What Is “The Dream”? (And What Good Is It In The Real World?)

A guest essay by Duke Arthur of Lockehaven

©2006,Michael Cady,
This work may not be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Master Yehudah presented the Atenveldt discussion list with an excellent question. His question was, “What is the ‘Dream,’ and what good is it in the real world?” The following is my answer to this question.

What is “The Dream?”

I hear this phrase, “the dream,” used today, but I have to confess that I have never been very comfortable with it. I only heard it after getting back into the SCA about 1993 (after being gone since about 1983). I don’t remember hearing about “the dream” at all during the early years. I hear the phrase used today to describe the magic, or special feeling, the SCA projects and maintains, for many people. I believe I see what people mean when they use it, and I can’t fault anyone for seeing the organization that way, but I don’t use the term. For me, the SCA is not, and has never been, a dream.

A dream is something insubstantial and ethereal. The SCA has never been this to me. For me, it’s all-real. The SCA is real. Everything you do in the SCA is real. If you break your arm fighting, you really feel the pain, and you really go to the hospital. If someone hurts your feelings or violates your trust in the group, it’s not some mythical knight or lady who feels the emotional pain — you do.

Perhaps I’m an anachronism in an anachronism, but I don’t even have a persona. The persona is certainly a part of the SCA culture today, and many people have developed interesting ones based upon an historical time and place. Through a persona, people can create an alter-ego. They can pretend to be someone else, someone historically defensible, but someone they invented. I just never felt the need to develop a persona.

I’ve even had people tell me (an extreme case I admit) that they are “a different person” at an SCA event; that if they know you outside the SCA, their persona will not “know” you in the SCA. I have trouble understanding that. I’m the same person, here or there. Arthur of Lockehaven is as much who I am as is Michael Cady. In fact, perhaps it might be a bit more, as Arthur was a name I chose, and Michael is one I was born with, but they both exist in the same person.

I’m not a medieval knight. I’m a member of the chivalry, in the SCA. While at an SCA event, I know that I am not at a medieval tournament; I’m at a tournament in the SCA, in a public park. For a few hours I may get to express one side of me – the Duke Arthur side. This is the side that loves sword fighting, making medieval armor, learning about history, and perhaps even living in some version of medieval chivalry, (even if that expression is more mythological than historical). Like many others, in the SCA, I had trouble finding a good venue for these aspects, of my personality, in the modern world, so I was attracted to the SCA.

Master Yehudah asks, “What good is the SCA in the real world?”

To me these worlds are the same. There is no “SCA world” and separate real world. All our experiences are processed through a single brain; the one each of us carries around in our head. Surely, we all have to compartmentalize the world. We all have different venues in which we express different aspects of our personality. I may be “dad” at home, “Mr. Cady” at work (teacher), and Arthur at a tournament, but these are not separate realities, they are all slightly different expressions of one reality.

What good is what we do in the SCA?

Everything we do, in the SCA, influences what we do outside the SCA, and visa-versa. If you are not chivalrous in your mundane life, I doubt that you can really pull it off, for very long, in the SCA. The reverse of this is also true. If you begin to act chivalrously in the SCA, (even if only to “pretend to be a knight“) I believe it will eventually become part of you. If you act the part, the pretend will become real, and you will begin to demonstrate aspects of chivalry, at work, at home, and elsewhere, in the real world.

Teaching these values is one of the most important things we do. Concepts such as honor and chivalry are contagious, but for them to be passed on, from one person to the next, they must be demonstrated. You learn best, about chivalry, (and most other things) by observing others do it, and then trying to do it yourself.

I learned about chivalry from observing others. I learned from some folks I met, early in the game, in the Kingdom of the West. Through watching them, I came to better understand concepts such as honor and chivalry.

Much of this education comes from observing those we admire, but we also learn from those whose behavior is less than stellar. When the good Knight “takes his shot,” in the finals of the Crown Lists, we see real chivalry in action. On the contrary, when high-ranking fighters abuse the rules, or repeatedly ignore good blows, or unfairly criticize another fighter‘s actions, after the event is over, they teach a lesson as well.

Some lessons we teach are beneficial, while others are malignant; but each time we make a decision, each time we act, we are teaching others our values. We should attempt to make these lessons ones which will help us grow as individuals, and will maintain the organization in the long run. We should always try to live the best of what chivalry has to offer, and if we do, it will become part of us, and of others we meet, both in the real world, and in the SCA.

There is value in reading about such topics as honor and chivalry. Some of the early Tournaments Illuminated had excellent articles written by folks like Diana Listmaker. These articles steered the SCA in a positive direction, but intellectualizing about these values, will leave them only “blowing in the wind,” if we don’t also provide clear examples in our behavior. I don’t remember having long discussions about chivalry with the folks I was learning the most from – I simply observed what they did, and observed the consequences of their approach, by comparison with what I saw others do.

This does not mean we blindly follow someone else’s path; nor does it mean we even have to agree with the specific things they do. It only means that you can learn these values best when you observe how others conduct themselves, and then attempt to adopt these values into our own personality.

