial support to the Boy Scouts because of the Boy Scouts' homophobic practices!
But aren't we supposed to be making the group grow?
Yes, that's probably a goal of your group. That makes it extra difficult to pull a weed and possibly lose some other members at the same time. But your focus must be on the long-term health and well-being of the whole group, not just the short-term number of members.
Remember, a noisy weed can cause other people to quit and scare off many potential members before the weed is pulled. The longer the weed is in the group, the more damage it can do. The faster it is pulled, the faster the group can recover and begin growing again. More than once I've noticed that as soon as a weed was pulled, a couple new members suddenly turned up to take their place.
Who are these weeds?
There are many, many kinds of weeds that can invade your garden. They have a wide variety of attributes and come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. The one thing that they all have in common is that they cause trouble. They draw an inordinate amount of attention to themselves in some way, and the rest of the group has to work extra hard to deal with the results.
Here are 15 varieties that I've managed to identify, so far:
- The Know-It-All
- The Sexual Predator
- The Amateur Lawyer
- The Evidence Collector
- The Needy Person
- The Generous Giver
- The Vocal Minority
- The Whiner
- The Shouter
- The Questioner
- The Latecomer
- The Alcohol Problem
- The Outlaw
- The Nut
- The Antagonist
We'll probably never finish compiling the definitive list of all the different types of weed, because new varieties are bound to show up from time to time. But by studying some of the common types of weed, we'll learn to recognize them quickly; and we'll be able to deal with them fast, before they spread too far or get too deeply rooted.
Some varieties require special handling, too, so we need to understand them and know what to do when we encounter each one. And as new varieties appear, we need to be alert for new techniques and new strategies for dealing with them.
Please understand that the use of the term "weed" is only meant as shorthand to identify:
a person who repeatedly exhibits one or more objectionable behaviors to a particularly annoying degree within the context of a specific group in a given set of circumstances and doesn't seem capable or willing to change those objectionable behaviors.
I don't really believe that there is any such person as a "Know-It-All" or a "Whiner", and I don't believe these people are "weeds" within the context of general humanity. They are only "weeds" in the very limited context of a specific Neopagan group, which is trying to attract and keep a number of similar individuals who get along together. In reality, each person is a unique and priceless individual, made by the Gods and worthy of being loved. But some of those people are so annoying that it's best to stay away from them.
Keep in mind that most weeds exhibit behaviors from more than one of these "types". Most importantly, remember that just because a person exhibits some of the following behaviors, that doesn't mean that the person is so bad that they should automatically be thrown out of your group. Talk to them first. Give them another chance. None of us are perfect.
Here's a few of the types that I've noticed:
- The Know-It-All
- This annoying weed frequently contradicts others who are speaking, no matter how little they know about the topic at hand. No matter what the subject, this pesky weed always seems to have contrary information and proof that some other point of view is correct. They will interrupt a speaker with a phrase such as, "No, actually...." or "The real truth about that is..." and then launch into a long explanation that may or may not make any sense or have any relevance.
- The Sexual Predator
- There is nothing wrong with joining a group because you are looking for friendship, company, or even a romantic relationship. In fact, Church is one of the very best places to go looking for a potential spouse, because the two of you are more likely to share similar values and beliefs. That common bond will help you in many aspects of life, especially if you plan to raise children together. But some people seem to join a Neopagan group because they think that it is an easier way to get sexual gratification. While it might be true that some devout Neopagans happen to have a more casual attitude toward sexual encounters, the weeds are there for sex first, religion second. They may begin flirting through email, before they even meet you; or they may try to strike up a romantic relationship the first time they visit your group. If they are rebuffed, they may very quickly move on to someone else. I've seen people like this try to form sexual bonds with three different people during three consecutive events.
- The Amateur Lawyer
- Some people have a love affair with rules and laws and cannot resist interpreting them in interesting ways. Beware of anyone who asks to see the Bylaws very early in their involvement with the group. (Most people are with a group for years and have no desire to ever see them.) The Lawyer will scour the Bylaws and find conflicting passages or instances where someone has broken the letter of the law, even while following the spirit of the law.
