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How to organize a study group, book club, online group or event (stephaniehurlburt.com)
218 points by ingve 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

The idea that you should define a code of conduct first just sounds awful. The best small gatherings are organic and informal. This just (I'll use a word from somebody else in the thread) politicizes the whole thing. In other words, if I am looking to join a group of 3-4 people and they have a code of conduct already defined - I am just not going to come, simple as that.

In general the author seems to be into formalizing things. Organizing events is a wonderful skill, but if you look like you are overthinking you'd be a excluding a broad swath of people to whom formality is the opposite of friendly warm relationships they are looking for.

For example: Every Wednesday I attend a board game night at somebody's house. I know everybody there, but we are not necessarily all friends. Both sexes and a range of ages are represented. If one day the hosts came up with a formal set of rules I think Wednesday game night would be over.

Code of conducts are simply not for people who feel like you do. And that's fine.

For certain classes of people, attending a small, relatively intimate group with strangers represents a material risk that someone in the group will be creepy or abusive. This shit happens all the time.

A CoC is a low cost, low effort way to mitigate the probability of that occurring up front, and also serves as a social signal to potential attendees that the organizers of an event are are at least aware of these issues and will be sympathetic in the event of a problem.

EDIT: I should add, nobody is trying to tell you how to run your game night. If you're all friends and comfortable with eachother then obviously introducing a CoC would be stupid. Stephanie's post is about how to productively and safely get together a group of (former) strangers.

> if I am looking to join a group of 3-4 people and they have a code of conduct already defined - I am just not going to come, simple as that.

I don't see why this is bad - groups shouldn't necessarily reach out to as broad an audience as possible. Like a sales funnel, the advertising in the group works better when it serves to filter out people who are incompatible with the group.

Your mindset reminds me of the ask/guess culture post on metafilter, which is a framework where people typically adopt either an attitude of explicitly asking for social expectations vs intuiting them through social context. You seem to prefer the latter, where people are expected to understand the implicit boundaries of the group through personal observation. There's nothing wrong with that; it doesn't mean the other way is inherently wrong, though.

I think their expectation is that any small group of adults should be able to respectfully communicate with each other, especially a voluntary collaboration around shared interests.

Formalizing rules in that situation usually means the group has at least one major asshole or bureaucrat causing problems (often the same person).

You mean adults should act like adults?

That’s madness!

But yea, small groups shouldn’t be formalized. If people can’t get along, that’s a sign of poor social skills or someone is a total asshole in the group. Which, again, be adults and learn how to deal with people in a proper manner. A manner that doesn’t need the Twatter or the internet in general.

Or, perhaps the group aspires to grow larger.

> an attitude of explicitly asking for social expectations vs intuiting them through social context

Formalizing rules isn't an attitude of explicitly asking them, but an attitude of explicitly telling them.

When you ask for them, there's fluidity into them, it's a communication, they can change when you add someone. Once it's formal, they tends to be less fluid and more forced toward any new person.

Thats because the one unstated rule is clear: Don't lead the owners of the house to believe you should no longer be invited.

There, it doesn’t matter if its not a “violation”, you can get excluded if you’re just bad at making socially-appropriate eye-contact or if you’re a boring conversationalist or whatever. But some people (myself included) feel really uncomfortable with that model because they aren’t confident in their social skills.

She said under Code of Conduct, "This was something I didn't always have when first organizing groups years ago, and I learned over time why it's necessary." I was curious about that and hoped that she would elaborate.

Not the author, but...

Here is a link to one she uses for large groups:


If you look at the list of unacceptable behaviors, each one of those is pretty much guaranteed to happen given a sufficiently large group and enough time. The amount of time it takes for the code to be clearly violated is typically far less that you expect or want it to be.

The interesting thing is that many/most offenders don’t think they are breaking the code even if they had read it. That’s why the wording is important — it helps during the intervention stage.

