Be Nice, Pagans. Be Nice Polytheists. Be Nice.

I had occasion to speak to a very nice, young man last week about online etiquette. For me, what it boils down to is this:

Be nice.

It may seem simplistic, or perhaps reductive to some. But, I think it’s a good rule.

Two Kids Smiling
Photo by Toni Verdú Carbó

Be nice when you talk to people, whether you know them or not, and your conversation (or, at least your side of the conversation) will remain civil.

Civility, I’m finding, is a scarce resource in our online discourse.

Last week was heated. It seemed like every day brought with it another blog post about identity, and accompanying that post was a slew of polarized viewpoints. I read threads and noticed that people were not really listening to each other. People were regurgitating the same ideas, the same frustrations, and sometimes the same lines of snark.

The discussion about what “Pagan” is and who it includes was sounding a lot like the makings of a Pro-Pagan/Anti-Pagan platform.

I think we’re better than that, to be honest.

The problem arises, in part, due to the medium. Our method of communication and connectivity does not encourage a paced, patient way of dialoguing. Everything happens so fast on these blogs. We scan, we find the sentence that we take issue with, and our fingers race to compose a witty comment, a more informed perspective.

It takes no time to bark, it would seem.

Barking kid
Photo by Mindaugas Danys

We’re not assisted by facial expressions and body language cues in our online communication. We have no context for the people we argue with, and yet for some reason we still feel justified to argue. We walk blindly into conversations and state what we know, sometimes doing so without any consideration for how we’re saying it, who we’re saying it to, and what the ramifications are of our tone.

We’re not nice to each other, a lot of the time.

My husband asked me over the weekend if Pagans (and I think he may have included non-Pagan identifying polytheists into his use of that term) have some sort of ethic around kindness, and of treating each other well. It was an interesting question, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t have a ready answer.

The Wiccans do, I suppose. Harm none, right? But that’s so broad, and harm is so difficult to detect in our online conversations. We sometimes don’t know if our online speech is harmful, because what we’re doing is less like speaking and more like posting fliers onto a bulletin board. Someones posts one, and we post another on top of that, and then the next and the next. (Also, I think some people reject Wiccan wisdom simply because it’s Wiccan, just as some avoid any Abrahamic wisdom on a similar principle. Both miss out on a great deal of wisdom, I think.)

But his question, “Do we have an ethic around being kind to one another?” I didn’t — I don’t — know how to answer that.

I know that some people feel bullied right now. People on both sides of the discussion. Some feel bullied to assume a word that they don’t feel applies to them, and others feel bullied because they perceive themselves to be misrepresented. The point I’m making is not that either one is right or wrong, but rather that their sense of being bullied points to a problem in the way we’re communicating with one another.

When I spoke to my young friend about online communication, I gave him the following tips (which I’m expanding upon here):

  • If you are uncertain about your tone, read your comment out loud. Speak it slowly, and see if what you’re saying is something you’d say to a stranger, or a person you wish to be kind to. The post will still be there in five minutes. It can wait for you.
  • If you find yourself reacting in anger to a comment, wait to respond. Take a step back, and ask yourself if your emotional response is pointing to something unresolved in you. The person who wrote the comment may not even know you, and may not have been trying to offend you. Your emotional reaction is a tool that you can use to better understand yourself.
  • While you wait, take inventory of yourself; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask yourself if you’re being true to your values and ethics, and look to see if what you’re sharing with the world is helping to build others up, or tear them down. When in doubt, do a meditation, a brief devotional or ritual, or simply shut your computer for a few minutes.
  • Default to nice. It’s a better place to begin. You can always walk away from an online conversation that’s becoming disrespectful. You can always take the higher ground.

We need not rush to make our point after every heated post. We need not be a people who speak without listening. We need not feel so threatened by one another. We can be nice, and disagree. We can be nice, and hold space for others who do not identify as we do. We can be nice, and in doing so we may discover that the practice of kindness actually helps to facilitate a deeper understanding between people.

I don’t know if we, historically, share an ethic around kindness, but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t put one into place now.

Be nice. It feels good, for everyone.

Grinning Girl
Photo by Meena Kadri






32 responses to “Be Nice, Pagans. Be Nice Polytheists. Be Nice.”

