[Ansteorra] Helping the newcomer survive.. (was Ansteorran Digest)

iainmacc at juno.com iainmacc at juno.com
Tue Jan 1 21:42:40 PST 2002

On Tue, 1 Jan 2002 14:38:48 EST Gormlaith4444 at aol.com writes:
> I have a few suggestions to help the Society assimilate new members.
>  One,
> all members "including nobility," might help out by volunteering to
> become a
> mentor.  Perhaps people who have been in the Society for 3 years or
> more
> would be the best candidates.  Mentors could be available to new
> folks for
> questions, helping them to understand the rules and culture of this
> wondrous
> game we play.

        I was thinking earlier when I saw a reference to "making the
nobles more accessible" that it would probably be more accurate (and more
helpful) to say, "making the experienced members more accessible". We all
try to serve The Dream in our own way, but sometimes it's far too easy to
forget that that confused person in mundanes, watching from a distance at
fighter practice, is often the future of the Dream we serve. Further,
once we get him/her into garb and to an event, it's difficult to pick
him/her out from the old dinosaurs that have been here since dirt was
new. But just because he/she is hard to spot now doesn't make them any
less confused. They need to have someone they can go to with their
questions. They need to be able to find that person easily. If a newcomer
has met perhaps a dozen people at fighter practice, and now is at his
first event (Steppes Warlord, 800+ people on site, huge acreage of the
Canton site), he is almost certainly lost. It's one thing to CHOOSE to
run loose and learn on your own, it's another to be completely adrift and
have no refuge from the bewilderment of it all.
        With all due respect to the Hospitalers, at any but the smallest
events, the job is simply too big for a single individual, no matter what
resources they may have.

> Mentors can help with damage control as well.  We loose many new
> members due
> to the fact there are not many folks willing to run damage control.
> Even
> though I had a strong desire to play, I was discouraged many many
> times by
> thoughtless individuals, and sometimes by the nastiness of politics

        I don't want to sound as if I am disagreeing, but this seems to
me an area to be very careful. When asking people to run damage control,
a poor choice can result in more damage than was done to begin with. Yes,
we need people to do this. But it's difficult to do well, and we cannot
afford to have it done poorly.

> New comer involvement is one of the strongest tools we have in
> helping people
> become interested in playing and sticking around to play some more.
> However,
> it can be very difficult for a new comer to be brave enough to stick
> their
> necks out and be the ones to always pursue Society involvement.  I
> remember a
> few times being brave enough to stick my neck out and I got it cut
> off.  It

        I've seen this happen. What to me was worse was when I moved to a
new Kingdom, a new Barony, went to fighter practice.... I'll avoid naming
anyplace. They welcomed me, told me they were glad to see me, asked me
for my address, apologized for not having a local newsletter to give me
right then, swore they would get one out to me... and I never heard
another word. I went back to fighter practice 4 times over the course of
8 months and had this happen to me every single time. It resulted in a 5
year haitus from the SCA for me. I cannot express how wonderful it was to
come back to Ansteorra, where I knew there were ways I could actually
find out things. Had I been a newcomer at the time, instead of having
already had over 10 years in the SCA, that response would have driven me
away permanently.
        Granted, this was before internet access was common, which helps
to alleviate the problem somewhat. I believe the fact remains, however,
that following up on newcomer contacts is something that is vital to
making those new people feel accepted and at home. It is unreasonable to
expect the Hospitaler to be at every demo and every fighter practice.
They have mundane lives, they go to events, they get sick, they have
weddings and holidays. The average guy at fighter practice needs to have
the resources to cover this. Either that, or every Hospitaler needs to
have at least 2 or 3 deputies.

> might be logical to say that new folks should come up to people and
> say "hi
> my name is...."  It is not reality.  Many new comers hang back

        I agree. "Peer fear" is something experienced by people who have
been in the SCA for years, we certainly can't expect newcomers to be
immune to it.

> This does not mean new comers should be overwhelmed with work and
> responsibility, more than anything that can burn folks out and run
> them off.
> Mentors can help new folks keep from biting off more than they can
> chew.
> Mentors can help new players become involved in an interest rather
> it be
> fighting, dancing, A&S, etc.  Guild involvement could be a great
> tool in
> helping new people become involved in a fun way, and most important,
> have a
> reason to stay involved.  Guilds might be a great source to look for
> possible
> mentors.  Cooperation use mentors to acclimate new employees, why
> not use the
> same strategy to increase our own Society's membership and active
> involvement.

        Good points. Chief among them, I think, is this: The new guy sees
everyone he knows running themselves ragged at events (most people's
first event is a "home" event I think, so all his new friends are at
least the hosting branch, if not actually event staff) and having the
time of their lives. He doesn't want to be a distraction to these people
who are working, yet he doesn't know how to help without taking someone
away from what they are doing, so they can tell him what he can do. If he
has the spirit that makes him want to be in there helping in the first
place, then "Don't worry about it, just sit back and play this time
around, we've got it covered" is not a satisfactory answer for him. While
I hate to suggest yet another position for event staff (since there
doesn't seem to be a group anywhere without manpower problems at events)
perhaps if there was one person whose job was to tell interested new
people what they could do to be helpful, to feel like "part of the team",
it might help keep them interested AND help with the manpower crush into
the bargain.

> What about a quick questionnaire or interview of new people who have
> been
> around for a year or so?  Wouldn't it be nice to hear from new
> members what
> we did right to help keep them around?  What valuable information
> that would
> be!

        I think it would be priceless, myself.

> have been
> here, in my new home, there has been only 2 people who have actually
> shown
> any interest in my participation.  It would be nice to have a
> mentor
> available here to help become established and involved in a new
> group and I
> am a long standing paid member.  What I am trying to say is,
> sometimes, it
> takes a little more than just "hi, welcome, heres some information
> for you to
> read," to get people involved and stay involved.

        Another good point, and another reason why I think that this
really can't be the Nobles'/Peerage's job. Much of the Nobility and the
Peerage has other demands on their time. When you subtract those who are
holding lands, teaching students, holding offices, mentoring people for
larger jobs like event steward, etc. etc. (usually 2 or more of the
above), you probably don't have all that many left. And while being
called into Court can be fun, it cannot give you the feeling of, "yeah,
I've met him, he's a good guy" that sitting around a fire gabbing for an
hour or two can give you. If a newcomer is feeling lost at an event, I'd
bet he'll be much more likely to go to the guy he talked to for an hour
at fighter practice, rather than to the Baroness he talked to for 30 or
40 seconds at populace meeting. Even if "Peer fear" were not a factor,
the Nobles' previous commitment of their time and attention, combined
with human nature drawing people toward those they  already know a little
better, would make it more difficult and less effective for much of the

        The bottom line is that I may respect the officer, and I may lay
down my life for him, but there are just some jobs that are really better
done by a sergeant.

      Yours in Service,

              Iain MacCrimmon

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