The use of sexualized language or imagery and unwelcome sexual attention or advances

Trolling, insulting/derogatory comments, and personal or political attacks

Public or private harassment

Publishing others’ private information, such as a physical or electronic address, without explicit permission

Other conduct which could reasonably be considered inappropriate in a professional setting


Yes, at least one of those will eventually happen. And when it does, the person should be pointed to the rules and told that they should have known it was unacceptable. What happens from that point is the question.

IMO, if they can't accept those rules, I don't want them around. They're pretty basic, IMO.

If they accept them, but continually violate them, I also don't want them around.

Agreed. A number of defensive comments here seem to be emotional reactions to perceived attempts at being 'told what to do', when in fact, most codes of conduct are not much more than social contracts. Or at least, that is how they have worked in most groups I have been a member of.

Part of the problem is how one puts a CoC forth.

The CoC's come from a "don't do these things we disapprove of". Trolling, doxxinng, harassment, sexualization (that doesn't directly pertain to the discussion). This is pretty much a "don't be an ass to people".

The problem arises when a CoC is started or introduced. it's usually because of a single person being an ass, and 1 or more people taking the brunt. But when the organizers put this forth, they too can either do it without shame and blame, or with (and thus violating their 'dont be an ass' set of codes).

Example of a better way to introduce these: "Last year we had someone act terribly to member(s). We apologize for having to do this as almost all the people act with dignity and respect. But we are unfortunately put in the position of spelling out what acting decent entails, and what it does not."

The hard one there is the 'unwelcome sexual advances' - the mating signal is tough as hell, and is different per person. It's this awkward dance, to show interest but not act 'creepy'. I've even met some that expect others to know they aren't showing any signals - and thus every sexual advance is unwelcome even if they say nothing about it being unwelcome.

In this particular context (large, professional groups), I think the idea is that there should be no sexual advances or presumption of sexual advances at these professional events.

> I've even met some that expect others to know they aren't showing any signals - and thus every sexual advance is unwelcome even if they say nothing about it being unwelcome.

The baseline assumption is that no one is sending signals in a professional context (even if some do, even if some do with malicious intent). There are graceful ways to initiate engagement in a non-professional context that opens the doors for appropriate signal sending. Even this must be handled carefully, since one person may be thinking “romance”, while the other is thinking “professional socialization”. This is especially true if one person is in a position of power (e.g., a VC in a start up community).

This makes me want to have a recorder rolling all the time when I interact with people from that group, just in case.

As an anecdote:

We attended a renaissance/medieval dance event. This event would bring 150-200 people together. In years past, it was understood that you treated people with respect.

Turns out last year, a teacher was grabbing a transgender female dancer and forced them to the man's position for the dance, along with chastising them for dancing on the woman's side. The teacher was warned that this was completely unacceptable. (Be aware, that this is a private event, and she could be ejected for, you know, battery of forcefully moving student.)Ok. Fast forward to this year....

All the past teachers are invited to propose a class to teach. My wife usually teaches the beginner dances. During that, the event steward, then says to sign this paper that was a code of conduct in the form of a loyalty oath. She refused to sign it immediately and opened dialog as to why this is being put to teachers - it felt like it was a "you have been horrible in the past and this tries to fix it". It had the shame and insulting tone that we familiarly see with CoC's.

In the end, my wife chose not to sign, and chose not to teach the beginner's class. And when we showed up at the event, we saw some striking things. We had ~95 people attend the event, as opposed to 150-200. We had at 12 classes (normal is 4 tracks from 10-4, minus lunch, for 20 classes normally). Now, obviously correlation != causation... But the only factor that was significantly changed was demanding a CoC signed as a loyalty oath.

This is a tone argument, isn't it? Not the content of the code itself, but the manner in which it was put to you?


The event required all teachers to not only agree to the CoC, but to sign and return it.

There is a distinct difference between "Our policies are now this", and "You will sign and affirm that you will follow our policies."

One is a loyalty oath. I don't like loyalty oaths, and I certainly don't take them without significant consideration.

The code of conduct is not for you guys. It's for that one future bad apple who will bring down everything you've worked hard to build.

We're all adults here. Why do we need to put gloves on and treat everyone like they're high school students? If someone acts up, kick them out. That's simple, and it doesn't treat people like pre-offenders.