  1. Ruadhán J McElroy Avatar

    Yes, thank you. I also find it odd, to say the least, that someone would take it upon oneself to lecture *adults* on the concept of kindness, whilst adorning the post with photos of children, as if to illuminate the fact that he doesn’t think adults are adults. He has no real respect for his audience.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Hi Ruadhan. Thanks for the comments on this post. I’m glad you’re a part of the conversation.

      I do respect my readership. Very much. My decision to publish these pics along with the article was not to chastise, but rather to draw attention to the fact that at one time, each and every one of us was all a little younger, a little freer from the heavy concerns of these adult conversations. To me, pictures of younger people serve as a valuable reminder that while I should seek to do my best, and to hold up the ideas that are meaningful to me, I needn’t allow myself to be completely weighed down by the process.

      As I’ve written in other place on this thread, I have no intention of lecturing. I, myself, am subject to all of the emotional hangups that I wrote about in this post. So, it was valuable to me to write about them.

      Sorry for the misunderstanding, and I assure you that I seek to show my respect to my readership.


  2. Conor O'Bryan Warren Avatar

    I have the Delphic Maxims written on my bedroom wall. Here is what they have to say

    Delphic Maxim 24::Praise the good
    Delphic Maxim 35: Listen to everyone
    Delphic Maxim 47: Speak well of everyone
    Delphic Maxim 56: Down look no one
    Delphic Maxim 78: Observe what you have heard
    Delphic Maxim 80: Despise Strife
    Delphic Maxim 82: Restrain the tongue
    Delphic Maxim 83: Keep yourself from insolence
    Delphic Maxim 93: Deal kindly with everyone
    Delphic Maxim 97: Be courteous
    Delphic Maxim 107: Pursue harmony

    I would do well to keep these in mind

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I think we all would.

      Thank you, Conor.

  3. Dave Avatar

    If the sacred is immanent in nature an ethic of kindness is fundamental. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I’d love for you to expand more on this, Dave.

      1. Dave Avatar

        If the sacred is all around you isn’t it incumbent upon you to treat everything with respect? Isn’t that, at least, a good cautionary measure to take, if nothing else? Besides that, being kind is it’s own reward. If you want to be the most selfish person who ever lived, live your life for others. No one will live happier than you.

        That only works because people are inherently morally good.

        Don’t get me wrong though. Fair criticism is the highest form of love. If you care for others and want them to be strong they need to hear the truth about themselves. If they won’t hear it any other way than through meanness than you’re morally obligated, if you care about them at all, to be mean to them.

  4. John Avatar

    In terms of Druidry, and ADF Druidry in particular, I think this falls under the virtue of Hospitality.

  5. Daniel Grey Avatar

    I lost my original post to you! That was incredibly frustrating, but I’m taking it as an opportunity to refine my ideas and practice patience. Blessings in disguise and all that, yeah?

    I’ve read through your post a few times and all the responses here (as of 2:45 PM EST, at least) and it’s been difficult figuring out what I want to say and how I want to say it. I see a couple different things going on with your post Teo, which means there are a couple different ways I can respond. The first is your general call for “being nice” and how to foster that niceness via internet communications. The second is a much more specific reaction to the recent heated (and sometimes harmful) discussions with regards to the nature of definitions and identity in our Pagan community. (Though I wonder if it wouldn’t be more helpful to parse that as Pagan communit/ies/, at times.) The problem with generally responding to you is that generalizations don’t always make for helpful conversations. I sort of agree with you and I sort of don’t (or rather, I see “be nice” as too simplistic when dealing with the sticky subject of human interaction and would qualify it greatly before agreeing with you.) Specifically speaking, I haven’t kept that up to date on who said what in response to whom, so I can’t address individual posts and writers as examples to discuss a point. So what I think I’m going to do is explain why I generally agree with this post and why I generally don’t agree with it, and hopefully we can go from there.