- The Evidence Collector
- Weeds love to gather evidence. Yet just collecting evidence is not proof of a weed, because the good leader may need to collect evidence against the weed to get them out. But weeds seem to start collecting evidence before anyone knows there's even a problem. They will often tip their hand by quoting back emails to show that they are "right".
- The Needy Person
- We all enjoy doing favors for each other. It feels good to help someone out. And it feels good when a friend does something nice for you, in return. But there is a subtle balance that goes on in a true friendship; and if it starts to tip over too far in one direction, both people will feel it, and someone will take steps to put things back in balance. The needy weed loves that imbalance—as long as it's tipping in her favor. She'll request favors continually—small ones as well as big ones. There may be very compelling reasons why this favor needs to be done. It may be a matter of a child's health or the family's income or some such important issue. But the requests will keep on coming, and they may get larger and larger.
- The Generous Giver (with strings attached)
- The Giver uses the opposite strategy from the needy weed—she gives and gives and gives, but always with some string attached. The string may be just emotional support, or public attention, or expression of gratitude. The gifts may be inappropriate. They may be too expensive, or too personal, or given at inappropriate times. They will usually require a lot of attention to acknowledge them.
- The Vocal Minority—Misplaced
- This will frequently be a person following a slightly (or vastly) different path from the rest of the group. They might be Norse in a Celtic group or a Wiccan in a Grove of Druids, or a Reconstructionist with a bunch of eclectics. Whatever they are, they will feel oppressed and under-represented. They will loudly lobby for more equal time. While there is certainly a lot of value in accommodating all of our beliefs or preferences to some extent, it quickly becomes obvious when a small minority makes unreasonable demands upon the majority in the interest of fairness.
- The Whiner
- The Whiner seems to complain about everything: the dates and times you pick for rituals or meetings, the parts you assign to them and to others, the food, the weather, everything. You can waste a lot of time trying to logically explain why a certain date was chosen or a certain course of action was undertaken, but that won't satisfy the Whiner. They don't really want the answer, they want the attention.
- The Shouter
- This weed makes lots of noise. He gets upset easily and yells and screams at other people at high volume. All other conversation in the area will usually have to stop as people sit around uncomfortably and listen to the ranting.
- The Questioner
- It's great when people ask questions about the ritual and your beliefs and the mythology you use. But when someone seems to ask too many questions, or asks the same questions over and over, beware! They may be just manipulating your time and attention, and they can't think of any better way than to repeat a question you've already answered.
- The Latecomer
- This late-blooming weed can be particularly annoying if you like to start things on time. They will repeatedly arrive late, or find something else they have to do when all the rest of the group is getting ready to begin a ritual, a business meeting, or some other event. They will beg you to wait for them, and you'll be surprised by how long it takes them to use the restroom, or to change their clothes.
- The Alcohol Problem
- This might be a person who drinks every day, or it may be a person who only drinks a few times a year—but those times seem to be at your events and always seem to cause problems with your group. Conversely, this might be a person who is very opposed to alcohol and loudly complains when alcohol is present. Most people are tolerant about the moderate use of alcohol, and most people use alcohol moderately. When someone falls too far outside the norm and causes problems—whether they are falling down drunk or screaming at someone for drinking—they are disruptive. Most of this applies to other intoxicants, as well.
- The Outlaw
- Many people break a law from time to time—maybe by driving too fast or not reporting every dollar of their income. I think we can expect that and live with it. But when someone has legal problems that seriously interfere with the normal functioning of the group, they become a disruption. Some people seem to have recurring legal problems, or their legal problems are just more severe than the group can stand. For example, if a member of my group were a rapist, I'd want him gone.
- The Nut
- I think it's very important that we don't pretend to have medical expertise that we don't really have. To do otherwise is to invite legal trouble, or self-delusion at the very least. But at the same time, it's obvious that some people have behavior that is so far outside the norm that they are uncomfortable to be around. They might be too happy, or too sad, or too scared, or too brave. They might see or hear things that no one else does, or they might come to conclusions that no one else can understand. Just exhibiting one or two of these traits to a mild degree doesn't usually make a person a problem—but if someone exhibits them to an extreme, or too often, they can be impossible to be around. This type of person is very perplexing because their thought processes are so hard to understand. In fact, they may be beyond comprehension. If you seriously think someone in your group is a danger to themselves or to others, I think you have an obligation to alert the authorities. But many nuts are not dangerous, just terribly annoying; and in those cases, you might just want to be rid of them.
