4-Seneschals-art - 12/10/14
"Stuff I Learned the Hard Way, or Elasait's Helpful Hints" by Mistress Elasait ingen Diarmata. Aimed at Seneschals, but useful for all SCA folks.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
This article was primarily directed at local Calontir seneschals, and was written when she was kingdom seneschal in 1998. This is the revised 2014 version. While aimed at seneschals, I think this is a good article for any serious SCA person to read.
Stuff I Learned the Hard Way, or Elasait's Helpful Hints**
by Mistress Elasait ingen Diarmata
1. The 72-hour rule: If someone contacts you and describes a major problem, particularly one that's clearly interpersonal in nature, you don't have to act right away. Take time to mull it over before you do anything. Half the time, the crisis will blow over in a few days. (This doesn't mean it won't resurface later, in a different form.) I call it the 72-hour rule because, when I first formulated it as a local seneschal, I phrased it thus: "If someone calls and wants something done, wait 72 hours before taking action."
2. Distinguish between calls for action and a desire to vent. Lots of people who contact you just want to vent at someone. Vents don't necessarily need action on your part, beyond listening.
3. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Never attribute to stupidity that which can be adequately explained by poor communication. Always assume communication failure, even if it looks unlikely. (Elasait's corollary to Hanlon's Razor)
4. Never let your boss be surprised. If you think it might come to the attention of the Kingdom Seneschal, be the first to contact him or her—or, at the very least, contact your regional deputy seneschal and let him or her contact the kingdom seneschal!
5. Burnout can be insidious. I didn't realize how badly I wanted out of the local seneschal's office until I found myself, immediately after turning over the office, skipping out of the feast hall shouting, "I'm free, I'm free, I'm free!"
6. Kingdom and regional officers are resources; use them. They don't bite, they don't mind that you're bothering them, and it's their job to help.
7. It's more important to fix problems than blame. Or, to use the dead fish analogy created by Mistress Hilary of Serendip, long-time Steward (now called Seneschal) of the Society: When you have a dead fish lying on the carpet, if you spend all your time and energy trying to find out who left it there, it will only grow more and more smelly. Your first order of business is to appropriately dispose of the fish.
8. Don't reinvent the wheel. It's likely someone else has had the same problem you're having; contact your regional deputy seneschal, and ask.
9. Some people will complain if their ice cream is cold. There will always be a small minority of folks who won't be happy no matter what course of action is decided upon. They usually won't offer suggestions (constructive or otherwise) or express their opinions on proposed actions when given the opportunity, but will wait until a decision has been made and then complain about how they weren't consulted, or they could have told you it wouldn't work, or the powers that be have to have everything their way. If you figure out that you are dealing with that kind of person, don't stress too much about pleasing them.
10. Anytime anyone begins a statement with the phrase "People are saying..." it means that's what that person is saying. Take it with as much salt as needed.
11. Beware the prophet who preaches the One True Way. The SCA is a broad organization, and there are many, many ways to play the game. This doesn't mean you have to tolerate elf ears, vampire fangs, or someone's showing up in a spandex Civil War uniform; but as long as someone's version of the game doesn't contradict the governing documents or kingdom law and policy, it's to be permitted. Other people will either flock to that version of the game, or they won't.
12. It's worth trying to regard problem entities as people with misdirected energy. Sometimes your group's problem child is actually someone who cares passionately about some aspect of the organization, or really wants to make a contribution, but doesn't know how to do that, or feels ignored. Cast about and see if you can come up with a project for your problem child. This won't always work, but it's worth a try.
13. Don't assume. Anything. A close look at the word tells you what it can make out of all of us.
14. Perceptions, even erroneous ones, look like reality to some people; and left unchecked, they have a way, over time, of becoming reality. They are more important than you think—unfortunate, but true. Don't ignore them.
15. While it may be gratifying, in the short term, to give in to the impulse to tell someone exactly what you think of their intelligence, personality, parentage, etc., or to indulge in backbiting and innuendo when those around you are doing so, it's rarely worth the cost. Ultimately, this game is won on what, for lack of a better term, I call graciousness points. Graciousness points aren't a zero-sum game; if I have a bunch it doesn't mean you have any less.
16. Never suppose you're too unimportant for somebody to take what you just said as an Official Pronouncement of Policy...and always at the worst possible moment.
17. Being able to make soothing noises over the phone is an invaluable skill.
18. Do not, ever, forget that emails and statements made on the Book of Face are permanent. Do not, ever, forget that tone does not convey in such media. Do not, ever, forget that no matter how many disclaimers about "This is Lord Gilgamesh speaking, not the seneschal of the Barony of Notquitepodunk" you make, it is not and cannot be true. As long as you hold office, you are always speaking from that position. Weigh your words very, very carefully—especially on social media.
19. When (not if!) you make a mistake, the best approach is to swallow your pride and own up to it readily. Apologize where appropriate, take whatever beating you've got coming with as much grace as you can muster, do what you can to make things right, and file whatever you've learned for future reference.
20. Try to remember that the SCA is filled with intelligent, highly creative people, and that on any given weekend we gather lots of these people together, none of whom have had enough sleep. Once you think about this, it explains a lot! (Credit for this one goes to the Silverwing's Laws web site.)
21. If you're not (mostly) enjoying what you're doing, then you're not doing the right thing. Yes, this is true even of officers. Holding an office is a big responsibility, and can be a burden, but it can also be a delight. If doing what you're doing causes you no joy, arrange to stop doing it.
22. If someone comes up with a really stupid idea, assign them to carry it out. Nine times out of ten you will never hear from them or the idea again. (Thanks to Master Stephen Ironhand, first seneschal of the then shire of Three Rivers, for this valuable and time-tested rule!).
**Who is Elasait, and why is she giving us helpful hints? My full name is Elasait ingen Diarmata, and actually, I much prefer to call it Stuff I Learned The Hard Way, because that's mostly how I learned it. As of this revision (June 2014) I've been in the SCA here in Calontir for some 34 years, and I did two stints as a local seneschal years ago (one as the founding seneschal of a new group). I was also Kingdom Seneschal from December 1996 to June 1999; my deputies and I wrote a completely revised edition of the Calontir Seneschals' Handbook during that time, and I first wrote this article at that time. "Stuff I Learned The Hard Way" is my attempt to boil down some things I wish I'd known 30 years ago when I first found myself in the job of local seneschal, in the hopes that it will help somebody to learn from my mistakes!
Copyright 1998 by Lis Schraer. <elasait1 at gmail dot com>. Permission is granted for republication for SCA use provided the author is credited. If reprinted in part, individual points must be reprinted in their entirety. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.