    I am reading this post as a call for people to calm down, mind their manners, and above all be kind to each other. This is how I’m parsing your suggestion to “be nice.” And generally speaking, yes! Debate can get incredibly heated and the internet does little good in facilitating good communication. (A friend of mine has as her forum signature, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I feel like this needs to be the motto of the internet.) I’ve been online since I was eight (a decade and a half ago!) and I’ve seen my share of the vitriol that can happen via online communication. I think it’s monumental to keep in mind the limitations of this medium – that responses via posts and tweets happen lightning fast, conversations get away from us, original context gets smudged up, and tone must be read differently than we read it in face-to-face communication. There is both an immediacy and a distancing that takes place when we engage in conversations online. We can walk away at any time, but we’re also constantly plugged in at our fingertips.

    Generally speaking, I take issue with your post because of what /hasn’t/ been said. While I believe it’s inappropriate for me to act with the sole intention of hurting someone (especially in a vengeful or bullying manner), I believe that I /do/ have a moral prerogative to address injustice and inequality when I see it. This isn’t always obvious or blatant sexism, racism, or homophobia — finding that and dissenting publicly is easy. It’s the more subversive examples that are problematic. For example, part of my previous post’s reaction against the reaction against Star Foster’s relinquishing of the term Pagan (phew! get all that?) was that some responses seemed to comment on something that wasn’t theirs to comment on. When it comes to wibbly-wobbly, squishy terms like “Pagan” (like woman, like geek, but unlike “medical doctor” or “H. sapiens”) no one gets to own that label but the one that chooses to wear it. That is as much a part of someone’s agency and sovereignty as their physical body, and telling someone what to /do/ with those labels feels no different from me than telling someone what to do with their sexuality, weight, or hairstyle. Calling out that sort of behavior, challenging it, is important, and dare I say necessary, part of having a healthy and just community.

    Personally speaking, sometimes this communication hurts. I’m from Southern America and grew up in a conservative Baptist church. Even when I shucked my religion and went to Bryn Mawr (super liberal and feminist college) I still had a lot of baggage from my upbringing present. It took time for me to unlearn some assumptions with regards to race and gender. Any talks about “privilege” and “feminism” met on deaf and defensive ears, and those talks often hurt. It wasn’t until I transferred back South to a private Christian college that /I/ suddenly became the token “angry” feminist, and my attempts to point out privilege, injustice, and the various -isms and -phobias were met with hostility.

    I really do think that anger is okay, and I want to acknowledge that I don’t think you were trying to communicate that we should never, ever be angry ever, and should just sit down and pretend nothing’s wrong. In the past, I have had the experience of others coding “Be nice!” to really mean “don’t cause a ruckus.” The emphasis is less on “be kind and loving” (which does NOT mean “never act in anger” or “never engage in confrontation”) and more “don’t upset the status quo for the sake of having a status quo.” I have specifics, if you’d really like to hear them — most of it involves a very unhappy semester in a Christian Ethics class necessary for my BA in Religion at a conservative Lutheran school. So I think that, generally speaking, “nice” isn’t the most helpful word when we’re talking about productive human interactions. It’s so incredibly broad and generic (to my mind, at least) that there’s nowhere to go with that advice. Be nice? What about when someone repeatedly ignores boundaries and speaks for others? What about environments that consistently privilege one group of people over another? What about situations when we need to put our foot down and go, “What you are doing or saying is /wrong/ and I will not put up with it”?

    One of my more frequented haunts on the internet is The Cauldron (, a Pagan forum that’s been around for about fifteen years. One of the things that I treasure about this community is that it thrives on debate and discussion, some of it quite passionate and fervent. Arguing points – even attacking them – calling out inconsistencies, asking for sources, prodding at sweeping generalities — these are all common in the nature of this forum. But there is a very clear line between attacking ideas and attacking /people/, either individuals or groups. Debate can get heated and outright angry, but that doesn’t mean the discussion at hand is spiteful or cruel, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t productive either. Not only have I become much better at communicating my own views and become more critical of my own logic and assumptions, but The Cauldron also has an active segment of members involved in various social justice circles, which led me to some rocky but ultimately rewarding struggles with my own places of privilege and oppression. I call myself a feminist because of the folks I’ve met there, and I’m only the social justice advocate I am today because of what I’ve learned in that space.

    I think the question I am now considering is how to act in ways that allow me to follow my moral compass, yet do not come from a place of hate – of authentic reactions and sharing feelings without censorship without also stepping on another’s boundaries.