- The Antagonist
- This is a person who is hungry for power and influence and will use various methods to attain his goals. He is well described in Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth C. Haugk.
What do they all have in common?
Many of them seem to want attention and power over the group. Getting a greater-than-average share of attention and holding on to it are ways to control the group. If we are focused on the troublemaker, we can't be doing other things. Sometimes we can be pretty sure that they are acting very deliberately and with great cunning.
Others seem to be oblivious to the trouble they cause, or seem to be victims themselves. I sometimes wonder if subconsciously they are very much aware of what they are doing But we have no way of knowing, do we?
The only thing they all have in common is that they are causing trouble and problems for you and the others.
How serious is the problem?
Look, we all have problems. And we expect that we will have to deal with a certain amount of problems that come our way through others. Just because a given person causes a problem or two doesn't mean they aren't worth having in your group. But when someone has consistent or serious problems that interfere with the smooth functioning of the group, you have to ask yourself if they are worth the aggravation. Most people will be. But some people will be more trouble than they are worth. These are the ones that I am calling "weeds".
How do I really know this is a weed?
You don't. Despite your very best intentions and all the care you are taking, you might be making a mistake. So you don't pull a weed lightly.
The very first thing you should do is make darn sure the person's complaints are not actually valid. Be open to the possibility that the root cause really lies elsewhere. Perhaps there is a problem with the leadership of the group, or a certain clique of members, or a particular policy. You should be especially cautious if you find the same sorts of complaints coming up repeatedly. Maybe you really have a problem with your own leadership style or something else within your group that you need to fix. Since most of us don't see our own shortcomings, it's a good idea to ask one or two trusted members of your group to give you some honest feedback on whether you might be contributing to this situation in ways you don't realize. Then listen to them carefully and without argument. You want to be on very firm footing before you cast the blame in another direction.
Even if you are sure the problem stems from the person in question, you should still think about it carefully and pray about it and ask your Gods for guidance. You need to thoroughly explore other ways of dealing with the issue, preferably when it first appears and hopefully hasn't grown to be a major problem. You might offer the person some pastoral counseling, if anyone in your group is qualified to give it. Or you might recommend that they get help from outside your group.
If none of the above works, and you are convinced that the group would be better off without the weed, you consult with the other officers in your group, or the other members, and you act only when you are reasonably sure that you're pulling a weed—not a strange flower.
Ultimately, you accept the responsibility that you might be making a mistake, but that you are doing it with good intentions and very careful thought. You are doing the best you can. You acknowledge that you may not be perfect, but you have to act. Then you just do it. It's not easy. But I believe it's one of the prices of leadership.
So what do we do now?
Once you are reasonably sure you've identified a weed, and the important decision makers have decided that it's got to go, you should pull it as soon as possible. You want to minimize contact between that person or their group and the rest of your group. Don't worry about legalities and rules—just send a short, polite letter to the individual or individuals, on behalf of the group, saying that they are no longer welcome in the group. Use the most euphemistic, generalized language you can. Resist the impulse to make your case and prove that you have the right to expel them. Anything you say at this point will most likely fall on deaf ears and only open you up to further questions and conversation.
We made a lot of mistakes over the years and tried many different approaches. Here's an example of the kind of letter you might consider sending:
As we told you in January and again in March and May, you have repeatedly created a disturbance in our group by raising your voice in meetings and demanding equal time for the Hawaiian Gods you worship. When you told Mary that she was "a low-down, conniving snake" for voting against your pot luck supper idea, we felt that you were being mean-spirited and an obstruction to the joyful camaraderie of our little group. When you were late for ritual on August 3rd, after being warned about unnecessary tardiness on at least three or four occasions, you disrupted the energy of the whole group.
Therefore, it is with deep regret that we must ask you to please resign from our group. If you refuse to resign, we shall be forced to banish you in accordance with Bylaws 5, 6, and 9.
Do not write to any of our members; and if you show up at any more of our functions, we will be forced to contact the Grand Bishop of Eris to have your membership revoked. We might also be forced to call the police to have you removed.
