I wrote this article almost two weeks ago, and it has taken on a whole new meaning to me since then. Between the Aurora shootings and the massive upheaval in both our personal and professional lives, it couldn’t be more relevant. I wanted to post this last week, but the world started falling down around our heads (in at least one example, literally. Our roof is trying to mate with our floor in the NOLA shop after massive damage from last Friday’s storms. Their relationship is problematic. 🙂 But we do live by what I am about to say, and after a week of systematically pulling away the fallen stones, we have already seen the first rays of light. Your life is what you make it and your troubles are only bumps in the road. They can only knock you down if you let them. Be our fate, torn and frayed, still we forge on. I just wanted to let everyone know that this was not written in response to these events, but in fact, pre-dates them. With that said, I humbly submit my opinion on personal responsibility and fighting silence. Amelia Whittaker
Written July 19, 2012
I have read article after article after rant after article about the problems concerning the steampunk community recently. I have fielded personal messages, phone calls, and facebook complaints both positive and negative. These occasionally bordered on threats and always boil down to one thing…”The sky is falling. DO SOMETHING!!!!” First, the sky is not falling. Get that out of your head now. Second, I’m working on building this as fast as I can…what are YOU doing? Yes, there are a handful of people out there causing problems and unnecessary drama. They exist on the east coast, the west coast, the south, the north….they exist everywhere….and they always will. Welcome to steampunk meets the real world. It was and is inevitable. We have a great message and a beautiful aesthetic. We’ve been fighting for years for it to catch on in the general public, and guess what? Good job everyone! It worked! The line of “hipsters” leaving the movement is getting longer because they didn’t care about the message of creativity in adulthood and the do it yourself mentality. They believed in being ahead of the fashion curve, and I bid them a fond farewell. If that’s what makes them happy, so be it. It’s not a sign of the end, but of the beginning. If those who only want to be out of the mainstream rather than to change the mainstream are leaving, it means we are succeeding! It also means that we will be inviting in new people who were not always part of a counterculture or the geek/outcast circle. Welcome to our next challenge. How do you teach/convince people who have always done well in the “real” world to accept the ethos of a subculture? Honor, loyalty, respect…behave like a civilized member of society. We love it at the outset, but the second it actually applies to us, oh hell no! Are you telling me that this means I have to be a bigger person and talk out my issues rather than just splatter them all over the internet? You don’t own me! You can’t make me do things! That person challenged my blah blah blah blah. I’ll do what I want! Adult conversation and action never work anyway! You have to be mean and nasty to get anything done! I’m not going to show weakness by acting in a civil and adult manner to a challenge! No one treats me like that and gets away with it! Ehem….are you done yet? Because you seem to be forgetting something. Bad behavior does not give you the right to behave badly, and slights, imagined or otherwise, only compound when you fail to address them directly. Perhaps they did something truly horrible to you, and that is not your fault. But remember, it is your response to those slights that defines your character to yourself and to the world. Unless you are in a situation that involves life or death or prolonged emotional abuse, no one made you do a thing. You chose how to respond. You. No one else. Simple rules to civilized society. I learned these rules as a child. And it was reinforced growing up in the geek world where constant taunting and social slights were common. Coping skills for such things were something all geeks talked about amongst themselves, but apparently it wasn’t taught to a lot people outside of that group. And I was apparently mistaken in thinking most geeks understood the lessons.
I have stated before, steampunks have some unwritten rules of behavior that we can’t expect all newcomers to know, so a lot of groups have started writing them down. I’m going to gank the guidelines that we have adopted for SCARS as written and compiled by Dan Wright and Airship Horizons to share with the world here as an example of what one group of steampunks have adopted as general principles of behavior. Many of you will recognize the underlying influences that created these. 🙂 Yes, we are burners.
SCARS Guidelines for Social Conduct
The South Central Armada of Renegate Steampunks (SCARS) is comprised of Steampunks of all backgrounds. We are a community built on the love for all things Steampunk. We understand that because we are different, we cannot always agree. These are guidelines to help our community grow and communicate despite those differences.
Respect Each Other
We must all respect one another. This can mean a lot of different things, such as respecting one’s wishes to be left alone or respecting another’s opinion on what is or is not Steampunk. We may not always agree, but we can always give respect to one another when interacting in the community. You do not have to like one another, but respect the community enough to not let that dislike bleed into the group.
You are responsible for your own experience, your own actions, and your community. By following this philosophy, you help everyone to get out of the community what they put in individually. No one but you are responsible for your fun and your actions.
Be Real First
Simple idea. Remember that you’re just acting out a role, and even if you don’t like a character in the game, the player might be a vastly different person. If you don’t like the way RP is going, step out of character and take a moment to talk with the players involved. We’re all here to have fun.
Have fun and help others have fun
Everyone is here to have fun. So, it is the responsibility of each of us to make sure that everyone enjoys the community to the best of their ability. If you see someone frustrated or seemingly not having any fun, please take the time to interact with them and see if you can help them enjoy the community.
Provide a Positive Image
Whether this is on the street or at an event, we will often get questions about “What is steampunk?” While our answers will always differ, the image we provide will have an impact on those outside of the community. We always want to be remembered in a positive way.
Anyone may be a part of Steampunk. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community. There is no wrong way to do Steampunk. We accept all forms of Steampunk.
Steampunk is filled with talented artists, performers, and engineers of all kinds. It’s a huge part of what makes up the Steampunk community. Everyone puts a lot of work and heart into their creations and many of us do this for a living. There is no “right way” to create art and self-expression. We should all respect each others art form, whether you like their work or not.