    There. I think that’s all I have to say right now, and I know I didn’t touch on all my original points. But I’m tired and want to get this posted.

  6. ken Avatar

    I thought the comment by Aine that being nice doesn’t work was interesting. Being nice doesn’t mean agreeing, it doesn’t mean letting things pass that are inaccurate. I don’t see how being mean works any better. I posted, against my better judgment, a short paragraph on my facebook page with some thoughts on gun control Most of my friends agreed with me, but I found myself having to message a couple and ask them to edit their comments. For the most part it wasn’t the actual comment, just “hey, could take out the word ‘stupid’ from your paragraph?”
    There is a concept called ‘ambiguity tolerance’. The Japanese have it, and for the most part Americans don’t. When you take polls of religion in Japan you come up with something like this….60% are buddhist……..70% are shinto……….20% are christian, etc. It adds up to more than 100% because they don’t have a problem being more than one thing. The paradox does not bother them. I think we need to bring some of this to the who and what is pagan debate. We don’t need to define it, and while we flail around trying to the larger culture does not care a whit.
    Religion is like poetry or music. I can recognize great poetry or music, but what I listen to or read is what speaks to me not what is ‘best’. No matter or technically proficient the musician there is certain music that does not move me, and your close you adhere to iambic pentameter does not make me love your poem. We don’t need to decide who’s right or who owns a term, just whether we want to hang out together. Magik spell casting hard polytheistic reconstructionist are probably pretty far along the spectrum from me, but I’d rather hang with them than most other folks. If they’re nice.

    1. Eric Devries Avatar

      My ambiguity tolerance is locked at 0%. I’m OK with kindness as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of honesty or it means tolerating bigotry or somesuch.

  7. Sheryl Johnson Avatar

    In general, I’m agreeing with Teo here. Kindness costs me nothing beyond taking a moment to let go of animosity. It actually requires less of my energy, to be nice, so perhaps both parties benefit.

    I do respond appropriately when my rights are being threatened by another. Sometimes hostility is appropriate, but often you just feed that other persons preconceptions about you if you default to anger. I am mostly open about my “paganosity” and answer questions as best I can.

    I work in an extremely divisive and stressful environment and my interactions at work (a jail) are with people who are experiencing a very bad day. My default with all people there is to be kind until I am given a direct reason to behave otherwise. It makes my day and theirs a little better.

    I believe that withholding initial judgment and offering kindness first helps my own spiritual growth. I have been a victim of crime and hostility, but I choose to not let that anger rule my life. I choose kindness and happiness.

  8. Prabha Devi dasi Avatar
    Prabha Devi dasi

    Last winter I lived in a small, Northern Indian monastery for monks and nuns following a Vedic contemplative tradition. My teacher spoke seldom to me or anyone else, so when she kept repeating “we don’t want to fight” to me, I paid the statement my full attention. I decided that I wanted, very much actually, to be included in that “we”. I understood that although I was a scholar, who’d championed human rights, who’d fought for my voice and very life: I truly self-identified as someone who really does not want to fight. All that beautiful, passionate life-force energy; I want to devote that in the direction of my own choosing and discover myself accordingly.
    I appreciate Teo’s suggestions as tools that might help me and others to dialogue about deep, heartfelt and ego-challenging topics, such as identity, without becoming overwhelmed and imploding with negative emotion. I appreciate this blog, and finally intuited an “in” to the dialogues presented here.

  9. Kate Dennis Avatar

    A few years back, Fire Lyte created a movement called Project Pagan Enough. I thought all the points he cited were good then and equally valuable now. The only person I need to define my spirituality to and for is me.I don’t need to discuss it repeatedly with anyone else as long as what I’m doing feeds my soul, makes me better to myself and others and allows me to contribute in a positive way to my immediate community and the community at large. And I really don’t need to shout my beliefs from the rooftops, because unless someone specifically asks, they are personal. I have purposely kept this situation off my blog, and if I do address it at any point, more than likely I will say exactly what I have stated here.

    While we are nagging, nitpicking and posturing, we aren’t teaching kindness, we aren’t contributing positively to the community, and we don’t look like very nice people to the outside world-which views our actions and wonders aloud why anyone would want to be like us.