Why are there rules for meeting in public? This isn't dangerous machinery; we're not warning people against behavior that causes loss of life or limb. It feels incredibly unwelcoming.

> If someone acts up, kick them out

How does a group decide what “acting up” is? Who is actually making the decision to kick them out?

When you have a group this is either large or long-standing, these questions eventually come up. I’ve been in a 5-hour-long meeting that was the 2nd of 3 attempts to eject a mid-30s non-student from a University student computing club. I fail to see how this sort of stuff is easy.

If you don’t have a charter, then the leadership is a default dictatorship that can do what it wants.

If you do, then have a meeting amongst the leaders to see how to reconcile actions with the charter.

Most problems occur when the dictator just wants to step aside and let the general population decide an issue, but there’s no real mechanism for doing so.

> I’ve been in a 5-hour-long meeting that was the 2nd of 3 attempts to eject a mid-30s non-student from a University student computing club. I fail to see how this sort of stuff is easy.

Generally speaking, this is caused by too much policy, not too little policy -- and adding an official code of conduct (which a university likely already had!) isn't going to solve that.

This type of long argument happens in 10 person discords who have literally no policy. I don't think they're necessarily related.

> University student computing club

How many people? The first comment of that thread was talking about a 3-4 peoples groups. I personally agree that for large group you NEED formalities. It's not even a question of if it's better with or without, the group will just not survive without formalities.

What acting up? Did you felt right about how someone acted? That's acting up. Is it enough to kick someone out? That would be mostly about if he keep doing it or not... and how everyone else feel about it. Maybe it just means that this group isn't meant for you either.

> If someone acts up, kick them out.

That means implicit unstated arbitrary code of conduct where participants are expected to guess it.

If you are in position to enforce arbitrary rules on whim, that is fine. If however there is expectation on fairness and kicked person has option to complain about you, the it is better written.

It depends on the size and formality of the event, but part of being an adult is understanding that there's an implicit code of conduct (our social rules), and observing those by being on this planet for more than 20 years or so.

Having to explain to be respectful to an adult is just pandering unless they've already shown themselves to be a disrespectful person.

> participants are expected to guess it

Guess? We should know the difference between right and wrong, welcome and unwelcome. We don't have to be told not to murder or steal. If there is a line that gets crossed, it can be dealt with, or even turned into a teaching moment so long as it wasn't too egregious.

> kicked person has option to complain about you

I'm not going to get upset if someone complains about me kicking them out. No big deal.

Maybe that's it? The actual point where I disagree. I expect people to be adults _and_ to have thick skin. This is why code of conducts feel like coddling to me.

Maybe I'm in a place of privilege and there are people that get repeatedly harassed. I get that, and I sympathize. But damn does it feel like being called a "bad boy" when there's a set of additional rules that feel like platitudes. It's kind of like the feeling you get when being followed by a cop even though you've made no traffic violations.

To quote you: "If there is a line that gets crossed, it can be dealt with, or even turned into a teaching moment so long as it wasn't too egregious." A code of conduct in many ways is a commitment by the organizer that that's what will happen, even if it'd be more convenient to ignore a problem and avoid confrontation, or if they'd be tempted to treat some people differently. A commitment they can be held to by attendees.

In the same way, for the organizer, it provides something to follow when making a decision, and to point to to justify their decisions when challenged. Something that amounts to "I'll kick people out if they break those rules" is easier to accept than "I'll kick people out when I want to" (even if the latter is often the organizers right from a legal POV too).

If everyone "know[s] the difference between right and wrong, welcome and unwelcome", a Code of Conduct is redundant (which also means one existing shouldn't cause no problems, and when it does the ideas about whats right or wrong typically weren't as common as expected). But experience shows that this doesn't reliably survives contact with reality, and it's easy for issues to never get brought up or silenced because "surely we all are adults and nobody would really do something bad", where again the commitment part of a code of conduct comes into play.

It's always just a tool: It doesn't magically make problems go away, and I'm certainly not saying all code of conducts are perfect, fit the same for all groups or are always applied well.