This suggests that all of us in the SCA have a great responsiblity. In my view, all members, of the organization have a responsibility to uphold and express our stated values. Certainly all of the peers have a major responsibility, and on the fighting field the Chivalry has the greatest responsibility, but we all have the opportunity to express these values – however imperfectly – and through our actions pass them on to others.

I also learned about chivalry from those I met, in our own Kingdom. People like Richard Ironsteed, Atenveld’t first King, helped me to better understand that the SCA could be more than just (in his own words) “a bunch of sweaty guys hitting each other with sticks.”

I admit that though I had loved reading about King Arthur and his knights when I was young, when I first found the SCA, I was not fully aware that it could really be more than a sword-fighting club. Today I see that the propagation of our stated values can move us far beyond the martial/sport aspects of the organization. These values have become an integral part of the organization.

Today I continue to learn about chivalry. I learn about it from the current members of the order, even though some of these members were not yet born when I started. I have learned from observing how they interpret these values today, and how they choose to make them real, for a new generation. I am truly inspired and pleased to see that these values have not only survived, but have blossomed, and matured.

Even when things don’t work out for the best, I try to remember that making mistakes is also how we learn. I learned by making mistakes, and from challenging myself to do better the next time. I have seen newer members of the order learn in the same manner. The SCA provided us with this opportunity to grow and learn. The SCA gives people the opportunity to be thrust into the spotlight, and suddenly be responsible for the organization and thousands of its members.

Accepting a high office in the SCA, becoming Baron or Baroness, the head of a large house-hold, or winning a tournament and becoming Prince or Princess, King or Queen, is a sobering experience. Once you accept such a responsibility, you quickly see that others depend upon you to maintain their vision of “the dream.” Most who have held such positions agree that the experience provided them with a different, and more revealing, view of both “the game” and of themselves.

The King is only the King because others agree to treat him as such. The wisest King is one who can maintain support because they personify the best qualities of the group. In my view, the wise King realizes that they are the first servant of the Kingdom, and not the “ruler” of it. If someone enters this arena thinking their job is to order people around, or to make unproductive demonstrations of their power and authority to impress people, I believe they will have a very unhappy and frustrating reign.

One answer, which is sometimes given, to Yehudah’s question (“What good is the SCA in the real world?”) is that “being King, and a dime” (boy shows you how old that saying is) “will get you a cup of coffee.” (At Starbucks it’s more like three bucks.)

This statement is true, but it is also false. It is literally true of course, but it is also false in that it implies that what you do in the SCA has no value in the mundane world. It suggests that outside of a certain arena, milieu or structure, SCA awards or titles have little or no significance. This is true, but this is also true, for the most part, of all titles. You can be a general of the army, and may under certain circumstances have the responsibility for thousands of people’s lives, but you still have wait behind me, in the ticket line, at the movies. You might be “the boss” at work, but if I don’t work for you, you have no special influence over my actions. It is the same with titles in the SCA: inside the group they may have some authority, but only within the group. But what you can achieve in the SCA goes way beyond earning a title.

So, what long-term value does the SCA offer?

Our experiences, in the SCA, provide benefit for those who are willing to learn from them. Even though the SCA is a self-selected group, and may have some statistical differences when compared with other groups. (I suspect that people in the SCA read more books than the average person does, for example.) I have not found people “in the SCA” to be fundamentally different, from people “outside the SCA.”

Every group, club, organization, I’ve had experience with has dealt with most of the same issues we struggle with in the SCA. Strong personalities often see things differently, and tend to attract folks around them. These groups “bump heads” with other groups who have a different vision of what the organization is “really” about. This creates a situation where people imagine themselves to be divided into different camps. (You’re either “with us” or “against us.”) This is a most damaging phenomenon. These camps become, in a social sense, inbred. As communication between the groups breaks down those outside the group become more demonic. This may sound like “SCA behavior” but I submit that it is not; it is human behavior.

I find you can, within limits, even find SCA archetypes in other organizations. The person in your antique car club that makes you think, “They would make a great Laurel” or the guy in your martial arts club who reminds you of many of the “new” knights in the SCA. The person in school, who organizes the study group, would probably make a great Pelican in the SCA by following their tendency to organize things.

What I’ve gained in the SCA (besides a lot of good times, and making many good friends,) is the opportunity to learn about others, and about myself. For me, the experience of being Prince, King or Kingdom Officer in the SCA has served me very well in the “mundane” world. I’ve had a great “boot camp” in office politics. I suspect that most positions in the SCA offer the same opportunities; head of a household, or whatever it might be.

I have found that after being King, very little surprises me. Schools, offices, clubs all have their politics, and I have found that most are pretty elementary compared to what I’ve already dealt with in the SCA. My experiences have served me well, in terms of coming to know myself and others, and being prepared for what either of us might do in a given situation.

So, if you take your experience in the SCA as an opportunity to learn, and to practice, and to find out more about who you are, and to become more aware of other people and their motives – the SCA can be a very worthwhile experience. (And don’t forget to have some fun along the way!)

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