Some More Thoughts on Peer/Dependent Relationships

And now it’s time for Peerage Thoughts, with Andreas Blacwode.

Disclaimer — this is not about any of my Dependents, who are all exemplars in their own way, we’re all fine. It’s also not specifically about any of my past relationships with my Peers, although it’s certainly applicable to some of them. Lastly, this is my opinion, I don’t speak for my order or my kingdom, but only myself, blah blah blah.

Now that that’s out of the way:

There are two main aspects to Peerage in the SCA: the official, defined duties (the What), and the unofficial work that’s not regulated by Corpora or Kingdom law (the How). Each Kingdom is slightly different, but since Peers are Peers of the Society, not a Kingdom, the basics are the same:

Advise the Crown,
Increase our labors Nobly,
Instruct (of which there are a variety of methods) our Dependents (and anyone else who wants it).

Advising the Crown varies from Kingdom to Kingdom, but every Kingdom has polls, so there’s that.

Increasing our labors Nobly is just a fancy way of saying “keep doing what you’re doing”, which, you know, makes me want to go KABOOM, but it’s tradition, the same way drunken slap-fights at the Holiday Party between the CTO and CFO at my last company were — not everyone likes it, but it’s inevitably going to happen, so let’s just hope to get through it without anyone going to the pokey, so… whatever.

Instructing and teaching, though, is in my opinion, the least defined — and in some ways the most important — duty of a Peer. Every Peer does it a little bit differently; but in most cases, the relationship is defined as an agreement between a Peer and Dependent where the Peer is a teacher and advisor to the Dependent.

As a professional Coach and Mentor, it’s my job to help my clients see the path, the gaps and the potential issues they face as they work to progress towards their intended goals. That requires a level of trust between both parties — trust on my part that my clients are going to try to listen to me and not react defensively, and trust on the part of my clients that I’m going to provide helpful, actionable advice and be with them, every step of the way, as they work on following that advice.

It doesn’t matter if my client is twice my age, or a CEO, or if they’re 18 years old, or if they do a minimum wage job. Our mundane “ranks” have nothing to do with the specific relationship that we’re in; I’m the coach, they’re the student. Without both of us buying in to that framework, the engagement will be non-functional, and it’s very likely that it will fail.

It is the same with Peer/Dependent relationships in the SCA.

Now, while I’m not a fan of Peers being dependents of other Peers, it happens, just like Landed Baronages are sometimes dependents of Peers, or even Royalty. And while any pre-existing Fealty is set aside when becoming Royalty or Baronage (and possibly when being recognized as a Peer, since not every Peer swears fealty), the teaching relationship that both Peer and Dependent have agreed to must continue to be respected, either as is, amended to reflect the new station of the Dependent, or set aside entirely. The Peer is the mentor, the Dependent is the student. The relative ranks outside of that relationship don’t matter. And if you cannot respect the pre-existing framework, your relationship is going to fail — and it’s going to be your fault, no matter what you tell yourself, or anybody else.

This is one of the reasons why I have very specific, written agreements with my Dependents, with well defined progress review processes and conflict resolution parameters. I’ve been through more than one failed Peer/Dependent relationship, and it sucks on ice. I didn’t like going through it as a Dependent, and I don’t want to go through it as a Peer.

And none of this is to say that my clients — or my Dependents, for that matter — don’t have opportunities to push back. They’re all free to say “I don’t like that” or “This doesn’t work for me,” and then we can discuss it, and my Dependents even get to have a private group session where they review my performance.

But these discussions happen within the context of our framework, and there are moments where I will say (essentially) “I insist.”

That’s not “I’m your peer and I think I know best” — although in this case, I AM their peer and I DO think I know best. It’s “we are in this relationship where I am your mentor, and it’s my job, on rare occasions, to pull you up short and shake your worldview.”

When this happens, it’s the job of the Dependent to work very hard indeed to not respond defensively. It’s REALLY hard. IT’S REALLY REALLY HARD. It requires trust, it requires self-awareness, it requires humility, it requires honesty, not just with your Peer but also with yourself.

But it’s also worth it, because if your Peer is right (and they won’t always be), and if you trust them, when the dust settles, you’ll have taken a huge leap. The leap may be so large that all the furniture is in a different place, and you’ll have to take some time to learn how to navigate again, or it may be just small enough that you’re still in the same zip-code as before, but wow, these houses are nicer — but it will be a leap either way.

And if you can’t trust your peer, and you’re not self-aware, and you’re not humble, and you’re not honest with yourself… you’re probably not getting anything out of the relationship anyway. And that helps no one, especially yourself.

If you decide that this is where you are — you aren’t comfortable with these kinds of discussions with your Peer — then it’s on YOU to have that conversation with your Peer. Do not pass go, do not collect your Pennsic Medallion. Do not wait. Do not quibble. Go take care of business, eat your Wheaties, take your lumps, and get on with your life. Most of all, do not air your grievances publicly. (Nota Bene: I am not talking about things like bigotry, prejudice, or criminal behavior; I am talking about interpersonal difficulties that stem from disagreements over how to do things in the SCA. If you encounter these kinds of behaviors, go straight to the appropriate authorities.)

Because otherwise, all you’re doing is creating gossip, and the Order is gonna Take Note. And if I think you’re all toast and no peanut butter, my counsel to the Crown and the Order will reflect that.

This has been Peerage Thoughts, with Andreas Blacwode.