Two years ago, I decided to take my academic and personal interest in the paranormal to a different level. I joined a local group and began a process of inquiry that has taken me to several fascinating places, both literally and figuratively. Since then, I have left two groups, one of which I co-founded with three other people. I founded my soulbank.org site, floated around as an “independent investigator” and formalized the team the Paranormal Housewives, which had started as a project for a proposed television series. I have appeared on three shows and have one in the works for next year. It has been a wild ride, and I have learned more than I ever expected; but the lessons are not the ones I necessarily anticipated.
Even though for the most part I consider myself blessed to be part of this community, I have experienced rejection, anger, shock, ridicule, betrayal and true sadness in the course of my paranormal life. I have watched a certain drama play out in several groups, usually culminating in someone leaving a group or being actively excluded from it by the person in charge. I have seen fights break out on Facebook and witnessed intense conflict on investigations over methodology, interpretation of data, someone’s psychic impressions, or someone’s desire to break with group protocol. There have been hurt feelings over decisions concerning who to bring along (and who to exclude) from investigations. I have watched and experienced emotional damage from something as apparently simple as the definition of a team and that team’s rules. There are multiple opportunities for misunderstandings in our community, but I believe that there are tangible ways that we can overcome such issues through direct communication with all members of team, and clear definitions of our expectations and goals.
I jumped into investigative work and assumed leadership positions without having adequately formalized those expectations, which we all assume everyone else understands. So, with this in mind, I came up with the following recommendations and suggestions for all of us who work in this field and have felt frustrated by the trauma and drama surrounding us (and which we create without always knowing what we are doing):
- 1. Define what the term “team” means for you.
There are formal and informal teams. Some teams are part of the Meetup system, and operate fairly efficiently, usually requiring one meeting and one investigation per month as a requirement for membership. You can lose your membership for not following those guidelines, or for not showing up to an investigation for which you responded “yes” on the RSVP page. You can lose your membership for not paying your dues, for not paying your share for an investigation requiring an up-front fee or for refusing to assist in set-up or break-down of the required equipment.
There are informal teams that are little more than friends that hang out at cool places. Those teams are more like close, social units. There is no write-up on the investigation, no documentation or archiving of data collected, no posting of pictures, no formal rules on membership requirements, no meetings, few formal investigations requiring payment to a site or organization on a mass scale and nothing written or formalized regarding expectations of team members. There is no written or codified protocol for investigations, no mission statement, no updated website, no FB or other social networking site account, and so on. This is perfectly acceptable—but is this really a team? Remember that if you are not clear on the rules or have not communicated those rules effectively, you can’t accuse others of breaking them.
There are teams who fall somewhere in the middle—not simply a group of friends you have fun together, yet not quite as rigorous as some of the Meetup groups. Those groups have not necessarily formalized their mission, rules, regulations and investigative protocols, but they consist of people who have discussed these issues and are of like mind. These teams can run into trouble down the road when conflict develops—so I recommend that ALL teams who want the ability to control who investigates with them and how the data is collected, stored and used, should take the time to formulate their expectations and publicize them for all those who wish to become members.
Don’t assume that everyone sees the formation of a team the same way. Some very basic questions need to be addressed. Among them are:
- Who controls the website? What if someone doesn’t like a post or doesn’t agree that a certain EVP should be included? What is the policy on editing others’ posts?
- Who decides what “counts” as evidence? What process is in place for a team to decide what is worth publishing, and what isn’t? What do you do with those hours of audio and video, with the anomalous photos, with the weird ITC experiences, or any other device you use? Do you have a common storage place for all of that data? Do you require members to review their data? Can you make such a rule?
- Are guest investigators allowed? Do you need forms, waivers, etc.? Who is going to write them? Who controls their content?
- Do you investigate private homes? What experience do you require for that task? What is your standard procedure for initiating, carrying out and following up on that type of investigation?
- What is your policy when a member of your team doesn’t show up to investigations? What is your procedure for “firing” someone from your team? What are your minimum participation requirements for each member?
