There is a crucial concept that forms the foundation of strong and safe communities: healthy boundaries. We have seen a real profound impact of setting and respecting boundaries on the well-being and harmony of our schools’ online communities. Whether you’re a community leader, a member, or simply someone interested in fostering a more secure and supportive environment, it’s important to understand how healthy boundaries can nurture thriving communities. It’s not just about making up Rules of the sake of Rules. It’s about working and reworking effective strategies for establishing and maintaining boundaries that promote a culture of respect, empathy, and safety. We are very social creatures and humanity would not survive without community, so let’s take time to talk about healthy boundaries and safe communities.
Communities can be defined as a collective of individuals who choose to interact based on some shared matter, be it locality, profession, or shared interest. It’s everything from the local sport team, to the neighbourhood watch, to the peer group round tables and even a pagan moot, coven, grove or any other kind of collective.
Communities cannot form, nor continue to exist and function without communication. It’s rather fundamental when we say it like that but as ever things can be more complex than they seem at first.
Not everyone communicates in the same way, nor comprehends in the same way. What might be a simple paragraph of text for one person to read, could be a daunting challenge for someone else. A concept easily grasped when spoken aloud can be hard to get out in writing because of the loss of tone or inflection from speech. Even topics themselves can range from the easily accessible common knowledge, to in depth explorations of more dense or academically inclined matters.
So when there is such a broad scope of complexity when it comes to communication, how does one cater for everyone equally? The hard truth is, we can’t.
Yet all is not lost. One of the worst things any community can do is throw its hands up and just ignore this complexity. Ideas like “it’s not our fault they can’t read” or “Why should we change our process just because someone might not be able to see colours?” aren’t justified arguments. They are excuses to either save effort, or to intentionally exclude people who may not “conform” to an arbitrary expectation.
No community will ever be able to perfectly accommodate everyone equally, but safe communities put effort into their processes, strategies, boundaries, or guidelines that try to cater for as many people as they can. Communities are built on communication. Healthy boundaries and guidelines exist to facilitate communication, not to restrict it.
Boundaries, Rules, Guide lines
A friend once said “the rules help control the fun”.
So what are ‘rules’ and why are they important? I know that this may seem too fundamental a thing to talk about but for the sake of clear communication it’s best to take time to define not just literal meaning but also the intent surrounding a thing, and as most pagan magical practitioners will tell you, Intent is a pretty crucial thing of which to be consciously aware.
Rules are a set of clearly defined social agreements that are created to dictate a framework in which certain agreed upon actions or communications take place.
If you consider any form of game, sport, business, or even conflict, the rules exist to create a clearly defined space, time, and process in which something may occur. From the rules of football, the trading parameters of stock exchanges, even to the Geneva Convention treaties and protocol that establish an international legal standard for humanitarian treatment in times of war, our world would not continue to exist and thrive if not for the rules that we choose to adhere to.
With so much dystopia showing up in our media many may believe that the collapse of society in its current format would send humanity back to an apocalyptic nightmare of predation where ‘might makes right’ and everything devolves to some kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. Yet we have seen the truth of our nature in a very real way in recent years. When our planet was rocked by a global pandemic and experienced an unprecedented period of lockdowns did society collapse? Did we all lose our minds in some form of ‘Mad Max’ nightmare?
No. We found ways to stay safely connected to each other. Collectively we respected careful boundaries of personal space. Took tests, wore face masks, and even found ways to engage with our neighbours and those less capable than ourselves. From shopping collections for the elderly or most vulnerable, to impromptu street music, poetry, or bread baking and food sharing, humanity showed the truth of its nature, as that of a collective, a species that sees and appreciates being part of a community.
It is our shared belief in certain social agreements, or rules, that make these interactions within a collective possible.
Implementation and Enforcement
So far we have talked about some of the fundamentals of the topic today, from exploring communication to defining rules and touching on some aspects of human nature. Yet here is where we need to take a more practical turn on our talk.
Rules hold power only when we choose to accept their value and validity to dictate our choices.
You might want to read that last line again. I know I did, more than once, and I’m the one that typed it…
In the complete absence of this acceptance we find what is commonly referred to as anarchy, or a state in which there are no social agreements upon which we can define our interactions with others.
Yet even when our more rational social agreements are cast aside, we find that humans are still bound to certain instinctual structures, that of family, friendship, and yes community. Though each individual has their own levels at which they engage and interact with these instinctual structures, there are none who are completely devoid of all of them.
In fact it has been proven by behavioural sciences that forced isolation has such a sever effect on a human that it can now be considered a form of psychological torture depending on the extent of the isolation.
