The Parable of the Prodigal Meetup Organizer and the Clued-In Community Manager

This is a parable about a local organizer failing to recover from an instance of bad judgment, and an excellent Community Manager coming to his rescue at the request of a Meetup attendee. Let it be a lesson in how to start with a fail and end with a win.

Not long ago in a dimension directly adjacent to ours, there was a popular tool for molding fresh computers into the right shape for your needs. The Good Tool had enthusiastic users across many lands, and it was common to gather and trade tips for wielding it. These were jolly events, with food, ale, and video projectors. One day, into a gathering strode a rustic stranger from the West. She wore a large yellow rucksack and appreciated the tales of the locals.

Suddenly, a speaker uttered a trope so common it felt like reading from the Book of Ages. He claimed that the Good Tool was so easy that even a Secretary, or One Who Is Not Paid To Wield Tools But Rather Be the First Line Of Defense For Every Problem, Need, and Concern of the Tool Wielders And Also Answer The Phones For About Half The Pay, could understand it.

The stranger’s left eyebrow shot up.

“It’s true!” the speaker continued. “Even SHE could understand it!”

What. The. Actual. Hell. The rustic stranger gathered her yellow rucksack and left as quickly–and almost as politely–as she had come. The stranger issued forth exactly 1 (one) rage tweet and found solace in an enchanted cafe where a DJ played vintage Brazilian soul on vinyl, intuiting the needs of her very heart. She then returned to her glen to sleep on it.

The next morning, the stranger contacted the gathering’s organizers, one local lord and one Community Manager at the Good Tool’s headquarters. She sent a calm, polite message thanking them for their work but reminding them that disparaging comments are harmful to communities. She made two clear, easy, outcome-oriented requests:

  1. When the video is posted, please insert hover text when the comment appears reading something like “That was a silly thing to say. We apologize and we won’t do it again!”
  2. Make a plan to prevent future harms to the community. Talk to speakers, or better, adopt of code of conduct to automate the draining process of re-explaining community standards, an emotional labor she had performed so many times that it trickled like lead in her veins.

Well. The lord of the local gathering wrote back with plucky promptness, but betrayed his inexperience with newcomers, rustic or otherwise. The worst of the news came quickly. It was in his own presentation, the lord himself, that the blow had been dealt.

  • “I am sorry you were offended,” he said, although the stranger was not offended. She was bone tired of watching good communities self-destruct because they don’t have the discipline to adhere to their own values. The lord did not notice the film of quicksand oozing toward his feet.
  • “I would have left the room,” he said. Had he not noticed when she did just that, immediately and unambiguously? Had he not felt the cold wind she left in her wake? The quicksand was over his toes.
  • “No one else was offended,” he said, though he had not the power to read hearts of users. She bitterly recalled that all the revelers were lords with only one other lady in attendance, a Scribe who recorded the video. The quicksand lapped the top of his feet.
  • “Next time”, he said, “I will insult The Builders Of The Rooms Where The Tool Users Work,” merely pledging to shift the offense to a different noble profession. “Hope that won’t stir up similar reactions from male attendees. :)” Ah, a gambling type. Ankle-deep.
  • “Others have said the same!” he entreated. Perhaps. But if others hardcoded a password and stored it in a public repo, would you clone that travesty as your own? Past the pant hem.
  • “If you’ve been to talks before you may have noticed profanity. Surely that is also a problematic behavior, and yet we take solace in our shared vice. There is unity in problematic behaviors,” he deduced. “If we condone one vice, we condone all.” What could she do but facepalm? False equivalence? Are you kidding me with this? And indeed, not all users feel their profanity is equally condoned. Oh dear, up the shins.
  • “I do this for free!”, said he, forgetting the experience, connections, career visibility, and social capital he gained from attaching his name to that of the Good Tool, or even the food and booze budget that he was afforded.
  • Indeed, he enthused, “We have ale! and with that, he concluded that nothing should be taken so very seriously.
  • “Your points are not really an issue,” he concluded, “but I thank you for your vigilance. If I ever feel that my behavior has been in error, I shall be quick to correct it. This, I promise.”

What. The. Performance-Based. Hell. She had before her this scroll of facts:

  • The local lord’s work and recognition rests upon the Good Tool’s reputation.
  • Community standards exist to shield inexperienced lords from the risks of interpreting what is acceptable and what is not. It lifts the impossible burden of “pleasing everyone” in favor of “behaving how we agreed to behave”.
  • The local lord violated his own meetup’s code of conduct in the most public way possible: during a recorded talk.
  • Despite her exhaustion, the stranger made a friendly, clear, actionable request that he nurture his community instead of insulting it, while recovering from the gaffe.

And yet, the local lord refused to review and enforce his own gathering’s Code of Conduct. His justification?

  • The stranger was merely uptight
  • Her experience didn’t matter
  • He was “sorry” she was offended but not sorry that he’d undermined his community’s credibility and resilience
  • He deemed his personal preferences for conduct at an event more relevant than the standards set by the Good Tool whose name he used to advance his own career
  • The only new members who are welcome in his *technical* community are the ones who agree with his *personal* values.

The rustic stranger weighed her options. She could ignore it… But of course she could not. She could bring down the full force of the Feminist Cabal, but that is a powerful Magick. Why swat a fly with a nuke? Nay. She would appeal to the Community Manager who oversees the gatherings throughout the lands, and hope like hell that he was a freakin’ grown-up.

She wrote carefully but quickly. She expressed patience, but a desire for a quick resolution. She made clear the necessity for a response that was healthy for the community, and also that she would support such a response in any way possible. She made no attacks and only one further request. “Could you please have a word with the local organizer about community standards?”

Happily, when the hour of Waking and Starting Work arrived in the community manager’s local time zone, he was receptive, friendly, understanding, and willing to protect the hamlet’s users from the whims of local lords. Huzzah! They exchanged a few friendly emails while in the background she vented about Yet Another Fucking Instance Of This Shit with the Feminist Cabal Backchannel. The stranger hoped this would not end in the local lord’s dismissal because surely she would catch undeserved blame. Computer drama was the last damn thing she needed in this dynamic but lonely hamlet and she hoped fervently for a spontaneous breakthrough of common sense.

Never fear! The community manager, peering through the string curtain of a double-facepalm, clearly knew what he was doing and soon came a welcome missive: The local lord had agreed to modify the video, and had already posted the Code of Conduct on the group’s page! He pledged to hold true to the CoC, whether or not he fully understood its value. At least the stranger knew she could return to the gathering knowing that there was at least one other person willing to defend users’ right to professional development free from threats to their human dignity. And lo and behold, several weeks later when she happened by a certain message inbox, she found a tidy but sufficient apology from the local lord, which he had sent at the urging of the Community Manager. Classy all around!

The Stranger thanked the community manager and sang his praises to the Cabal, while reporting back at work that the Good Tool valued the integrity of its community, and therefore was more likely to survive among all the other Good Tools, and that made it all the more worthwhile to invest their limited learning and authoring time.

Finally, a happy ending.

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