I play Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s something I can enjoy with my husband, son, and some friends; it’s fun, and it’s good practice for my improv and storytelling skills (which have gotten a bit rusty over the years.)
So anyway, the friend who usually acts as our Dungeon Master sent out what he called “flavor sheets” to force us to flesh out our characters’ backgrounds a bit more, so we’d have to think more about their motivations and how to really roleplay the characters.
This was the kind of activity I relish, so I dove right in, describing my character’s history, beliefs and inner workings in detail.
In writing all this down, I noticed something interesting:
[the character is motivated by] the desire to do good serendipitously, without any grander plan or goal. She mistrusts the motives of all, herself included, so she thinks being a bard is a good way to tip the scales towards good without accruing undue power (or responsibility). She’s allergic to responsibility, although she invariably becomes the Mother Hen in any fellowship she’s currently involved with.
…she wants to do good without advancing any other particular agenda…
None of us are empty inkwells–we all draw creative work from our own life experiences.
In re-reading this passage, it’s clear that this aspect of the character is something I drew from a younger iteration of myself. Even as a twentysomething, I almost always became a de facto “den mother” to other young people in my husband’s Air Force flight or squadron (our “fellowship” at the time). In the story of my life, the “reluctant shepherdess” motif is a repeated theme.
Another thing that jumped out at me, which I never thought about before, is that it’s difficult to be around someone who is truly agenda-less.
A large part of how we navigate relationships is essentially transactional.
Either we both want the same goal (in which case you’re my ally and our transactions are complementary) or we want different goals (in which case, you’re the enemy and our transactions amount to conflict).
Either way, we both know where we stand. It’s stable.
But what if you have no idea what I want or where my actions are leading? What if my agenda is impossible to figure out? How does that change how you relate to me?
First, you’ll probably assign me an assumed agenda. Because it’s simply too hard to not have some place in the relationship to plant a lever.
If you can’t get a clear fix on my agenda, you’ll assume I’m hiding it, and if I’m hiding it, it must be nefarious. Good people wear their agenda on their sleeves, right?
Maybe, maybe not. But in refusing to set clear agendas, I’m making it more difficult for other people to relate to me.
I tend to look askance at people who wear their agenda on their sleeve. People who are transparently self-promotional, for example. But in some ways, that’s the more compassionate approach.