by Hector of the Black Height
Some years ago, on a rainy afternoon at Septentrian War Practice, I sat in Utsi's Bar and Grill while Duke Finnvarr started to expound (as occasionally is his wont). We were talking about the prospects for a Kingdom of Ealdormere, and Finnvarr raised the point that there is no reason for Ealdormere to secede from the Midrealm if all we want to be is the Middle Kingdom, only north of the US border. His point was that we must define ourselves in positive terms. Ealdormere must have its own, identifiable and describable, culture. I believe he is right in this matter. It is not enough merely to say "we're not the Midrealm" or "we're not Americans", we must be ourselves. The question is, what makes us ourselves?
After several years of thought and after the actions of many people, I think I now can put this difference in words. Calontir is the land of the shieldwall, the land that sings. The Outlands is the land of the thundering drums. Caid is the land that sticks up for the underdog. And now I believe that Ealdormere thrives amidst the culture of generosity.
What is the culture of generosity? It is where people stand up in their Barons' courts and give rings to the deserving, for personal service done or to recognize service for the common good. Barons and Princes give rings. Now Peers give rings. So do Armigers, and so do people who've never been handed an SCA award in their lives. The point is that all of us are ring-givers if we want to be. All people are of sufficient worth to offer praise and thanks and to set up examples among the populace for the rest of us to emulate.
There is no real politics to ring-giving. If you don't think the person I give a ring to deserves praise as much as someone else does, get yourself a ring and give it to the praise-worthy person yourself! Politics is about, among other things, the control of power. In the culture of generosity everyone is empowered to praise. There is no restriction on good wishes or kindness. Political players get cut off at the knees, and that means that all there is left is fun and positive, the giving of gifts and praise for the praise-worthy.
What a great concept; everyone in the SCA is a person of worth. Everyone is rich and powerful enough to stand in the courts of the mighty and be heard. Everyone is able to say "what a wonderful person this is!" and do something about it! Guess what, gentle reader: you are of worth. You do have the power to praise and reward. You will be listened to.
Give a ring to someone worthy, perhaps someone who has been overlooked by the award-givers of the Society or just someone who deserves a thank-you. You can buy a nice wrist-ring for under $10.00; a couple of years ago the Canton of Eoforwic made a splendid hoard of arm-rings out of etched brass for King Osis I, for an average item price of less than $3.00 per ring. The ring itself isn't the treasure; your thanks is. Better than buying a ring, take a ring someone gave you and pass it along. The ring gains history and becomes a greater gift.
Here are the rules of the game as it's being played in these parts. Stand up in your Baronial court (with previous permission; remember your manners!) and in the presence of your Baron or Baroness give a ring. Hand it to the lucky and deserving recipient and then charge him or her to seek out another worthy person. Give the ring-given a year and a day to return to his or her Baron's court, to pass along the ring to someone else worthy of praise. Once this is done, you should feel good because:
1) you've made someone feel really good;
2) you've guaranteed that in a year or so someone else deserving of praise and recognition will receive it;
3) you've probably got someone else in the room thinking "Hey, if he/she can stand up in court and give a ring, dammit, I can too, and I know just the person to reward!", and in that case your example just carried the culture of generosity forward another step.
I attended the Eoforwic summer Market Day in A.S. XXXII. Close to half the business in Baronial Court was the giving of rings from one Septentrian to another. Almost half! What does that say about those courts? That people feel comfortable with their Baron and Baroness? That people see the good around them and are willing to act? Sure. It also says that in Septentria the culture of generosity is a living, vibrant thing, and that bodes well for our volunteer organization. The official awards structure is made up by people. People can't see everyone and everything. Just because someone hasn't been given an "official cookie" doesn't mean his or her work is without value. It just means that person hasn't been seen by someone with the wherewithal to offer a reward. In the culture of generosity, if you or I see that person, he or she can receive a reward because we all have the wherewithal to offer a gift.
I have been given rings, I have given rings in turn, and I have seen those to whom I have given rings stand in court and give their own rings. When rings are passed along I never have been so happy to be part of the SCA. Why? Because in those moments I am reminded that everyone can make a difference, that everyone has the ability to turn a three-dollar bauble into a treasure beyond price, and everyone has within his or her heart the makings of what the Society emulates. We all can be noble, we all can be pillars of chivalry, we all can make this wonderful place better and stronger and happier.
Just by giving a ring.
Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.