Power-o-Yes-art - 7/22/17
"The Power of Yes vs. the Power of No" by Baroness Annys Blodwell (aka Blod).
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
The Power of Yes vs. the Power of No.
by Baroness Annys Blodwell (aka Blod)
Whenever I hear someone talking about problems the SCA has in gaining and retaining new members, or the complaint that the game isn't as fun as it used to be, or people wondering why newbies aren't stepping up and taking leadership or organisational roles, I grind my teeth, because the answer to all these questions, to be blunt, is simple – we need to stop saying no. Let me explain.
In 2014, Lochac held a Crown Tournament that someone filmed and live-streamed. Lochac is huge, area-wise, and covers 6 time zones, so Crown Tournaments are only ever attended by a small part of the population. In the last 10 years, with the rise of smart phones, people have posted a running commentary on wins, but being able to watch it, streamed live, was a wonderful innovation and very well received. But, and this is important, we could have done it three years earlier.
I know of a young lord; at the time I'm referring to, he'd been playing long enough to get an AoA, but not terribly long, comparatively speaking. Now, he wanted to do exactly what I described above, film what was going on and make it available on-line for the whole kingdom to experience. I won't say who he approached, suffice to say he asked a person with Kingdom-level status, and a member of his local group's old guard, to ask how it would be most appropriate to approach the Crown with the idea. That person told him no, it couldn't happen, and he was not to even ask. This was a person in authority, with experience of dealing with royalty, and was part of the stewarding team, so the young lord took those words to heart and walked away.
Here's the problem: the person he asked doesn't like flash photography at events. That's why they said no. But they didn't allow the young lord to explain what he wanted to do. He'd been thinking about how to do it unobtrusively, so that people would barely notice the camera, for over a year. He has a media degree, has done a lot of filming outside the SCA, and has good quality equipment that could be easily concealed. What he was hoping to do was a far cry from flash photography. But the person he approached was busy, didn't want to listen, made an assumption and said no. And that was that.
Why did they say no? Because it hadn't been done before, because it lay outside of their personal experience, because it didn't fit into their framework of what the SCA does, so they didn't bother to consider it. They didn't ask questions, they didn't try to find out what he actually wanted to do (let alone what the Crown may have wanted), they didn't say 'I'm busy right now, but we can discuss this later' – they just said no, and they made a snap decision that the Crown were not to be 'bothered' by him. And they made him feel like a problem that needed to go away, without ever listening to his idea.
So, not unnaturally, when someone else did it three years later, and received praise from not just Lochac but across the known world, the young lord was somewhat put-out. Especially as he had filmed several peerage ceremonies and significant courts, so discretely that people were unaware he was filming, and with great results. He has ideas on how to improve the filming even more, by improving the sound recording, and has ideas on how to do it just as discretely, but he feels like he can't approach royalty with his ideas, because this person with Authority told him No, once, three years ago.
And this is something I see all the time. Person A has an idea, Person B – a peer, the local Baron/Baroness, an event steward, a senior fighter, an old fart, a strong personality, someone attached to the Royal Court, a Kingdom Officer – shoots it down without even stopping to think – or listen. They say no, because the idea sits outside their experience, or seems silly, or sounds like something that has been tried and failed before, and they can't be bothered to think about it, let along talk about it, or get other people involved in the conversation. And Person A walks away, because they were told no, and they don't think that courtesy, or the rules, or social expectation, or their comparative position, lets them push it. No means no, and the idea never gets brought up again, and something that could be wonderful never even gets a chance.
The result is stagnation. Good ideas never get developed, let alone implemented. Ideas don't grow well in isolation; they need to see the light of day; they need input from other people. True, some ideas will never fly, but just talking through them can lead to a new, better idea, or it can help shape a later one.
We all know about the semi-mythical Laurel who metaphorically stomped all over someone's first garb attempt and scarred them for life. Most of the Laurels I know are paranoid about not being that person, and most of us try to be careful about people's first attempts with making things. But we're not so careful about ideas, or about how we encourage people who have new ones. I get frustrated when I see one person being encouraged because their ideas fit into the framework of 'what we already do', while the person next to them who has amazing visions for what we can be gets ignored, shot down, or worse still, told off. And then the same people who shut them down complain that the SCA isn't growing, that we need to do things to attract new members, that people aren't courteous any more, that events aren't as fun as they used to be, that newbies don't step up to be stewards or officers, that no one persona plays any more, and so on.
That doesn't mean we need to give free reign to every idea, or every person who wants to try something new. It means we need to change how we handle the ideas that are brought to us, especially the ones that sound wrong, or outrageous, or that we don't understand, or that we haven't really listened to (often because we make assumptions, without really listening.)
Saying no shuts everything down, and the person you've said no to carries that No with them, sometimes for years. It robs people of their enthusiasm, their courage and their willingness to get involved again. Even if it just can't be done, you can say no by saying yes, and by doing so, you preserve those things, and encourage people to keep trying, to keep getting involved.
"A joust on paddle boats on the lake? Sounds like fun! There are some things you'll need to think about – people in armour in water risk drowning, and the lake water is pretty foul. I'm not sure how the paddleboat company would feel about it. But it's an interesting idea. Why don't you do some research, think about how you can make it work safely, and if you can sort out the problems, bring the idea back and we'll talk about it."
That word, 'No', hasn't been said once. A daft idea has been clearly warded off, but instead of someone feeling like they've been told no, or made to feel stupid, or that the SCA is a stuffy, boring place, their enthusiasm has been met with enthusiasm, as well as a hefty dose of reality-check. The idea hasn't been refused, it's been given qualifiers to meet – and if those things can be met, there is a base for some discussion about whether it is an idea that can be followed through with, that might become something different again.
Yes is important. Yes doesn't mean free reign to do dumb stuff, it doesn't even mean saying yes to everything. It means say 'yes, but…' until the idea is developed enough for a real, considered decision to be made. It means encouraging and guiding enthusiasm into practical channels. It means encouraging open discussion, it means inviting others to be part of the conversation, because someone else may have the idea that makes your enthusiastic person's impractical idea become something that is eminently doable – and enjoyable.
So I'm asking a favour of our Kings and Queens, our Barons and Baronesses, our Peers of all flavours, our officers, event stewards, old farts, and anyone who is ever in any kind of authority - please say Yes, or at least 'Yes, but…' instead of saying No.
Please start being as careful about how you treat new ideas as you would a newbie's first garb attempt. And for the love of small fishes, please STOP telling people 'no' just because you're busy right now and it makes them go away. I see this all the time, and I die a little death every time I hear it. And I think the SCA dies a little each time too.
Copyright 2014, 2017 by Arwyn Davies. <anwyn at internode.on.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. 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.