The Giving and Receiving of Awards
First published in the Dreiburgen News March 2005
When it comes to the issue of awards I am reminded of a remark I first heard at baronial fighting practice in Redlands made by then Count Adrian Buchanon, “This is not the boy scouts! Awards in the SCA are not merit badges!” You yourself have probably heard someone make a similar remark, but what does it mean?
A merit badge is a statement that a specific goal has been reached, and has a very specific set of documented standards. If someone wants to earn a merit badge they look up the list of requirements, do those tasks, provide proof that the tasks were done and presto, they automatically get the badge.
Awards in the SCA more resemble service medals, like the Bronze Star or the Medal of Honor. Last year I received a recommendation for The Towers of Dreiburgen for a candidate worthy of serious consideration. But I was taken aback when the person giving me this recommendation said “This person has not yet received their Tower.” Their Tower? Their? Possessive? Does this person believe that every member of the barony will eventually get a Tower?
Let me ask you some questions. Does every member of the U.S. military eventually get a Silver Star? Or a Legion of Merit? Does every citizen of the United States eventually get a Presidential Medal of Freedom? Or a National Security Medal? I believe the answer to each of these questions is no. These medals have phrases like “Exceptional Service”, “Meritorious Service”, “Distinguished Achievement” and “above and beyond” attached to them, as do most of our SCA awards.
If I were to try to sum up SCA awards in one word that word would be Selfless. Almost all of our awards have a service component, even the arts and fighting awards. The service could be as simple as providing a good example for the populace or as involved as taking on several students, but the motivation is the same - are you helping to make the club more enjoyable for others, not just yourself. So this adds a level of complication that merit badges do not have.
With all the many and varied ways that one can serve an all-purpose checklist really can’t be made. How do you gauge service? How much is enough? What level of award should they get? Does the candidate come early to events and help set up tables or did he or she spend the last year building the hall? These are questions that the people giving the awards must answer, and much is left to interpretation and personal views of the monarchs and/or barons and baronesses.
The process of evaluating service also puts a lot of pressure on the award givers as to where to set the bar. If the standards are set very high the award becomes rare and very valuable, however if they are set too high this can lead to a discouraged populace. If the standard is set too low then everyone qualifies and the award becomes worthless. (Look I found a Signum Reginae in my Cracker Jacks!) This is also why we have categories such as Arts/Sciences, Administration, Fighting, and several levels of awards, from the Award of Arms typically given for showing that you are a viable active member that plays well with others, to the Peers for which the standards are set fairly high. In addition there are many special awards such as the Legion of Courtesy and the Signum Reginae. In the case of Robynne and myself we did not want to risk devaluating Dreiburgen’s awards, so we made a decision not to give out any awards during our first year so that we could properly evaluate each candidate. It may be disheartening not to receive an award, but it is also very insulting to those who worked hard for their awards to watch someone less deserving receive recognition. I have experienced both.
Now let’s add in the fact that the SCA puts extreme emphasis on chivalry. The person may do the work worthy of the award but their conduct is that of a multi-tentacled green-eyed monster! Not very inspiring to others is it? Or the person may do the work but they always need to be asked or they complain a lot about it. I ask you, is that selfless? Take a look at the award structure with its levels of Armigerous, Grant, and Patent, and then take a look those who already have awards. Ideally you will find they have an affliction commonly referred to as Helium Hand causing the hand to rise at the slightest request for help, and the higher in rank the person is you will notice Helium Hand becomes more and more chronic.
I am often asked how does one get an award? Well, in a perfect world the king and queen / barons and baronesses would watch the populace and keep track of individuals who are deserving. Reality check - in Caid kings and queens reign for only six months (eight if you count time as price and princess). Barons and baronesses typically are invested for a period of five years plus most of them have day jobs. (Oh that’s right this is just recreation!) Add in that Caid is a kingdom with almost 1,200 newsletters mailed each month, which means the populace is several times that number, and there is no way that a monarch will know every little thing that every member does. On a baronial level it’s much the same. For example how am I to know that a certain individual is being extremely helpful in Twenty-Nine Palms, but since the person can’t make it to many baronial events I rarely have the opportunity observe him or her rendering service. See the problem?
So how do we make sure deserving people get recognized? That’s where letters of recommendation come in. Now refer back to what I said in the beginning of the article about “selflessness”. If someone was to write a letter on their own behalf does that appear selfless, or selfish? Also how does it look when someone says “I want that award!” or worse yet whines about the fact that they do not have that award. Not very selfless behavior is it? Let’s face it, hopefully most of us were conditioned by our parents that selfishness should not be rewarded, and this reaction may not even be a conscious decision but subconscious so even if an individual is very deserving the givers of that award can be mentally turned off.
Let me use myself as an example: if you look my name in the Order of Precedence you will find a fourteen year gap between my Award of Arms and my Harp Argent followed by a rapid fire of six awards, three of them in the same year. Why the fourteen year gap? It wasn’t for the lack of activity I can assure you. I attribute it to two things. First, most of the people who knew enough to recommend me were not letter writers (a problem that afflicts Dreiburgen from time to time), and second, as time went by and I watched people who did less than I receive awards all the way up to the peers I was unable to keep my mouth shut, thus not looking very selfless!
At this point I can hear some of you saying, “But I wrote a letter and nothing happened!” I can assure you that unless your letter was illegible either from fancy script or penmanship as bad as mine, your letter initiated some action. The monarch reading it may have decided your Dolphin recommendation was better suited for a Harp Argent. We ourselves have received letters recommending people for The Towers of Dreiburgen and The Illumined Towers, but the examples in the letters were more kingdom-oriented which matched our own observations, so we forwarded it to the King and Queen with our own letter to make sure that these people had the opportunity to receive Harp Argents and Dolphins.
So ask yourself a couple of questions - has the person you recommended received any awards since you wrote your letter even if it is not the one you recommended them for? Has the person up for the award made it to any events where said award can be given out? I will use myself again for the example. According to friends I was called up at the last court of Adrian Buchanon II during the winter of ‘83 to receive my Award of Arms; I was working that Saturday and unable to attend. It wasn’t until the winter of ‘84 at Dreiburgen’s Saint Geronimus tourney that Kipp Silverlock gave me my Award of Arms; two kings and two letter writing campaigns later.
At the very least your letter brings the person to the award givers attention, and the worse case scenario is that the candidate you recommended falls short of the standards for which the giver of the award is looking. That still does not mean your letter is wasted - that letter will probably be filed to reference in the future to see if the candidate qualifies at a later date. In the case of Deiburgen awards I can guarantee that. The giver of the award is also most likely seeking out opportunities to push the candidate in the right direction, and your letter provides an insight into areas of service in which the candidate is already involved and likely to invest more time and energy.
What can you do when you feel someone has been over-looked or your letter has been ignored? Look at your first letter (you did keep a copy didn’t you?). Was it business-like and easy to read? Remember kings are jocks, and everyone is juggling work, family, and club activities. Did you list several specific examples of why you believe this person should get this award? Again could the letter have stated service better suited for a different award, and did the person get that award? Answer these questions and still feel the person should get that award? Watch your candidate over the next few months until you can come up more examples and write another letter. The award givers are probably looking for just that little bit more regarding the candidate, so give it to them.
In conclusion, remember the point is to reward people who commit selfless actions that benefit the club, a club that is supposed to put chivalry above all else. No one likes to reward whiners, complainers, glory grabbers and grumps. The point of being a member of the SCA is to have fun. I have observed that when a member focuses on awards they quit having fun, thus missing the point and getting passed over for awards. When they focus on what they can do to make the SCA more fun the appropriate awards are far more likely to follow.
So the best advice that I can give you is HAVE FUN!
Yours in service,
Baron Malcolm Alberic