Sunday, August 3, 2014

Applying Wheaton's Law to campaigning

So, how's this for a proposal: once a year every campaigning group or charity - big or small - parades this man's image around their office or meeting place like a secular saint.

Photo by Genevieve available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Yes, that Wil Wheaton. Of Star Trek: TNG, Big Bang Theory and latterly internet thought leadership fame.


To remind us of Wheaton's Law - that's why? 

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Wil originally applied the term to online gaming.

"Arcades were more than just magnificent geek Shangri-Las, filled with all sorts of video games and pinball machines. They were a vital part of my generation’s social development. If I beat another kid in a two player game and taunted him mercilessly, with explicit references to his mother's sex life and my role in it, the way some online gamers do today, he would have justifiably kicked the everliving shit out of me. 

So I learned – in arcades – the importance of good sportsmanship. Because arcades were real places, staffed by real people, we had to worry about much more than getting kicked off a server if we were complete idiots in a game. I guess this is a double-edged sword, and I’m feeling like a cranky old man by even mentioning it, but would you all do me a favor? When you’re playing online, have fun, and don’t be a dick, okay?"

Now, I' m not saying the world of campaigning has the kind of trash-talk and hate-speech problems that online gaming has. No, our sins are generally different - omission rather than commission

As activists sometimes we can be so committed, focused, passionate, so busy telling truth to power that we forget to be kind to ourselves and others. Get the task done above all else, right? 

Yet every time people fall out over ways of working, don't welcome someone properly at a meeting, don't listen to each other, or fail to establish relationships of trust, Wheaton's Law isn't being followed. We're too busy, too focused, perhaps, to be good sports.

And this isn't a hypothetical problem. In my line of work, I only generally get to see the cases where relations between activists have broken down, rather than those where people have just drifted away or never gotten properly involved. But there's enough of those to make me think that the tip of the iceberg is quite big enough already.

This isn't a blame game - I get that we're human, we're fallible and I don't exclude myself from this scrutiny. What I'm saying is not just that our relations with others are the social glue that underpins our campaigning, but that more importantly they have intrinsic worth and need to be worked at.

So to make sure our spaces are more welcoming, to make norms of friendliness, civility and mutual support are explicit - not implicit - we need to be reminded of this Hippocratic commandment on which all other ground-rules are based- don't be a dick.

How? Well, this helpful diagram is a good start, if somewhat recursive. But feel free to use the comments section to make your own suggestions or add useful links. 

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