There is a great deal of confusion and a number of misconceptions about the duties and responsibilities of associates. Although specific duties will differ for each individual peer, many of the expectations are the same. In the interest of clarifying some of the issues surrounding the associate-peer relationship, I have outlined my own expectations for associates. These are my personal opinions, but most of them are shared by other peers and by many associates themselves. Anyone considering accepting a belt from a peer should take into account the responsibilities inherent to the relationship.
Associates must be aware that their behavior is under observation, both by the peers and by the populace at large. Associates should strive to set an example of good behavior for others, and should avoid behavior that could be embarrassing to themselves, their peer, their group, or their Kingdom. Good behavior consists of politeness and chivalry, helpfulness to others, and friendliness, especially to new people.
Associates are also expected to maintain a standard of authenticity in their appearance and behavior. Less than adequate armor, garb and other equipment are not acceptable for a person aspiring to the Peerage. Less than adequate behavior can haunt you for years.
Associates are expected to live up to their commitments. Never make a promise out of politeness that you cannot keep and keep the promises that you make.
If you hold an office, you are expected to do your duty by that office in a responsible manner according to the guidelines set down by your superiors and the Board of Directors. An office is not an award-- give it up if you cannot do it justice.
An important part of dependability to your peer is confidentiality. Anything you are told in confidence is not to be repeated to anyone-- this includes spouses, other peers and other associates.
Your association with a peer is a relationship, not an award or honor. It does not increase your official status in the SCA, The belt you wear is a symbol of the responsibilities you accepted when you agreed to be an associate. If for some reason your peer leaves the SCA or moves too far away to maintain contact, then the relationship is at an end, and you are no longer an associate. This ending, though it may be sad, is not a reflection on the associate because nothing has been taken away.
If you are a "long-distance" associate, that is your peer and you live in different groups, then half of the responsibility for maintaining contact is yours. This may be by letter, by phone, by seeing each other at events or a combination of these. This is something you must work out with your peer, and then live up to your end.
One of the most important responsibilities of an associate is in the area of service. An associate should not have to be told to do things. The associate should anticipate the needs of his/her peer and act accordingly. Peers are frequently busy with meetings and conferences. They also have piles of regalia collected over the years. They cannot hunt you down to tell you to do something. Be aware of those times when your peer may need you most. Some of these are unpacking and reloading vehicles prior to and after events, helping with breakfasts and lunches, setting up feast gear, washing dishes and packing up feast gear, carrying things to and from the fighting field or feast hall, delivering messages, aiding in dressing, etc.
Your peer is not the only one who may need your services. Other peers and Royalty have the same needs, especially if they have traveled to an event without retainers or associates of their own. Be aware of this and help when it is obviously needed. They will surely remember you and your service. Anyone who is obviously in need of help deserves your attention as well.
You are expected to help in your local group by offering your services at events, attending local meetings and being a willing participant in the activities of your group when possible. Do be aware of overextending yourself. Balance your commitments and duties, and you will have a lot more fun.
Since I have spent such a long time describing the service that is expected of you. I believe I should explain why it is so Important. The first reason Is that it makes the show better. The more authentic an event is, the more we all enjoy it-- that's the show. By adding your service, you become part of a team that helps to make the show better for everyone.
Another reason for service is in the give and take aspect of any good relationship. Your peer gives you knowledge of their craft and an example to follow. Your service is what you give them in return.
Learning is an important reason for service. Your time of being an associate is your time to learn. Taking on the responsibilities of service will teach you the best and most efficient ways to get things done, and it will teach you to efficiently organize your time. It will also teach you consideration for the needs of other people and how to work with others as a group, especially if you are in a household with other associates. These are all qualities that are invaluable to a peer.
The last of my reasons for service is humility. One of the qualities that the SCA tries to embody along with chivalry and honor is humility. This does not mean self-abasement, but refers to respect for all people, be they Royalty, peer or peasant. A true appreciation of, and respect for, the service given you by others, is only gained by performing those services. One cannot be a good peer without that appreciation and respect.
Whatever Order you are associated to, you are expected to learn the craft of that Order. This is where most of the direct teaching by your peer will be done. You should not need to be reminded that Peerage is not gained by only adequate craftsmanship. Be it martial skills, artistry or statecraft, the associate must aspire to excellence in that field, and be aware that only excellence will result in elevation to the Peerage. In the striving for craftsmanship, there is no time table. Some gain it quickly, some do not. It should not discourage you if you take longer to learn than someone else. Those who learn their craft slowly are often fast learners in other areas. Be patient, do your best, and enjoy yourself.
In learning your craft, you will also have to learn how to teach it to others, so that one day you too can pass it on. Learning to teach is one of your most important lessons.
As a final word, I will give you my personal view on politics and the associate. The first thing to remember Is that in the SCA, unlike real medieval politics, you cannot really kill your enemies. If YOU make enemies (and you undoubtedly will no matter how wonderful you are), they will be around to plague you forever. Therefore strive not to make any more than necessary. Those you backstab today will be behind you tomorrow. Secondly, the real "power" in the SCA is the power of Influence. If you demonstrate that you are a reasonable person with good ideas, then people will listen to you and adopt your ideas. If you show yourself to be a leader, then people will follow you. If you show yourself to be a fool, then no matter what station you attain, people will Ignore you. Do not be discouraged by the Machiavellan politicians who seen to rise in influence quickly. Their fall will be just as swift when it comes. Lastly, it is impossible to be a-political. Your association is of itself a political statement. But, avoidance of obviously sticky political situations is advisable. SCA politics can be very interesting, very enlightening, and, yes, even enjoyable. All politics isn't bad, after all. But as in other areas, take the time to learn how it works and what it is all about.
Upon reflection, I see that this little treatise reads a bit like Polonius' advice to Laortes (it was good advice). I see also that I make being an associate sound like a lot of work-- which is alright, because it should be. If this scares you, good. If you don't want to work, you shouldn't be an associate. But being an associate is also a lot of fun. I was one myself. The relationship you have with your peer, and being part of a household, are very special, and a very enjoyable part of the SCA.