High Priest, Local Congregation, Church of Eris
PS: We've all talked it over at great length, and we think you need professional counseling. As your friends, we strongly recommend that you seek the help of a competent psychiatric professional. If you get the help you need and can prove to us that you are significantly better, we might be willing to take you back.
Sounds pretty reasonable, right? In fact, this is the worst possible letter you could write. I should know—I have personally tried all of the techniques within it, and they usually backfired on us. Here are some of the problems the letter has:
1) As we told you in January and again in March and May... Too many details, and it sounds like you are collecting evidence. The weed can claim that he didn't get that email, or remembers the meeting differently. It's unlikely that you can prove that he received every email, and it's unlikely you recorded all the meetings. It becomes your word against his.
2) ...you have repeatedly created a disturbance... That's subjective. The weed might find a member or two who disagrees with that conclusion.
3) ...by raising your voice in meetings...etc. More details that are subjective and can be refuted.
4) ...we must ask you to please resign from our group. This technique has worked for us a couple times, but what if they refuse? It prolongs the process and creates more pain.
5) If you refuse to resign, we shall be forced to banish you in accordance with Bylaws 5, 6, and 9. Anytime you have to use specific Bylaws to justify your actions, you are opening yourself to those Bylaws (and all other Bylaws) being interpreted differently and possibly even have them being used against you.
6) Do not write to any of our members... Don't tell them what to do. You have no authority. If you expect a barrage of hate email, warn your members and help them set up filters, it they want. Or ignore them. Or set up an auto-delete filter for all their email. But you might want to keep a copy of all email from them in a folder, just in case.
7) ...and if you show up at any more of our functions, we will be forced... It doesn't hurt to have a couple of backup plans in mind, if things don't go the way you want, but you gain nothing by tipping your hand or making threats. And what you lose is the element of surprise, and you also risk their using the threat against you.
8) ...to contact the Grand Bishop of Eris to have your membership revoked. If the person has been that much trouble, you should have already told the Grand Bishop about the problem, privately and confidentially. But you probably don't have the authority to have their membership revoked, so you're just being dramatic and unnecessarily confrontational.
9) We might also be forced to call the police to have you removed. This is escalating the problem unnecessarily. Some sorts of people will take this as a personal challenge and show up, just to see if you'll follow through with your threats.
10) Sincerely,...Joe Smith The more impersonal you can make the letter, the better. If you sign it with a single person's name, all of their anger will be focused on that person. It can easily become a personal battle, with name calling and accusations against the leader, if pointing out any flaws of the leader, whether real or imagined, would make the troublesome person somehow more acceptable to the group. Sure, the leader of the group probably wrote it, or maybe just approved it, but the recipient doesn't know that for certain. Their anger will be diluted by being diffused.
11) We've all talked it over at great length... Sure you have. You'd be foolish not to. But to point this out to the person you've been talking about is overly rude and humiliating. You're just trying to ease your conscience by spreading the blame around to more people.
12) ...we think you need professional counseling. I know how tempting it is to do this: on one side, you feel in your gut that no sane person could act like that, and you'd like to think that a mental health professional would agree with you. It would give you validation. On another side, you naturally feel bad about pushing a person out of the group, and this makes it seem like you are actually doing it partly to help them. But save your breath. They are not likely to take your advice; they will resent the suggestion and take it in the worst possible way. They might even think that you have overstepped your bounds and are practicing medicine without a license. (Which might be true, depending on exactly how you phrased your suggestion, what your position is, what your training is, and the laws in your area.) Just come to terms with the fact that you are kicking them out to make the group better. That's your job. Let someone else be their counselor. If you feel they are a danger to themselves or others, call the police. If you simply must tell them to seek counseling, for your own conscience, then have an individual member of your group (or several of them) do that on their own. And make sure that they make it perfectly clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the group—they are just expressing their own personal concerns and opinions to a "friend".
13) ...If you get the help you need and can prove to us that you are significantly better, we might be willing to take you back. What, are you crazy?! That's the last thing you want to offer. You think that they are going to visit a therapist for a few months and run back to you with a note saying that they are nice now? Sure, it could happen, but don't count on it. Again, you're just trying to make yourself feel better. Make a clean break. If they actually do get their heads together and decide to come back to you (both are unlikely), then cautiously reevaluate them.
