How To Be An Elder

The first rule of being an elder is not to talk about being an elder. Don’t even think about being an elder. And certainly don’t proclaim from the rooftops that you are one. If you think you are one, you probably aren’t. However, if you are in a position of leadership, then you need to hold yourself accountable – you have been given power, so use it responsibly and mindfully. My favourite elders are the people who don’t even know that they are elders. Very few of them are famous, and they just get on with serving the community and being themselves.

Stańczyk by Jan Matejko The jester is the only person at a 1514 royal ball troubled by the news that the Russians have captured Smolensk. (Public domain image)

Stańczyk by Jan Matejko
The jester is the only person at a 1514 royal ball troubled by the news that the Russians have captured Smolensk. (Public domain image)

HONOUR & HUMILITY

Behave honourably and with humility. If you screw up, admit that you screwed up. If you screwed up in public, admit publicly that you screwed up. If you caused damage, seek to repair it.

Be aware that you don’t know everything. There is always something new to be learnt. For example, the things you learnt about gender, sexuality, and consent back in the sixties may need revising in the light of new experiences and new understanding. Being old is no excuse for being a massive transphobe, for example.

One of my favourite elders (who isn’t famous, but is awesome) once said to me, “The more you know, the more you realise that you don’t know.” Now that is a wise attitude.

POWER & COMPASSION

If you have power, own it. Acknowledge that you have it, and wield it responsibly and with compassion. You will also need discernment. Remember that power is given to you by other people; it is not an inherent quality that you possess. If you do not wield your power with compassion and discernment, then you will lose it.

You may have been chosen by the gods for your leadership role – but you had better not act as if that was the case. If you do, the gods can certainly choose someone else instead of you. An arm clad in white samite did not offer you the sword Excalibur from the lake – and you don’t get to wield supreme executive power without the consent of the governed. It is more likely that you got your role because you were a willing and useful person who was in the right place at the right time. So yes, you have skills and knowledge, and that should be celebrated and is worthy of respect (but not servility). But you are not infallible.

Combine your power with compassion and discernment. If someone comes to you with a story of abuse, don’t dismiss it or try to brush it under the carpet. They have taken a risk by talking about it: the risk of ridicule or of not being believed. However, it is a good idea to seek some kind of confirmation or corroboration of their claims. 99% of the time, it is probably true: but occasionally, it is paranoia or hearsay. Hence the need for discernment.

STRENGTH & BEAUTY

Be graceful and skilful. Acknowledge and cultivate your strengths and your good qualities – but be aware of your shadow side, and seek to channel its energies appropriately. If you are generally an angry person, then you need to keep that under control, but it is not an entirely negative trait: sometimes anger can be righteous anger, but you need the wisdom to know the difference between projecting your shadow on to someone else, and calling out injustice and bad behaviour.

MIRTH & REVERENCE

Always be prepared to take the piss out of yourself and your delusions of grandeur. This is why kings would license a fool or jester: so that when they were about to do something stupid, there was one person who was not afraid to tell them it was stupid. I have a small posse of people whom I have encouraged to kick me up the arse if I ever start getting too big for my boots. I hope their arse-kicking services will never be needed, but I feel it’s wise to be prepared.

Be aware that there is something greater than yourself, and that you are in service to it (whether that is the Craft, the gods, your community, truth, love, or what you will). The transformational leader knows that they are there to empower others and create safe space for them to grow in.

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