A quick refresher: There has been recent talk in the WordPress community about the need for guidelines and “Safety Officers” at WordCamps, the community-driven conferences for WordPress folks.
It started with a post on WP Tavern that I didn’t really understand. I tend to think that “codes of conduct” are going to be ignored by those who would go against common decency in the first place and unsure how a “safety officer” would really change anything. I’ve only attended WordCamp Austin 2012 and 2013, so I have a very limited point-of-view, so been relatively quiet about this.
Then, a friend, whose opinion about this a few weeks ago was close enough to mine, went to a WordCamp and had multiple experiences that changed her mind. Go read her post. It’ll open in a new window. I’ll wait.
I don’t know which guys she’s talking about nor do I know their intention nor their emotional state. The second encounter—the weird conversation that ended with a solicitation—struck me.
I’ve been there. On the wrong end. Many, many years ago.
The details aren’t important and not the point. I wasn’t in the best place emotionally. I was immature. It was early in my college career and had been drinking more than I should. I made an impropriate offer in an impropriate way. I had become that guy.
But, good came from it.
I was called out. My friends didn’t excuse it. While I lost close friendships, the friends that supported me didn’t support my actions. It was a wake-up call. It was a slap in my face that I had larger issues going on that I needed to get a grip on, that I was dealing with deeper issues through social overdrinking and, in this case, let it manifest itself in a very unproductive way.
It sounds like this guy has a rep; I can’t account for that. I was “lucky” enough to be called out the first time I did it and lucky enough to take that to heart. I was lucky to be part of a community that didn’t condone or ignore the behavior.
In some circles, guys acting like stupid is, at worst, celebrated. In others, it is ignored and dismissed as guys being guys. This isn’t helpful to anyone. Maybe the guy involved is a horrible guy and truly knows what it is doing. Maybe the guy is struggling with something, and adding in a little alcohol, it comes out in an unhealthy way.
We need to hold people accountable. It doesn’t matter whether they’re some young college guy or the founder of the largest company, anyone can be emotionally immature in some way, and being called out in a healthy way could be the best thing to ever happen to them while being a silver lining to something that never should have happened in the first place. If they’re not in a place to take being called out productively, that’s up to them to figure out.
As for the rest of it, peer pressure to drink or dealing with compliments, I don’t know. I completely get Sarah’s take that complimenting something mid-conversation is a clear signal, that if nothing else, the person wasn’t listening to the rest of the conversation. Ignoring any sexual aspects to it, if I’m talking to a friend and halfway through he tells me he thinks my t-shirt is funny, I have the same takeaway—his attention was on my shirt, not on our conversation.
In the end, this isn’t a WordCamp issue. This is an issue that can happen anywhere anytime there are folks with emotional issues drinking. While making it clear beforehand that this behavior isn’t condoned is important, we should be sure not to condone it through any inaction on our part.
P.S. I should clarify that I don’t mean we should call out these guys publicly. Public shaming isn’t going to help. I mean, if you see this happen, or know these guys, don’t just sit by and ignore it. If you don’t know who did this, you don’t need to know (in almost all cases).