Re "set of additional rules that are platitudes": So you don't have a problem with an organizer saying "If you misbehave I'll kick you out", but making it more explicit what counts as "misbehave" is a problem?

> I'm not going to get upset if someone complains about me kicking them out. No big deal.

I'm glad you're a reasonable person, but I've been part of a group where people did get upset about being kicked out. They tried to argue about it. They tried to rules-lawyer their way out, they tried all sorts of emotional appeals.

> Maybe I'm in a place of privilege

It kind of sounds like it.

>They tried to rules-lawyer their way out

Well if there's no rules, there's nothing to rules lawyer about is there? You just kick rude buddy out and they can sit and complain outside.

I mean if I kicked someone out of my place and they started arguing with me, I would physically remove them my house. There would be no arguing. Someone disrespects my house, my friends and me by not leaving when asked, they are no longer welcome there. There's no appealing to emotion, no anything. They leave.

> Well if there's no rules, there's nothing to rules lawyer about is there? You just kick rude buddy out and they can sit and complain outside.

I don't think I was clear; their chief complaint that technically they didn't break any rules, and that there was no warning, and that they didn't know, etc.

If you have a concrete rule to point to - especially one that's loose enough to cover most issues - then you can kick them out much more easily, especially because your co-organizers won't be stuck waffling.

Sure; but what if it's not your house? Then you've got duelling claims over who should be in, resolved by appeals to emotion.

> kicked person has option to complain about you

This is important to you? That will happens code of conduct or not... better be prepared to live with that.

> the it is better written.

What if it's not written? Your solution is to only allow what's written? That's going to be quite a conundrum and awful to live with. There's reasons why the laws are that large and the court system is required.

A small gathering isn't meant to become a simulation of a government you know?

If anything bad happens, discuss it together, decide the course of action based on that and act on it. It could be to kick out someone, or it could means for you to go because that's not the kind of interaction that you want to live in a small gathering.

> We're all adults here.

With all due respect, that sounds like something someone would say if they haven't spent a lot of time running events where all sorts of strangers show up.

Think of the Birthday Paradox. How many people does it take before there's a 50% chance of someone sharing a birthday? It's surprisingly low. How many people does it take before there's a 50% chance of someone being an unreasonable asshole? Significantly less.

The birthday paradox would only apply here if assholishness is a property of pairs of people (like sharing a birthday) instead of individual people (like having a particular birthday). While that may be true, it doesn’t match my experience and certainly isn’t obvious.

One of the core observations of modern understanding of abusive behaviour is that it is a pairwise property; the world is full of domestic abusers who are charming to everyone except their spouse when nobody's looking.

Similarly with "missing stairs" and "whisper networks"; there have been plenty of workspaces where Alice knows that no female staff should be left alone with Bob, and manages to communicate this obliquely to Carol shortly after she joins. This usually co-exists with none of the male staff of the office admitting to being aware of what's going on.

No, when anyone says “we are all adults here”, that’s a person who often socializes with people on a regular basis and doesn’t binge watch videos and shows all day, everyday.

That’s why a lot of people are getting fired up about in here. People who don’t actually put themselves out there and communicate with others face to face, are saying rules are required to interact with others.

Thus, the real asshole is the rules lawyer who barges around saying everyone must do certain things to cater to their sensitivities.

Hi! I'm a person who puts myself out there and interacts face-to-face with people. While I do spend probably 2-4 hours a week watching videos about history and general nerdery, I'm active in my local folk dance and I help organize in-person events for a social circle of about 35ish people. This past week, my social calendar included:

- Someone's birthday party, followed by Karaoke.

- Puzzle hunt at a pub.

- Dinner, then watching a video-game themed dance performance

- Dinner, then folk dance, then small house party

I'm one of the people who thinks that its worth putting some amount of thought into how to handle people being jerks. I also think a Code of Conduct is one tool that is reasonable to use in community building/management.

Bizarre sets of accusations. The author of the original post is the co-founder and sales lead of her tech startup. This is a job that consists of putting themselves and the company "out there" and persuading people to spend a lot of their company's money on their technology.

There's more than enough actual event organizers putting Codes of Conduct in place and arguing for their value (even if they put extra commitments on them), people you can not reasonably claim are "People who don’t actually put themselves out there and communicate with others face to face" - to the contrary, they are the ones that get to do the painful bit communication if things go wrong, and get told by random commenters to just appeal to people to be "adults" and that will fix things magically. Similarly with speakers at events.

Or for the future bad apples that come in and try to exploit the CoC to bully someone out who was there from the start. People interested in introducing CoC in small friction less groups are rather often extremely toxic.

The fear is that it will enable a different kind of bad apples, all while not necessary being effective at preventing the first kind.

How will code of conducts stop that from happening?

By making it much more clear:

1) To attendees that, “yes, that thing which you thought was inappropriate was in fact wrong. You should feel empowered to speak up about it.”

2) To organizers that “yes, we’ve already agreed this thing someone has done is wrong. Its worth doing something about it, even if that requires having an uncomfortable conversation which we’d rather just kick down the road.”

3) To other attendees that “yes, there was a thought process behind this and your place in this group of friends isn’t balanced on a knife’s-edge.”

4) To abusive people, “You probably want to move along” ...ideally. Alternatively, it tells them, “here is a mechanism you can exploit to separate your victim from their support network.”

Note that you cannot just slap up a code of conduct and assume that will solve/prevent all problems. That works as well as just adding “agile” to some PM’s job title. You have to have people who care about doing a good job at community management and are willing to endure the discomfort of difficult conversations.

> By making it much more clear

How? Unless you want to write out long, complicated laws, you'll rely on words like "kind", "friendly", "aggressive" etc that are anything but clear and rely on interpretation.

You'll still need the group to agree on what those terms mean and kick out people that don't agree with that interpretation (and the individual circumstances) - which you could've had without a formal set of rules in the first place.

The moderate reasonable interpretation of what you are saying is a solid criticism: misinterpretation is still possible and we don’t have the time to all go to law school and explain what “mens rea” means to each other.

But some level of explicit communication still scales better than silence and implicit expectations.

> But some level of explicit communication still scales better than silence and implicit expectations.

For (very) large groups, certainly, because the amount of effort you put in doesn't really increase with the group size. For small groups I just don't see it.

If there is no troublemaker, you don't need a codified system. And if there is a troublemaker, that codified system will be used against you and you will either be forced to disregard your set of rules (why have it in the first place if it's not binding?) to deal with the situation, or watch your group fall apart.

That's one possible aim but the main reason is it's for people who wouldn't feel comfortable joining without one. It's insurance for new joiners not protection for existing members

Do you immediately walk out of bars that say "no shirt no service", even if you're wearing a shirt?

I would probably if that was a big list of things not to do.

Defining a few not okays things that may happens, that's fine. The issue is when it become TOO formal. I don't expect the same from a small gathering at work, or from a night with friends. There's certainly things that shouldn't happen in both, but they aren't the same at all.

She said code of conduct, but her example is an actual guideline that is way more specific on what will be done.


So I send you back your example, would you go on a bar that have that huge list that you need to agree with when you enter?

- You can come in, take a few drinks in exchange of money - You can make small talks, but only related to the drink you just took - Try to use the I when talking about drinks - Ask people first if they want suggestion toward another drinks - Don't share what you talked about with anyone else etc...

Someone else here gave another example which I would agree without any issue, about sexualized language, attention or advances (which funnily enough, I would agree with theses terms even in a bar setting, would you?), trolling, insulting/derogatory comments, and personal or political attacks, public or private harassment.

I feel the same. Rules definitely have their place, but starting something with rules is just weird. As the group grows, slowly rules can be added, only as needed - that would make more sense.