Now that we have stated, rather clearly we hope, the somewhat fragile nature of the social agreements that define our collective, as well as the critical importance of the collective to the human condition you may be able to appreciate how important the implementation and enforcement of healthy boundaries becomes.
As with a lot of challenges in life, an increase in the number of people involved leads to a similar increase in complexity. What may be simple for a single person, or two or three people to grasp, becomes inordinately more challenging when we are dealing with hundreds if not thousands of people, each with their own upbringing, ethnicity, language, cultural influences, mental, physical and emotional processes and more.
What two lads from Finglas might be able to communicate in a few simple words, might take a few sentences if they added someone from the Southside, a short conversation if they included someone from outside Dublin, and a longer clarification if they include a person from outside Ireland entirely.
This is neither a good nor a bad thing, it is just a simple factor to be considered when dealing with larger communities, and this is what leads us to the importance of implementing and enforcing healthy boundaries.
Being clear and upfront with expectations regarding things like theme, topic, tone, priorities and principles is not some attempt at control or restriction. It is simply setting out the guidelines of the social agreements that we want to instil within the community spaces we build.
For example we choose to host dedicated spaces for discussion centred solely around a particular deity namely the Dagda’s Hearth and the Morrigan’s Cave. These groups are not the only places that our community can interact, but given the importance of these deities to lora and myself, hosting space solely for the discussion of these Gods is an act of intent that serves to provide space for targeted interactions. Being clear about that at the onset is not denying people their right to talk about whatever they want, whenever they want… it’s just declaring an intent that, in at least those spaces, there is a set topic to adhere to.
The same then applies for the method in which communication is presented. In order to make things as accessible to everyone as possible there are guidelines about using plain text without coloured backgrounds. This is not an attempt to stifle anyone’s creative expression, but instead an awareness that not everyone sees colours the same way, or can comprehend writing in the same manner for any number of reasons be it a language barrier or a learning disability. These guidelines are an active attempt to make the conversation as open as possible to all people, and not just stick to the comforting lingo of a few lads who grew up next door to each other and speak in some form of psychically charged abbreviations given their shared upbringing and locality.
Of course, there can be no such thing as perfect communication and therefore no such things as perfect comprehension. So all safe communities need to make it okay to ask questions, and we have found that the only way to safely approach challenging communication is with compassion.
Now compassion isn’t about ‘mollycoddling’ or ‘speaking down’ to people. Compassion is about accepting that they have a perspective that may align or may differ and directing them to whatever support or answers they can access.
In the same breath, asking a question puts an onus on the person raising the query to be open to receiving answers. To owning the full journey of inquiry and exploration, both before and after the question. Then its about respecting the efforts and energies others provide in answering them irregardless of whether they align or differ with the answer.
In fact the healthiest communities make it safe for sharing a variety of perspectives, whilst also honouring the interaction that makes the dialogue possible in the first place.
Being upfront and clear about the expectations of any community space means that people have trust in knowing what exactly the rules are and in that trust they can find security. When it comes to the enforcement of healthy boundaries, addressing any breaches with compassion and education resolves matters in the majority of cases.
Where firmer actions are required, healthy boundaries and clear guidelines empower those making the decisions for the collective good. A community that can see the implementation of respectful education followed by clear processes for enforcement of health boundaries can again find trust in those boundaries and feel safe in said communities.
Does it really Matter?
We have touched on some interesting and challenging perspectives in this post and I fully accept that there will be people who read this and agree fully, some who will see some merit in parts of it, and others who may disagree entirely.
This is the nature of communication and as such community. What it almost always comes back to is choice.
Being part of a collective is fundamental to the human condition as we have explored, and so we must choose to be bound by certain social agreements to remain as part of that collective.
Yet it is only when we are fully informed and aware of ‘the rule’ that we can feel empowered and safe to engage in the ‘fun’ that is our lives. The safest communities are the ones that are clear about the rules, compassionate in their education, and firm in their enforcement.
Once a person is part of such a community then their trust of the security of their position can increase and they can feel safe in exploring their growth knowing that they are part of something greater than any single person. They can access the knowledge and shared experiences of many differing people and in that way they themselves are made greater than they were before.
There is a huge power in the transformations that can occur in a community and as such there needs to be an active awareness of the responsibility that goes along with that power. Healthy boundaries make for safe communities, and at the end of the day all any of us want is to explore our own growth in a place that we are seen, and accepted.
Where To Now?
If you think that Ireland’s Sacred sites are interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: