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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #77, Winter ’85. This column evoked an anonymous postcard. Like all anonymous mail, the card went straight into the trash, but it was so short it got read en route to the can. It said something like, “Remember, ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME!” It seemed both crisp and wise, and I always wished I could acknowledge it. If you sent it, thanks! I just wish you’d signed it....


First, an assumption of office. I accepted the office of Steward of the Society at the August Board meeting, and a few words of introduction seem in order. ’Twas then just two months short of ten years to the day from the time I joined the SCA, and of that decade I had put in four years as Society Treasurer, not quite three as Sene­schal of the West, and one as Deputy Steward. I became a Mistress of the Pelican in AS XIII, a Mistress of the Laurel in AS XV, a Viscountess in AS XVI and a Knight in AS XVIII—a history I recount as background for my natural assumption that I understand how the Society works and am well able to care for it for the next few years.

     But assumptions are dangerous. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen half a dozen separate instances of well-meaning and hardworking people bitterly angry with each other, when the core of the argument was the phrase, “But I assumed you knew....”
     The problem with an assumption is that it feels exactly like a fact until proved wrong. (Think of a rake lying tines-up in the grass. If you step on the tines, you’re likely to assume—based on the report from your booted foot that you have stepped on something small and insignifi­cant—that you’re perfectly safe. An instant later, of course, this assumption will be shattered by the rake handle smacking into your forehead....)
     We all make assumptions. We all feel personally wronged when our assumptions fall afoul of reality—which happens regularly. People don’t always know what we know, want what we want, do what we assume any right-thinking human would do. But it’s important to stop short of attacking the poor unfortunate who proved our assump­tions false. If I assume you know something you don’t know, that’s my problem—I should have checked. Recrim­i­nations just waste time that should go into fixing whatever went wrong as a result of the invalid assumption.
     Why talk about this now? Partly to ask your forbear­ance—I know a fair amount about the SCA, but I do not begin to know everything about the customs, priorities, and needs of every part of every kingdom. I mean to try to keep the Society working smoothly and in a way that interferes as little as possible with the lives of its members... but there are almost certainly going to be problems. If my actions hurt you or damage your image of the group, tell me as gently and logically as you can, and I will try to work your needs into the overall solution. (One safe assumption: I didn’t intend to hurt you.)

     In addition to forbearance for me, however, I ask your forbearance for each other. If ever you hear yourself saying or thinking, “But I assumed...”—stop. Your pain is real, but your grounds for protest are shaky. The target of your wrath may well have blown it, but you’re not innocent either. In an ideal world, you would have spotted the assumption and checked it, and then the problem wouldn’t have occurred.
     This isn’t an ideal world. We’re only human. Since we can’t be perfect, let’s be kind to each other. Mayhap we can yet recreate the Current Middle Ages as they should have been....

     P.S. Although Mistress AElflaed’s farewell message (written in June for the August newsletters) strongly implied that the office of Steward would be filled only on an interim basis, the Board decided to give me a normal two-year warrant. It will be up for review after six months, of course, but—barring unspeakable disasters—it will probably be confirmed for a full term. However, if you were thinking of applying for the job, this is still a good time to express an interest in it. It is absolutely certain that the person who will take over the Stewardship from me two or three years hence is a member of the SCA right now, and very likely one who already has experience as a Kingdom Seneschal. To my successor, I say—believe me, you don’t want this job on a couple of months’ notice. Write to me now, and start getting acquainted with issues at the Corporate level. Volunteer to take on some projects for the Steward’s office or the Board. At the same time, pace yourself—have as much fun as you can, make the costumes, calligraph the scrolls, build the armor, take advantage of all the opportunities the Society offers its members, and keep your mundane life in order—so you’ll be fresh and happy and ready to go to work when I crash and burn.

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