Double Standards Are Colour-Blind

by Hector of the Black Height

Iíve been thinking of the way our Society views Peersí dependants and their aspirations, and it bugs me. There is a double or triple standard operating, and I would like to address it, even if I cannot fix it.

The coloured belts worn by Peersí dependants signify bonds between Peers and non-Peers. They also give interested observers visual clues as to a personís interests (i.e. if I wear a red belt Iím a squire and must like to fight). They also send a message about a personís aspirations.

A squire wants to be a Knight. Thatís a common and accepted aspiration. Squires are applauded for that ambition; in some cases a Knight wonít consider squiring a person unless he or she says, "I want to be a Knight".

An apprentice may want to become a Laurel. That ambition isnít stated at first, but after working hard on a craft for an extended period, in my experience our culture considers it acceptable for an apprentice to say, "Well, I donít know if Iím good enough, but aw, shucks, if the Order wants me I guess itíd be all rightÖ" Walking right up to a Laurel on day one and saying "I want to be a Laurel. Gimme a belt and teach me," is considered gauche and presumptuous.

Finally let me consider the dilemma facing the protťgť. If a protťgť says, "Gimme a belt and teach me. I want to become a Pelican," thatís considered overweening pride or arrogance. Pelicans all are humble and self-effacing, right? Wanting to be a master or mistress isnít at all humble. So, you can take a yellow belt and be a dependant of a Pelican but if you say, "I want to be like HER!" which includes the nice medallion and fancy cloak, it wonít happen.

To sum up, squires are expected to shoot for the Peerage, apprentices can hope for elevation if theyíre quiet about it and protťgťs must never want to be elevated because if they do it wonít happen.

Part of this strange set of standards has to do with our perception of the Orders. The Midrealm ceremony for the making of a Knight says, "A Knight must be proud." There is nothing humble about winning a tournament, standing over your fallen foe. Beating the other guy in face-to-face contest is how you achieve that Peerage. You canít be a Knight if you donít win a lot of fights.

Neither of the peaceful Orders refers to pride -- or lack thereof -- in their Midrealm ceremonies (hmmm, that might be worth addressing in a new Kingdomís ceremoniesÖ). Since there is a common conception that Pelicans are saintly, if not martyrs, we seem to have imposed an unrealistic sense of humility on the Orderís aspirants. Itís like weíre saying, "All the Pelicans are saints, but to be a saint you must deny your own saintliness, so shut up about yourself and you might make the grade."

As a general rule, double standards are bad. As Iíve stated elsewhere, Peers have achieved mastery in some facet of the Societyís operation. I believe the mechanisms of Peerage and the selection of Peers are more common than not across this Kingdomís Orders. If the Peerages are co-equal in status and similar in role and function, why should an aspirant to one Order have to behave in a different manner than an aspirant to another?

Iíll be honest; I still bear a lot of old-fashioned Midrealm misconceptions about the Pelican. Itís hard to shake off oneís early conditioning in the Society, and I still catch myself thinking that real Pelicans show stigmata. I confess I have trouble dealing with someone (protťgť or not) saying, "Iím good enough to be a Bird." Then again, I have trouble dealing with excessively prideful apprentices and squires, too. So what?

I think anyone can aspire to great honours. Such aspirations give you tangible goals to shoot for. As long as you balance aspiration with moderation, youíll do two things. One, to be honest, is youíll avoid ticking off the Peers who donít really want to hear just how great you think you are. Second, and more important, if you donít fixate on your own accomplishments youíll be happier. If you are obsessed with awards and your race up the order of precedence, youíve turned yourself into a ticket-puncher. Again Iíll quote my Yorkshire granny; "He who expects nothing is seldom disappointed." If you expect great honours and you donít get them in the time-frame you expect, youíve just stressed your hobby with an unfulfilled expectation.

Iíve seen people in the Society with an awful lot to offer, whoíve burned themselves out by wanting a Peerage and punching their SCA tickets to get it. Take the fighter who does all the right things. He fights in Crown; he has spiffy armour; he takes a couple of men-at-arms who attend him at events; he gets his marshalís warrant; he learns all the weapons forms so his authorization card is full; he takes charge (or at least he yells a lot) on the melee field; he does some arts and science things on the side and looks cultured, but not so much that he is perceived to be on the "arts track". Will this fighter become a Knight? Maybe, maybe not. Thatís up to the Crown on the advice of the Order, and no ticket full of holes will ever change that. If the fighter is doing all these things because theyíre fun and increase his ability to share fun with others, I think he has a far better chance of receiving a Peerage than the individual who grimly and deliberately punches his ticket for the sake of that white belt.

The infamous Lady Tudor Glitz comic series (compulsory reading if youíre married to a late period costumer, but very enjoyable nonetheless) includes one strip where Lady TG says, "My Laurel says she will teach me 274 embroidery stitches. Iím not crazy about learning 274 stitches, but I do want to be a Laurel." Is it any wonder the cartoon character, after at least a dozen published collections, has yet to receive her pretend Peerage? How many Lady TG attitudes have you met in the Society?

Ticket-punchers often compare themselves with their contemporaries. If SoíníSo got a belt or a medallion, why didnít I? This sort of thinking is SCA suicide, because now a hobby is a grief magnet. Some sad people get bent out of shape over the perceived injustice being done them. Some of these frustrated people may very well be on the right track towards Peerage; theyíre just not as good as they think they are. In some cases, bitterness bumps a person right off the road to Peerage. The Orders can see whoís becoming obsessed with elevation. The obsessed arenít approachable, and an unapproachable Peer does the Society no good. The bitter have lost the point, and they have no joy to share. They are self-inflicted casualties in their search for personal satisfaction.

Peerage is a wonderful thing. It is indeed a goal to aim for. Aiming for a goal is not clawing your way to the top over the broken bodies of your friends. First of all, your single-minded intensity to get to the top may scare the people who are there already. Second, once you get there, if youíve left all your friends behind with bruises, who will you talk to? Third (and very finally), once you get your Peerage, youíve got as much recognition in the Society as you can get. What happens next to you? Is that all there is? Was the goal worth the pain of the climb?

I remember vividly my own Peerage reality check; this is a true story. It was the last Sunday of Pennsic XXI. The night before I had been called forth in Pennsic Great Court and, before the Royalty of the Known World and many dear friends, I had been elevated to the Laurelate. The subsequent party had gone on late into the night. The next morning I wandered out of my tent, surveyed a campsite that looked like the middle of Henry Vís battlefield at Agincourt and announced: "I am Hector of the Black Height, Master of the Laurel and Peer of the Middle Kingdom. Camp, clean thyself!" There was a deafening silence, nothing happened and I set to work scrubbing the previous nightís dinner dishes. Reality reared its ugly head and, much as I hate washing cast iron pots, I am glad it did.

I think there is an answer to the double standard of the Peerages. I think anyone should be able to aspire to high estate within our Society. I think anyone should be able to state with pride her aspiration. I also think anyone with such an aspiration must be prepared to wait for recognition with patience, understanding that the secondary reward -- an honour which falls in the Crownís gift -- may never come. The primary reward will always come, however. I believe the primary reward is the work you do, the art that possesses you or the thrill of the list field. Those gifts and the joy they bring are in each personís domain. The bells and whistles of Peerage are nice, but they replace neither the joys of work and friends nor the reality of dirty pots and tents to take down.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.