Saturday, February 11, 2017

Community, Conferencing and a Call to Action

Over the last ten weeks I have had a series of conversations that I never expected to have. This does not mean I should not have had them, but some two months and more ago I did not see the topic as one that was observable around me, and was something I could do nothing about.

I was seriously wrong on both of those counts.

Boorish Behavior and Code of Conducts

At one time, I read the many calls for conferences, professional organizations and other groups that existed as a well-intended but ultimately futile effort to direct behavior. It seemed to me the hope was this would control or redirect boorish behavior - the frat-boy-esque shenanigans that I saw people engage in when I was working at large Universities. You could pick them out fairly easily by a couple of things - Money was never a serious problem (their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) and their utter rage at not getting their way on something that should have been trivial.

It is akin to some folks who lived across the street from me, briefly, when I asked them to turn down their music, just a tad - just enough so I could not hear it in my house over the television... with the doors and windows closed and the central air going... at midnight.

Utter rage. DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!?!? No, I don't. Frankly, I don't care. DO YOU KNOW WHO MY DAD IS?!?!?!? No. I don't. And, unless he is in the house with you right now, it is completely irrelevant. YOU'RE GOING TO WISH YOU HADN'T PICKED THIS FIGHT! Not picking a fight. I'm asking nicely. Really. This is me being polite. YOU'RE BEING AN ASSHOLE! YOU'RE NOT POLITE! YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE! That may be true, however, that is also irrelevant.

He was really mad at me. He was even more mad when my friends from the local police department knocked on his door.

Why was he mad? I'm not sure he started out really mad. I had the impression he as show-boating for his friends - showing off to show how he could "deal" with the locals. Then when I was not scared or intimidated, then he really got mad.

In this case there was a "code of conduct" to fall back on. It was the local ordinances. When I went, politely, and asked that the behavior change or stop, things got a bit silly. The next step was to call the keepers of the code of conduct, in this case, the local police department... non-emergency number. There had been no overt threat of violence and no suggestion there would be immediately. So, not an emergency.

It was just a guy being a jerk.

Sadly, this is the kind of thing where most "conflict resolution and incident deescalation" training and programs stop. (Some of my current drumming students are police officers. They complain about the same thing. Theory rarely survives on the street.)

When there IS a code of conduct one can point to, that makes the interaction less personal, and in many instances, less judgement based. Instead, it is a case of "Your behavior is in violation of the code of conduct on these points..."

That is fine. In fact, it is great - as long as the code of conduct (or local ordinances) are specific enough, and explicit enough, to leave little to no room for disagreement.

Do X and Y is the result.

Sadly, many of the published "Code of Conduct" documents and/or web pages I have read in the last two weeks are of the very hand-wavy, let's all just get along ilk.

That does not cut it.

(That is a warning I am about to go on a rant...)

Nah. I edited out most of the rant. I've been tinkering this post for a long time, mostly trying to avoid sounding like I'm yelling incoherently through my keyboard.

Instead I'm going to write about a really old-fashioned idea.

The sad fact is, there are people who act as if they are more important than anyone else. They act as if there is something special about them where the rules don't matter. I have seen this at the office (I bet others have as well). I have seen it occasionally at conferences.


Yeah. I know, right? Knights in armor. Damsels. Dragons.

Well, maybe not dragons.  Frankly, not that other stuff either. The real point to chivalry was, and continues to be this:

The strong protect the weak at all costs.

That's it. That is the gist.

What does that mean?

The powerful help the powerless. The stronger ones protect the weaker ones. Women and children first. Save the most vulnerable. Really. Yeah.

The core tenet to a society governed by what is called the "Rule of Law" is that the Law is King. The King is not dominant in society, the Law is.

Simply because a person or group of people are capable of doing a thing, they do not have the right to do so. Simply because a person or group of people CAN do something, as in they have the physical ability to do the thing, does not mean they have permission to do so.


It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way with a woman or a man. It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way with a person of color. It does not matter if someone is being "inappropriate" in any way to a person of a different religion or ethnicity of the majority of the people at the event. If something is wrong, DO something.

What can be done?

There's a thing called "situational awareness" - being aware of what is happening around you and understanding how information, events, your own and other people's actions will have an impact immediately and in the near future.

It might be simple.

If you happen to notice something, say something. It can be as simple as "Is everything alright here?" Or maybe, "Everyone OK?" - with a significant smile.

You don't need to be the "behavior police." But PLEASE, be aware of people around you. Most of us have been in a situation where we felt really... un-good. Remember that? That feeling of wanting to be anywhere but where you were and that sick twisty feeling in your stomach that things were likely to get really, really bad? THAT?

Keep an eye out for folks who might be in a similar situation, with that kind of "I want to be anywhere but here" look on their face, then offer a word and a smile.

Safety Pin

Remember the Safety Pin thing that was around the UK shortly after the Brexit vote? I don't know if that is a thing or not any more. I've seem a few in random places in the States, but I don't know how widespread it is. I also don't know if it is still a thing in the UK.

The idea behind it is simple - People were being jerks, asshats and worse to obvious immigrants or people who did not look like them or prayed to a deity they did not pray to. A fair number were justifiably frightened, if not terrified. People stepped up and offered themselves as helpers, as havens - that is what the safety pin was for, to identify those who would help.

What we can do

Be the Safety Pin Person.

Be the person willing to help.

Don't engage in violence even when provoked.

I've told people I am very good at being a Big-Scary-White-Guy. I am. I don't like doing it, but I've done it more than once. I will admit I am extremely good at frightening people who are trying to frighten or intimidate others.

Violence is a terrible option and tends to be self-defeating. I'm not advocating punching people in the nose. Violence does not help, self-preservation not withstanding.

Standing up and preventing someone from inflicting violence on someone else is a different story, in my mind. Protect those who are in trouble and need to be protected.

Help people have the fun and open, positive learning experience we expect conferences to be.

Be aware.

Be a helper.

Shelter others.