    Thank you for trying too make the conversation more civil, Teo.

  10. Mam Adar Avatar

    The thing you have to keep in mind, Teo, is that some people simply do not *want* to be nice. Especially on the Internet. In fact, I suspect that some people particularly enjoy the Internet because they feel it allows them to be not-nice without fear of consequences.

  11. Aine Avatar

    I’m in agreement here. Not only have I seen that being nice -doesn’t work- no matter how much people say it does, I don’t really understand why people should react only in -positive- ways when offended or hurt. If someone makes me mad, I’m going to tell them.

    1. Ruadhán J McElroy Avatar

      Yeah, it doesn’t work. It’s like telling kids “ignore the bully and they’ll stop”. That doesn’t work, either. It’s just a cop-out so that you don’t have to really address the problem.

  12. Teo Bishop Avatar

    Hi, Lo. This is a very interesting comment in the context of this post. Thanks for sharing your perspective here.

    I’m sorry if my post came off as a lecture. That wasn’t my intention. I also wasn’t seeking to derail the conversation, or to police anybody. In fact, I think the conversation that’s been happening lately, as difficult as it has been for some of us, is valuable, and can lead to greater understanding.

    I don’t wish to invalidate anyone’s emotions, either. I think that there are times when anger is the appropriate response. Other times, I think the anger becomes misdirected. Sometimes when I’m reading and responding to comments online I have to take a step back and ask whether I’m angry at the person I’m reading, or if I’m projecting something onto them, or if I’m angry because they’re challenging me to think about something in a way that’s uncomfortable. Does that make sense?

    I read through the article you linked to. By sharing it in response to my post, I interpret that to mean that you think I’m speaking from a place of privilege, or trying to belittle the difficulty that others are experience around this conversation. Am I reading you correctly? Do think that encouraging kindness across the board is an example of the, “You’re Being Hostile” kind of derailing?

    Again, thanks for the comment.

    1. Lo Avatar

      I’m coming into this with my understanding of what the discourse has been surrounding the label “pagan” lately, and also a general frustration from a tired trope I see espoused all too often in pagandom (and is the very thing that made me drop the label myself), which is, to summarize, either the active homogenization of pagan religions in conversation, or the rather open desire to see more homogenization.This unrepentant longing for diversity to simply go away (for the sake of simplicity, for the sake of unity, for the same of camaraderie) is extremely problematic to me, and I see it as growing from the same roots of a lot of other more blatant issues that we perpetuate as a whole.

      Asking that everyone “be nice” robs some of us of our anger at being erased from the picture. Prioritizing politeness makes it just that much harder for someone to speak up when they’re being misrepresented or outright insulted.”Niceness”, more often than not, supports status quo. And with racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, fatphobia, heterosexism, and intolerances of all kinds plaguing us just as much as the general population, that’s not a status quo I want anything to do with. That’s a status quo I want demolished, and being nice is sometimes just completely incompatible with that. And when privileged people are dominating the discussion, and I’m getting upset that I can’t even get a word in, and they’re wondering what the heck is my problem because they have no clue as to the structures they’re upholding, then… want for politeness is going to be the last thing on my mind.

      As for your privilege, Teo, I’m afraid that you hold a lot of it. You are white, married, financially secure, able-bodied, of average weight, and you have a prominent voice within one of the largest pagan religions out there (which also benefits from being predominantly white). Compared to mine, your religion has as much power as the Catholic church. In the time I’ve followed your blog, your more generally “pagan” writings have indeed been colored by your privileged position in society and pagandom, approaching questions with Americanized Euro-centrism. You mean well, and you ask good questions, but sometimes you don’t seem to know that you’ve got blinders on.

      1. Teo Bishop Avatar

        You’ve given me a lot to think about, Lo. Thank you. I’m not sure I can address all of it now, and I think it might be good for me to sit with it for a little while.

        Examining my privilege is probably a good thing for me to do. We could all benefit from that, as your shared post implies. Even the marginalized can marginalize others, right?

