Originally published on March 18, 2004 on http://wanderingpaths.bravepages.com
“They Were Elves Once”
– Saruman, in Lord of the Rings
“I want to help.”
“I want to contribute something to the community.”
“I want to give back to the community.”
Noble goals, right? And ones that are said quite frequently in otherkin circles. Many people seem drawn to help the newly awakened, or troubled otherkin. Many seem compelled to add their own resources to the plethora already available. And many seem to honestly want to repay the community for the help that was given to them during their awakening. Or, alternatively, to make sure nobody else has as hard a time awakening without resources as they did.
So, what’s the problem? It sounds like these goals are all ones that would benefit the community. They’re all said by people who want to build up the community, rather than tear it down. So why is it that each of them gives me a cold chill whenever I read it? Unfortunately, in my case, the reason is experience.
The first thing that experience tells me is something that can easily be verified by anyone reading this article: the people who most often say the three quotes above are newbies. Maybe they’ve just found the community and have fallen so in love with it that they want to do their part helping others to find it. Or maybe they’ve been here for just a few months and have decided that it’s a great place but it has a few problems that need to be fixed, like all the infighting. Perhaps they think that otherkin as a whole, and themselves in particular, would have an easier time of things if the public was educated on the subject. Or maybe their goal is something I haven’t thought of. All that’s certain is that they haven’t been here long, and they feel compelled to Do Something.
Again, there’s nothing really wrong with those goals. They’re a little vague and probably not too well thought out, but they’re a starting point. They could probably be done, with thought and effort and planning. A newbie could start a resource that helps newly awakening kin find the community. A newbie could do something which helps heal existing rifts in the community. A newbie could even help educate the public about the concept of otherkin and the existence of the otherkin community. But, already there are ways to stray into dangerous territory.
The first is to fail to consider whether or not there is a need for this project, whatever it may be. Do other projects already address the same goals? Do individuals? If the first is the case, it would be far more constructive to contribute to those projects instead of starting a new one just so you can be the one in charge, and who gets the credit for it all. If the latter is the case, it might be a good idea to simply help facilitate networking between them if it does not exist already. Simple introductions between friends who do not know each other with similar goals can go a long way.
Another danger at this stage is to fail to consider the reaction of the community to the project. Is this something the community will welcome and get behind, or is it something they are going to be upset about if they find out about it before you are ready for them to see it? It’s easy to justify your actions in your own mind by deciding you are ignoring the community’s wishes for the good of the community, but you’re not. You as an individual member of the community, let alone a newbie, have no way of correctly determining what would or would not be beneficial for every other member of the community. Trying to do it anyway, whether you do it openly or through the use of deception, is simply an effort on your part to control the community and bend it to your own wishes. The moment you go down that path you’ve abandoned your initial intentions and are helping no one but yourself.
Still another danger, and perhaps the most common for newbies at this stage, is to fail to consider your own capabilities objectively while planning your project. As much as you might like to help newly awakening kin, do you really know enough to help them yet? Your own awakening can serve as a guide, but everyone’s awakening is different and a newbie probably hasn’t seen enough other people awakening to offer the same type of aid that a more experienced person could. Perhaps it would be a good idea to merely participate on a forum for newly awakening otherkin run by a more experienced individual, and primarily offer emotional support at this stage? Likewise, a newbie may not be familiar enough with the rifts in the community to help heal them, nor versed enough in the subject of otherkin to give credible information about them to the public at large. And the only cure for any of these things are time and experience. Trying to do these things without the necessary experience is just going to hurt the very people you are trying to help.
I could go on, and discuss ways you can get increasingly off track from this point on if you take the wrong choices, but really it’s not necessary. The same advice should help prevent that as will help prevent each of these errors. At every stage of your planning, before making any decision about your project, consider the following:
- Is this decision something that the other members of the community will support?
- Is this decision something which furthers your original stated goals, and is compatible with your ideals? Remember, the ends do not justify the means. The means lead to the ends.
- Is this something you can realistically do using the skills and experience you currently possess?
- Are there any other viable projects already working to do this which you could instead donate your time, energy, and resources to supporting, rather than competing with?
- Is there actually a need for this service? Is there a real demand for it in the community, especially by the members who have been around for a while and are not themselves newbies?
- Are you certain that your actions will have no negative repercussions for the community?
I think that if you ask yourself each of those questions at every step of your project, until it becomes second nature to consider them as part of your planning, you’ll find yourself much more able to actually sate your urge to give back to the community in ways that the community will be welcoming and supportive of. And, at the very least, you should do a lot less accidental harm than you might if you failed to consider them.