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Friday, September 2, 2011

Community Cookbook Part Three: Boy Scouts, Traffic Cops and the New A-List

This article is part of my Mentoring for Tops/Sirs/Doms/Masters curriculum.

As I mentioned in my previous article, this installment is written in response to feedback that I've received so far.  I'm severely tempted to use a lot of alternating gender pronouns, but I can't see how to do it properly.  I'm a gay man, writing about my own gay leathermen's group. I am clearly writing this series for the possible benefit of men and women of all kinds, and I don't dismiss that. I can't see a way to be authentic about my efforts with my group while keeping it fully gender-neutral, so please forgive me for this, and try to walk around a bit in my Size 15EE Wesco Engineers!

It's important to note that, when creating community, you NEVER want to try and add every possible person to a new affinity-group.  It's an exercise in frustration for the inviter and the invitee, and it muddies the vision for the target demographic.

Focus like a laser on what you see as the overall vision of the group - If it's your goal to create a group for people who fit a strict criterion, go for it - You have the right to do so.  Don't be surprised if other people outside of that target group feel slighted, ignored or insulted, and want to yank things closer to their own goals.  You will have to be clear and open in your motivations, and answer lots of questions from others outside your group before things will calm down.

I'm going to describe the many, many men in FetishMenSanDiego's membership in a very visual way - Think of over 1,100 men in a big, round, closely-gathered crowd:

On the outermost edges, we have the guys who only show up at events if there is a good likelihood that they will get laid, or get drunk as cheaply as possible. That's fine - They add value in their own way.  Those are the guys who show up at the biggest events, hoping to get their goodies and go home. They are great additions for a nice Parking-Lot Party, where men cruise with their shirts off and act Really, Really Single, with a dense haze of testosterone floating over everyone's heads. The more the merrier!

Moving inward in that circle, we have the majority of members: Nice, well-socialized grownups who crave community and a nice time away from their computers; singles and couples - Lots of couples. You can count on them to be attentive, polite and friendly when somebody needs to make a public announcement. They have a great time, they feel like they are part of a thriving community, and they get enough value to come back to future events as time permits.  You can spot them by the roars of happy laughter and chatter that signify a crowd that is secure and comfortable.

Then, we come to the crucial, central core of the group - The Golden Core.  In any affinity-group, whether it's for Stamp Collecting, Quilt-Making or Kinksters on Parade, there will always be the 10% of members who make 90% of the difference in the success of that group. As a community-leader, it's YOUR MOST IMPORTANT JOB to watch for those people, and to know what to do about them.

I've been president and/or founder of any number of clubs in the last thirty years. I've intentionally put myself in the position of being a Capital "S" Source - When there's an event, and when somebody asks "Who's in charge here?", then everybody in the building pivots around and points at me. That suits my nature.  However, I have become very desensitized to the daily process of people asking for things. I get emails, text messages, phone calls and personal requests, and after a while, it just becomes background noise. I do it as part of the job, and nothing more.

Yet, I've got one hard-wired trigger that INSTANTLY puts me on red alert.  If somebody says "How can I help?" then my head snaps right around, and my senses go to fully-powered status.  I start asking leading questions, in order to start zeroing inward until I've figured out what this very special guy's secret superpowers are. I might ask:

- What do you like about having a brotherhood of people like you?

- Have you ever volunteered before?

- Has anybody ever thanked you for what you do? How do you feel about that?

Obviously, those are generic questions, and in real life, I would be much more focused on the responses that I get in order to know the best question to ask next.  The most important question to end up with is:

- When are you available for coffee?

When you take this new, shining star of a natural volunteer out for coffee, really interact with them. Take the time to get to know them. Build friendship based on open, honest communication.

Why? Because you never, ever want to let folks like this drop back under the radar and be lost to your new group. They are the crucial component that guarantees a happy future for your new club/organization/posse.  Don't try to do everything by yourself. Build a team with the goal of working yourself out of a job.  Count on retiring from your work someday, leaving behind a thriving group of cooperating individuals who all have different tools in their toolboxes that might make up for the lack of tools in somebody else's toolbox.

One person may be a perfect Accountant for the group, because they think in exactly that way (I sure don't).  They might be a perfect Sergeant at Arms, or Go-Fer, or Julie the Cruise Director, or Idea Fountain, or any other kind of Dependable Volunteer.  Your job is to recognize them early, pay attention to their behavior in public, and then thank them lavishly, often, and publicly whenever possible.

People who want to do good work for the community are hard-wired to be that way. They aren't necessarily doing it for a Thank You, but they are absolutely not doing it for a Fuck You. Folks who want to give from the goodness of their hearts tend to become targets of opportunity for Users, Abusers and Sociopaths. They are easy meat, so they learn to become self-protective, as they should. Your job is to convince them that you understand them because you share their nature, and that the more fully-self-expressed and kind that they are in your group, the more approval they will receive. They will also be surrounded by an ever-growing group of fellows just like them.