- How do you decide to add someone to the team? What if one person objects, but everyone else is in favor?
- Is your team led by one or two people who make most of the decisions, or do you try to run the team as a democracy by majority vote? Is there a hierarchy in your team by years of experience or specialty? Are team members divided up by area of expertise, or does everyone do everything? Do you have specific titles for your team members?
- What is the main GOAL or MISSION of your team? Is it to go out and have fun, or collect evidence, or both? Are you attempting to prove life after death, or do you simply prefer to hang out in cool, abandoned places? Do you consider your methodology to be scientific, or is that kind of rigor not that important to you? Are you mostly social, mainly interested in media exposure for the group, (and I am NOT saying that is a bad thing—you can decide that is your goal and work towards that) primarily looking for academic acceptance of your findings, seeking to inform/enlighten the general public, looking for publication possibilities, or are you mostly interested in technology? Which combination of the above best reflects the mission of your team? You have to know what you wish to DO with your group so that your assumptions are clear to new people who join you.
- 2. Reach an understanding of what constitutes evidence of the paranormal, and what you consider unacceptable.
In other words, what attitude does your team take with psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, past-life specialists, and members who use dowsing rods, crystals, Ouija boards, and other tools to contact the dead or see the past or future? Does it bother you if one member or guest “sees” a ghost and describes what he/she is saying, doing or thinking, or do you accept that as evidence? If a medium makes a pronouncement, do you take that as valuable information, or not? If your team decides to take a more “scientific” approach, it’s important to understand what that means. You are not working in a laboratory, nor are your experiments necessarily repeatable in the same conditions. Perhaps there is no point in pretending to follow the scientific method when your lab is a huge, abandoned mental hospital, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a commonly accepted protocol for your EVP sessions, for example. What ARE your requirements for EVP session? Do you follow the same pattern every time, or do you try new methods? How tolerant are you, as a team, for someone who “provokes” or follows an unorthodox approach to inciting the spirits to speak? What is your team’s attitude towards demonology as an area of study? Are you willing to include a demonologist on an investigation? How do all of you feel about the assumptions of the demonologist—that evil exists and can (and does) infect homes and buildings? Do you all believe that is possible? Do you want to involve yourself in that field of inquiry, or do you wish to avoid those considerations? What do you all personally believe about God, Satan, angels, demons, and other religiously-construed entities or deities?
- 3. How do you all plan to handle conflict?
In all teams there exists the possibility of power struggles, conflicts over protocol for collecting, interpreting and publicizing data/evidence, personality clashes, disagreements on website content, marketing of the team, deciding where to go and when and differing levels of commitment and interest. The more rules you make, the more you have to enforce those rules through punishment. The fewer rules you make, the less prepared you will be to handle situations that upset, annoy or offend you.
Make sure to hold a business meeting with all your members at least once per month. Have an agenda; make sure everyone contributes to it and has her say. Anticipate problems and craft solutions; don’t wait for conflict to arise before addressing an issue. Plan your investigations in advance and organize your calendar. Require a certain amount of commitment, but make sure you spell it out. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you expect.
Most of all, keep the lines of communication open among members. Don’t rely on Facebook or email or any other electronic form of communication to get your message across. If you can’t have a face-to-face conversation, then at least speak on the phone. So much damage is done on social networking sites and over email, often damage that can never be repaired. There is no substitute for dialogue, debate and discussion. This is not possible on a computer.
If you love investigating the paranormal, then do it in a way that ensures the continuity of your team. There is no limit to what we can accomplish as a community if we don’t waste our time on conflict and drama; there is so much to learn and discover. Life is brief, and soon enough we’ll have the answers we seek. In the meantime, the thrill of the journey, the passion for the mysterious, and the joys of the search should never be dampened by our frailties, insecurities and resentments. Open your hearts to possibility and prepare to be amazed. If we are too small, then our discoveries will never be grand.