As a community we promote working together and sharing. Collaboration between people generate creativity and some of the best works of engineering and artwork the community has to offer. We also help promote and protect our social groups, merchandise, art forms, and our members. Without this support, we wouldn’t be a community.
We encourage our members to participate; whether it’s going to conventions, making things, posting in the forums, playing in the LARP or creating stories, volunteering, etc. The more people that participate, the more fun and profitable our community can be. By joining in on the activities you avoid loosing steam!
Dealing with Problems
We will not always like everyone in our community. If you have a problem with someone in the community, please find a way to resolve the issue privately or find a way to avoid airing out issues in public. Remember, it is sometimes best to sleep on an issue. Our outlook often changes after we’ve had time to cool off and think about it.
Seems pretty simple, right? You would be surprised how hard these are to maintain sometimes. Really there are two that seem to pose the most problems for people. Personal responsibility and dealing with problems. For whatever reason, society has raised an entire country of people who don’t know how to say I’m sorry. I think the same forces that created a society that doesn’t want to admit fault, created a society that gets a “holier than thou” attitude when someone is actually mature enough to throw off the shackles of that training and admit wrongdoing. Why would you apologize to someone who is going to use that apology as an admission of weakness and throw it in your face every few weeks. The reluctance is understandable. This is an issue we desperately need to address because it perpetuates an overall issue facing society and an underlying effect, choosing silence when faced with controversy. It’s time that we faced that we are all responsible for the shortcomings of this community whether it’s by refusing to apologize for wrongs, being unable to accept an apology, by reacting in an unproductive manner or worse, by not saying anything at all. I’m going to use a very controversial example to illustrate this that has nothing to do with steampunk, but everything to do with why we are fighting for this.
Recently, a good friend of mine has been dealing with issues of PTSD that have arisen from emotional abuse. I watch the pain, the hurt, the fear and the need to place blame, and I want to reach out and shake her. You are stronger than this! It doesn’t matter! What matters is how you respond! Dwelling on this will not help you! But I can’t because I know that she is not ready to hear it, and I know how much pain she is in right now. It struck a cord with me in relating to what I have been seeing in society and steampunk as a whole. The issues are radically different, but the problem in addressing them is the same.
I don’t mean to sound callus about any of this, especially my friend. I really do understand. I am a rape survivor, and as many others like me, I fell into the trauma cycle afterward. I spent years berating myself and felt I somehow deserved the emotional abuse that I suffered because of what had happened to me. It took me over 10 years embroiled in a terrible situation before I finally found the courage to stand up for myself. Predictably, psychological testing showed severe PTSD, situational MDD (major depression disorder) and suppressed emotional response. If psychobabble is greek to you, I’ll put it in layman’s terms. I couldn’t go to party’s or be in large crowds because I’d have flashbacks, and on bad days, in certain situations, I still do. Saying that I have social anxiety is a mild understatement, but loosing the ability to know where you are or when you are, i.e. flashbacks, is much, much worse. When I’m in situations that illicit these responses, I kick myself to the point of being a real problem. To deal with this and the emotional abuse I was suffering, I forced myself not to feel at all. So, I know you are asking yourself what this has to do with the personal responsibility issue? Let me explain. First, what happened to me at 18 years old was not my fault, and I no longer blame myself for it. What happened afterward, was understandable, but it WAS my fault. I was punishing myself though I had no logical reason to do so. Because I believed that was what I deserved, I continued and in fact, perpetuated the pattern because to leave it meant that I would have to admit that it was me who accepted the abuse to begin with. And until I was ready to accept that, nothing in my life changed. It only went from bad to worse. Personal responsibility is like that. Nothing changes, it only gets worse until you reach a point that you realize that in bad situations you have a choice. Continue with the patterns that you know are bad and destructive or make new patterns. You can not cling to past hurts, no matter how justified you may be. In doing so, you allow the person and situation that hurt you to rule your life.
As a community, the same thing applies. If we hold on to past hurt, and refuse to either accept apologies or to give them, the only thing we are hurting is ourselves. We cling to the patterns that society has burdened us with, and we will never rise above them. Shit happens. Life sucks, and everyday something truly amazing and beautiful happens. The only question is did you see it or were you too busy wrapping yourself in the negative. Maintaining a community is work and it requires conscience effort, an open mind and commitment. A commitment to fairness, to standing up for principles, to throwing in your two cents even when they are unpopular. A lot of times, the things no one wants to hear are exactly what needs to be said. Stop playing chicken little. Address the problems, find solutions then DO IT YOURSELF. This is steampunk, afterall.
For me in the community these last few months have been exhausting. Many times I have wanted to either, a)quit, b)resort to violence or c)speak out. It’s kind of rotated around the block a few times before I finally came to the realization that I was falling into the trap of silence for protection. Trouble makers and attention seekers count on societal training for you to avoid conflict. They know that most people will just quietly fall away rather than stand up for what they know is right or speak out against what they know is wrong. I’m not about to fall into that trap. I’ve devoted my life to fighting societal training that tells me to be quiet, to stay in my place, to place blame rather than take responsibility, to endure abuse rather than cause conflict. I had to face this long before I found steampunk and sometimes I just need to remember why I am here, in this community, fighting for these people. It’s for people like my friend who are suffering because they haven’t internalized the very steampunk idea that they are doers. They are builders. And we can build so many more things than goggles or toy guns. Self-esteem doesn’t build itself and happiness is not an outcome of some event or personal relationship or job. It’s something you choose to do every single day. Community doesn’t rise or fall on one persons whim unless you allow it to. Do, build, make. Not just your costumes, but yourselves. You really do have that power. Do it yourself.