Almost every point in the above letter is, at best, an opening for a weed to come back to you for clarification, rebuttal, and endless argument. And at worst, some of the above could be used against you as evidence to show that you are in some way unfit to be the leader. Some of it might possibly be used against you in court. Either way, you will just be dragging out the process and probably causing more pain.
But there are no laws that say we have to like anyone. A much better approach is a very short and polite note that doesn't contain any specifics. Like this:
We've noticed that the interpersonal dynamics between you and some of the people in our group are not as smooth as we'd like. We've agreed that while you have many positive qualities that would be an asset to most groups like ours, in our specific case the overall balance would be disruptive.
We wish you all the best in your future spiritual path.
Local Congregation, Church of Eris
You might want to customize the above letter a bit to better fit the circumstances, but avoid the impulse to add any more detail than absolutely necessary. Notice that this letter doesn't accuse them of anything, doesn't mention any specific details that could be refuted, and doesn't make any sort of legal claim or give any internal justification. It just says that the way they act doesn't mesh with the group. It's short and simple.
Don't we need to prove our case?
No, that's the LAST thing you want to do! You are not "charging" the troublesome person with a crime, so they don't have to defend themselves. In fact, if you try to get rid of someone because they broke Bylaw 6.3, and according to Bylaw 8.5 you have the right to banish them, subject, of course, to Bylaw 9.2b, you'll probably regret it. Many troublesome people (or their friends) will delight in scrutinizing your Bylaws and finding loopholes, inconsistencies, different interpretations, etc. You'll end up arguing over the Bylaws even more than you argued over their initial obnoxious behavior! You're trying to END the problems, remember?
So what you do is simply make it clear, in polite, general, non-threatening language, that your group doesn't care for the way they act and doesn't want them to be a part of the group. End of story. What are they going to do? Sue you to make you like them?
That's awfully rude, isn't it?
Maybe it's a little rude to tell someone you don't like them (or to be more PC, you don't like their behavior), but it's true. And they were being far more rude to you or you wouldn't be resorting to this. Yes, it's a little harsh, but it's quick and far less painful than any other method we've tried.
Will that be the end of it?
Yes, if you're really lucky. But lots of times, you'll hear more from them. If they send you a blistering email telling you what you can do with your %$#@! group and what a terrible leader you are, you got off easy. At the other end of the extreme are people who will bad-mouth you every chance they get, on every public list they can. You may have to defend yourself from some of these attacks and tell your side of the story. But I urge you to do so with the utmost restraint and brevity. Then ignore their counter-strike. If your group was right and they really are the problem, other people will see that, too. The weed will be known for what they are and will be shunned and banned by others. Everyone has had experience with this type of person, and they will sympathize with you. Have some faith in yourself and your group and in the good wishes of others in our community. It'll all blow over.
A little preventive medicine
It might not hurt to put a clause in your Bylaws that makes it clear that you will not tolerate disruptive people at your events. You can also discuss the issue with the whole group and make a group decision that you will tell disruptive individuals that they are not welcome. It might have a preventive effect on some potentially troublesome people, and if not, at least they were warned.
There are a good many troubled and troublesome people in the world, and Neopagan groups seem to attract more than our fair share of them. These folks are usually loud, obnoxious, and a constant nuisance to the majority of us that just want to enjoy a smooth-functioning community of like-minded individuals. We have the legal and moral right to form communities that nurture and support us. We have the right to choose our friends. When a particular individual is found to consistently disrupt the harmony of our group, or to cause more trouble than the group is willing to put up with, it is the group's right to exclude that individual from its presence.
And as the leaders of Neopagan groups, we have certain additional duties and obligations: We must be observant of the actions of our members and guests, so we will notice disruptive behavior early, rather than late. We must listen carefully to the words of people in our groups that we trust, because they may be trying to tell us about a disruptive person, in a subtle way. We must try our best to be fair and open-minded so that we don't mislabel a person as disruptive, just because they happen to disagree with a certain policy or decision or don't get along with a certain individual. And finally, when we become convinced that a person is truly a "weed", we must act swiftly and surely to remove them from our garden.
"Weeding the Garden." submitted by dafydd on 15 May, 2019. Last modified on 12 January, 2021.
Page URL: https://www.adf.org/articles/organization/weeding-the-garden.html
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