        I will clarify that my marriage isn’t recognized in my state (I’m married to a man), and that my Hernandez/Vigil background doesn’t really read in my photos. I am white, and I am also not white. Incidentally, we’ve been living month-to-month for months, and I’ve never really written about that here. Your assumption about my financial situation is interesting to me, and I’m not sure what that says about either of us.

        But, as I said, you’ve given me much to consider. Thank you for that.

        1. Lo Avatar

          I apologize for making assumptions, and I fully realize that we all simultaneously have privilege in some areas and not others. I have white-passing privilege, then, like you (I’m also of Latin@ heritage). I can afford to live comfortably (for the time being), and I have passing privilege as far as my gender as well. In other words, I have it good until I try and divulge more about what my identities actually are. I’m very sorry that your marriage isn’t recognized where you are–it seems to have slipped my mind where you lived–and in that case it’s something I have a leg up on you as well, even though my husband currently lives in another country.

          It’s tiring, but I am glad that the conversation is happening. Any opportunity to try and get more people to think about this sort of stuff, right? Thank you for thinking about these things, even if you ultimately find that you disagree in some way.

          1. Teo Bishop Avatar

            Thanks, Lo. 🙂

    2. KNicoll Avatar

      I think “kindness” is almost entirely unrelated to “niceness”, myself.

      Niceness has no requirement for sincerity, for genuineness. It is a common expectation of female-genderedness: make no waves, do or say nothing that someone might object to, “be nice”. If you have a problem, keep it to yourself; forgive, forget, practice socially appropriate self-denial if your actual reality might be inconvenient to others.

      That’s what I hear when I hear calls for “nice”. It is a burden upon a person to act in a manner about which others will not complain; it is an isolating call, because it starts from ‘my peace of mind is more important than your reality’.

      Kindness requires reality to be more important than peace of mind.

      1. Cara Schulz Avatar
        Cara Schulz

        Perfectly said. There is a difference between being nice and being kind.

        1. Teo Bishop Avatar

          Indeed. I was conflating the two.

          This last sentence, @KNicoll:disqus – “Kindness requires reality to be more important than peace of mind.” – is powerful. Thank you for that.

  13. MikoNoNyte Avatar

    Hello; first comment here. I think we forget the old “golden rule” or treating others as we would be treated. If we don’t wish to be screamed at we should not yell first. Sometimes the best way to “win” an argument is to turn away; let it air out and cool down. Just my 2 cents on it.

  14. Eric S. Riley Avatar

    I think we cycle back into the morass of defining “Pagans” again, by asking about potential universally applicable ethics. While I appreciate kindness, and attempt to cultivate it in myself, I think that the streak of individualism among Pagan faiths helps boost the ego. So many traditions emphasize the personal relationship with divine forces, and I feel less so on the outward look to others or even the community.

    I think Shamanism is at its heart a practice of kindness, because it is about healing yourself and others. I think you could theoretically also look at Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law. Love under Will.” Will (Thelema) here being a driving force, but coupled with love (Agape).

    There is something in the Pagan community that attracts a certain kind of individual. I feel many of us are outcasts, misfit toys, or broken in some way. By developing a personal connection with the Divine, we avoid the complications and derision of mainstream faith traditions and the problem of those people. What we’re seeing sometimes is our pain manifesting again. I know it’s a generalization, as all of this is, but it’s certainly something that is an undercurrent in the community that I see.

  15. Brian Rush Avatar
    Brian Rush

    Sooner or later, someone’s going to come on and say, “But that would be turning us into Christians!” A pox on all labels.

    I agree with you 100% here myself, of course.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar


      Well, I’m sure there are some Christians who could benefit from a commitment to kindness. It would be good for all of us, I think.

    2. Cosette Paneque Avatar

      I’ve heard this many, many times from Pagans – that they don’t follow the Golden Rule or turn the other cheek because that’s a Christian thing to do.

  16. dashifen Avatar

    I’ll add another one: ask for more information if you’re confused. Frequently someone writes something they think is clear, but it’s not always so when it reaches the eyeballs and brain of the person on the other end. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone be bothered by (or if they were, they didn’t say so) a request for elaboration or clarification.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Yes! This is a great one, @78b5d2fe180cd275c4cb1676098ecac7:disqus. Thank you!

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