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Protocols, simply put, are rules which tell us how to behave in particular circumstances. In diplomatic circles protocols determine how officials or representatives from one state or entity behave towards officials or representatives from another state or entity. Although it's not usually stated in the definition, these rules are intended to reflect how important these officials or representatives are supposed to be. For example, if you have the President Of Overunderland ('POO' for short) around to your palace for dinner and you serve takeaway pizza this is likely to offend because you clearly haven't put in much of an effort and that suggests you don't ascribe any value to their presidency.
There's an important distinction to recognise here and that is that the person is different to the office they hold. The actual person who is the POO may love pizza and be delighted to partake of a good four seasons, but when they're doing POO-related business activities then the office they hold is what everyone should be concerned with and everyone should act as if it has value - hence the protocols.
In many cases, protocols are designed to make absolutely sure that there is no doubt about the pecking order in a particular situation. Everyone's relative value is made glaringly obvious. This is why protocols contain rules about who speaks first, who sits first, who wears a hat and what sort, standard of dress, mode of speech, the giving of token gifts, the activities planned around an event, the food and drinks served and all stuff like that.
In short, protocols are about actively displaying a recognition of either someone's personal value or the value of the office they hold.
And now masters, dominants, slaves and submissives enter the picture...
Many of us are BDSM-monogamous. At any one time we would have only one single, important, one-on-one relationship with a partner. This is one where we recognise and engage this partner as a master, a slave, a dominant, a submissive or whatever. To us they are the full deal, the entire package, and we treat them that way.
It might well be that we meet other masters and slaves in our travels but often they're people we acknowledge more as fellow humans who share a common interest or passion. Although we might play or dally with these fellow travellers they don't get all of our masterly or slave attentions. We are to them, and they are to us, just ships which pass in the night and we pay attention to each other only fleetingly.
This means that we're not used to treating someone as just a slave or as just a master. Instead, we have a person who we might introduce to others as our master, our slave, our dominant or our submissive, but we tend to blur this office or role they have with the person themselves. It can be very difficult not to.
It'd be like a friend of the POO suddenly finding they have official business with the POO and struggling with protocol when, maybe even just the day before, the two of them were at a barbecue together sharing some prawns and a beer and having a laugh.
Although you might value your BDSM partner very highly as a person and comfortably treat them as a person, at times it's also appropriate to treat them in a way that is appropriate to the office and rank they hold. If they are your master then there have to be times when your behaviour, when the rules and protocol you follow, make evident that fact unequivocally. Likewise, when you have a slave or a submissive then there must be times when you treat them just like that. Your behaviour must reflect that they are your slave or submissive.
This is important because we BDSM folk are BDSM folk because vanilla relationships don't give us what we want, need or crave. If we allow the temptation to treat our partner as a person to win out too often then we start to find that either our own BDSM needs stop getting met or that we stop meeting the needs for which our BDSM partner became our partner.
A simple example of this can be when a top or dominant suddenly feels concern or compassion for a slave or submissive they are beating, supposedly mercilessly. This might be a very human reaction, but it's not what the slave needs.
Although we BDSM folk typically might talk about "high protocol" and "formal protocol", particularly when the topic of themed dinner parties come up, we also need to have our own protocols that make sure we don't drift too much vanilla-wards in our relationships. Recognising that someone holds the rank of master or slave in our lives means having protocols which guide our behaviour so that we show our respect for that rank. Importantly, this is a way of keeping the BDSM alive between scenes or other planned activities.
The rules in your own personal protocols don't need to be nailed down as firmly as "high protocol", but at least think about what you do that shows that you consider and respect your partner as your slave or master just as much as you respect them as a person.
And speaking of nailing, I just remembered that I left my partner in the dungeon. I'd better go and let her down.