I call these people Boy Scouts, because they are Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly.. and so forth. They are adults, long-since grown-up, and Mommy and Daddy aren't forcing them to be that way. They've made a decision on their own that they are going to be kind, and giving, for the rest of their lives. They are worthy of extra helpings that will help their light to really shine in your group, so, make sure that they get those extra helpings. They deserve to have doors swing open for them that nobody else even knew were available:

- Vouch for Boy Scouts in public. If something about them is true, necessary and kind, say it in a crowd, in their presence. Whatever good name you've built for yourself in your work should be given away freely in the form of confirming the good character of folks who have proven their worth. Your credibility becomes their credibility, on the spot.

- If there is an out-of-town event that a local Boy Scout wants to attend, set up free lodging for them with folks in the target city. Which folks do you contact in this quest? Leather titleholders. Why? Because they are a self-selecting group of people who tend to keep their words, follow through, want to make a difference in the world, and already have a basis for trust among themselves. They already have a network that allows them to say "You know, the person you want to talk to is So-and-So, because they have the information that you need."  By telling them "There is a great volunteer in our group who needs a helping hand", you're much, much more likely to create the possibility that all folks involved will build new, lasting and deep friendships. This also will open the door for folks from THAT city to come to YOUR city and crash on your couch during big event weekends. What fun!  I do that at every opportunity.

- Introduce them to other locals who share their personal philosophy, which they will know because you will explain the merits of both people while they both listen during your introduction. It's too easy for communities to degrade into what I call the "A-List" Philosophy, where the people who have the most-perfect physique, or the nicest clothes, or the most money, or some other external thing, are the only ones worthy of respect, desire or friendship.  Your job is to gather together people who agree that integrity, authenticity, kindness and full self-expression are the qualifications for the New A-List. The nicest thing about the new A-List is that it is ATTAINABLE without cosmetic surgery or other artificial means.  You just basically have to be a decent human being.

- Most important of all, as I said before, observe the actions of your local Boy Scouts, and thank them.  Always be authentic… Don't blow smoke up their kilt. If somebody is going to be kind enough to endure four hours behind a coat-check counter at a big event, make sure that they know that their efforts are appreciated, needed and add value to the event.  That person will be a lot more likely to help out again in the future. NEVER let an opportunity pass without noticing and reacting in a kind way.

- Never "spank" anybody by giving negative feedback. It's counter-productive.  I used to do it all of the time, and everybody was stressed as a result. Now that I gently ignore problems, give private time-outs for outrageous mishaps, and warmly praise desired behavior, everybody is uniformly happy and secure. We never, ever have Drama Explosions.

At every event that I'm involved with, I promise that it will be a Guaranteed Safe Space. Nobody will treat anyone else shabbily, or act out in a harmful way. By putting my ass on the line, over and over, I'm assuring everyone that somebody will take full responsibility for the safety, well-being and success of everyone at that event.

My goodness. That's an awful lot to promise, isn't it? Wouldn't that be burdensome?

Not for Traffic Cops, like me. My definition of a Traffic Cop is somebody who is hard-wired to be responsible, protective and actively willing to step in if needed, even if nobody asks, and even if we have no formal job to do at somebody else's event.

Here's a great example: Some tweaked-out straight guy came into the local gay leathermen's bar and started randomly throwing punches, without saying a word.  He was thrown out of the bar, but sneaked back in later on and started up his bad behavior again.  Six of the two hundred guys in the bar gathered around the troublemaker and immobilized him. We didn't yell at him, or hurt him, or even try to engage him in conversation, We just held him immobile until the cops arrived.

The other 194 people stepped back and let us do our thing.  That's fine - They don't share our deep-down dedication to keeping the peace. But, I made certain to notice who came rushing forward when the need was strong. ANY event is a happier place when Traffic Cops are in the building. Folks can subconsciously relax, because they know that problems will never get out of hand.

Just like Boy Scouts, complimenting a Traffic Cop for being who they are is like praising them for breathing.  it's just who they are, on a fundamental level. They still like to hear it, though, so don't be stingy.  By noticing, identifying, acknowledging, supporting and nurturing these people, you will attract more and more like-minded people.

So what about the people who don't fit into those two categories, yet? What of the shy newbie who shows up late and unprepared at one of my events, expecting something else and feeling a bit overwhelmed?

He's going to stand a little taller, and puff his chest out a bit more, unconsciously, because he'll see all of these incredibly secure, joyful and loud people all around him, and he's going to want very badly to fit in. He's hungry for better days, surrounded by people that he can depend on… the opposite of Internet Flakes. He can tell that these people really like and trust each other - If somebody were to fall backwards suddenly, many hands would rise to catch him and keep him from harm.

This is our basic, deep-down, human need, in a nutshell. Your job as a community leader is to make sure that this happens, often. In my own case, I create an ongoing series of Guaranteed Safe Spaces, where anyone who shows up can relax as soon as they enter the room. They can see that they are surrounded by people who take community very seriously, and are willing to work to make it happen. The whole team is doing what they are good at, simultaneously, and working as a single unit.

These people didn't drop out of the empty air, or just show up and get to work at random. Somebody has to be the one with the Big Dream.

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