Service: Net Positive vs Net Negative – by Amos Ironbeard (RJ Roach)


During my time in the SCA I’ve Stewarded a number of events large and small, ran feast kitchens and served as most every officer at one time or another for events ran by others, both large and small. During all that time the importance of volunteer participation in making the event work has never been overstated – regardless of how big your event team is (unless it literally includes all the participants) volunteers are needed to make things work. In thanking people who have assisted me in making things work I have often come across the statement “But I didn’t do anything”, or it’s cousin “But I didn’t do much”.

Generally speaking, these statements are lies.

Mental Juggling

Every event steward and to a degree, every event officer play a mental juggling game. The question that naturally arises is “What needs to be done next?” – the answer for which can vary based on priorities. If the kitchen is slammed then that is usually a massive priority. If the list field has no marshals for the start of a tournament, people need to be found. There is a never-ending list of priority situations that can occur at an event, the nature of which and the importance determined by the situation. This is where the juggling takes place because it’s often the case that multiple areas need attention at once, rather than conveniently¬†happening one by one in an orderly fashion.

This is where the importance of volunteers comes in. Imagine yourself standing around doing nothing. You’re capable, full of energy and you want to help, so you offer to take a ball from someone. Juggling one ball is a fairly simple task and you might even think it’s “nothing”. Now imagine yourself with a dozen balls in the air, with people occasionally throwing more at you and someone offers to take one off your hands. The act of juggling one ball may not seem like much to the person who takes it, but to the person who has one less ball to worry about the relief and assistance is significant.

Net Positive vs Net Negative

This is where I’d like to introduce the concept of making a Net Positive or a Net Negative contribution at an event. To define the terms I view a person as making a Net Positive contribution to an event as someone who provides one more positive act of assistance than they take away. An example of this is a person who cleans away all their rubbish, and picks up extra rubbish they find on their travels – this is a Net Positive contribution. Likewise, as a simple example, a Net Negative contribution to an event is a drain on the event, they create more work than they assist with. At all times there is an ineffable set of scales – you use a dorm room and create a mess and therefore have a negative contribution, but then you clean it up for the end of the event and return to neutral, from there you help once, somewhere and you’ve made a positive contribution. That’s all it takes.

Every act a person helps with at an SCA event that otherwise makes it possible for the event to run or people to participate is an act of service. 
Every act a person helps with at an SCA event that makes it easier for the event to run or people to participate is a great act of service.

For newcomers to the Society, simply attending and not making negative contributions is in of itself a positive – the Society thrives on newcomers coming and sharing what we have to offer, learning what we do and making new friends. That said, one of the best ways to engage people in the society is to give them small amounts of work – when you’re a guest at someone’s house you don’t get to do the dishes, but when you’re a family it’s expected.¬†The SCA is in its best moments one big family – and encouraging that mindset and making people feel welcome becomes very important – the newcomer you welcome today could help you run your event next year.

To the regular player and seasoned SCA veteran the concept of being a Net Positive should be a familiar one, even if not heard by these terms. We are all active participants in every event – there are no ungarbed spectators watching us like a Renaissance Faire or a Play – we are each and every one of us part of the event and it is essential we all play our part. Playing our part can come in many shapes and sizes and every act of service makes a noticeable difference. That said, you don’t have to be working for hours on end to make that difference – picking up a stray piece of rubbish on the way to your camp and placing it in the bin is one less piece someone else has to track down. Helping a friend pack their gear so they can leave the site by the event close may not seem huge, but it saves the Stewards having to deal with upset property owners. Likewise, washing dishes and cooking eggs and bacon for breakfast may be something everyone can do, but your contribution allows a feast cook sleep in after a 15 hour day.

These acts are noticed and appreciated.

Never tell yourself that you did “nothing” or “not much” because all it takes are those few small acts, those Net Positive contributions, to make the event run smoothly. Likewise, when those small acts of service, those Net Positive contributions don’t exist at an event it becomes all the more noticeable with the extra balls for people to juggle.

To all those who keep stewards and officers sane, help make events work, the people who keep the dream alive by being the Net Positive: Thank you.