It's amazing how through all of human history (until ~2010 or so) we managed to do without written "codes of conduct" and things worked just fine without them.

interesting. Organizing isn't free and even if it's just a casual group without an explicit code of conduct, people don't just show up for no reason. They look for other people and see who else is showing up. There is an organizer. Whether it's the venue owner, who will tell you they're not going to do a meeting because of a holiday, or a core group of regular attendees who rely on each other to show up and get a signal of whether or not there will be enough of a quorum to launch a game/discussion. Sometimes people on the outside will show up not knowing, and find out that the meeting has been canceled. It's only when the rules become too onerous and exclusionary that people decide not to join in. In a board game group, the rules are kind of reinforced through people who don't show up on time not being able to be in a game and wait. In a study group or book club it can get annoying as hell catching up the person up to speed so they don't recover something that they missed out on because of lateness.

Some of my favorite meetups were the 2600 meetups from the 1990s (in NYC).

Just a bunch of people meeting up in a pre-defined public space with no real agenda but at the same time everyone there had similar interests. Basically it was a bunch of casual conversations with people who like the same things as you do. No pressure or grand event. Just a bunch of people sitting at separate tables or standing around in small groups for as little or long as you want.

Nowadays most tech meetups kind of suck. I used to goto more meetups but it's always the same thing. A few minutes to mingle with people before it "starts" and then you sit in silence while you listen to 1-2 hours of presentations that feel like advertisements. Then things end with "mingle time" but by this point everyone is drained by the presentations and half of the people leave because it's already 8-9pm and some people have ~2 hour commutes to get home.

For those who aren't familiar with her, Stephanie has been an extremely helpful and resourceful voice on Twitter (and clearly, her blog) on a whole range of topics:

- Founding and running a small company

- Working in/with/around the video game industry (good and bad)

- Health, work life balance

- Identifying and reducing bias in all sorts of situations (work, social, online, etc)

- Tasty, healthy food to cook with vegetables

She's well worth a follow: https://twitter.com/sehurlburt

> She's well worth a follow Seconded.

> didn't speak from their own experience using "I" statements

This feels like it is trying to teach a social skill through the medium of a code of conduct. Is this successful at teaching?

I think one thing thats challenging is that social groups genuinely do run more smoothly when people have more social skills. But spreading this knowledge is hard because:

1) Lots of people feel condescended-to when you offer them the advice of how to learn social skills. (See: Stephanie Hurlburt’s writing about unsolicited advice, Lots of people on this thread expressing that they feel like this post fails to treat them as adults)

2) Lots of people (like me) find Its hard to realize when there even is a particular skill to learn and from there, hard to find guidance on how to learn it.

People are reluctant to offer advice to group #2 because it upsets group #1. People in group #1 get condescended-to all the time by people trying to help out group #2.

I was totally behind the premise until she referenced her Code of Conduct[0] and I saw this tucked-away in it: "I do reserve the right to boot anyone out for any reason"

That, to me, comes across as conducive to an authoritarian atmosphere and not a community atmosphere.

You can dress it however you wish but having a Code of Conduct and then saying it matters not, when you arbitrarily feel like it, is the antithesis of the entire premise of fostering a community atmosphere, in the first place, yeah?

Why not just be honest and have that single statement and be done with it? Afer all, you are the be-all and end-all of the group, it's code, the decision-making, and subsequent results, yeah?

[0] - https://pastebin.com/6kA93uPV

I see that single sentence as the default starting point for any small group. The preceding sentences serve as clarification and additional guidance/assurance of intent, but if in a small group (book club) setting you wish to explicitly disclaim the ability to boot anyone for any reason, you end up having to create a lengthy and still-gameable set of rules, itself a book-authoring exercise.

>I see that single sentence as the default starting point for any small group.

This is a valid point of view, in the sense of coming from the perspective of group ownership. "I own this thing and I decide what happens in it or will protect it or what happens to it or what direction it goes in or etc. ad infinum."

I think this is an entirely different notion than a community perspective, in which no one seeks flat-out ownership or determination (by and solely derived from themselves).

Whilst this latter posit might be hard (if not nigh impossible) to implement in small groups, I think it comes down to the approach: The dynamic changes determined upon if its of the individual's interest or if its of the group's interest.

This is because its recognised that the individual ego doesn't foster community growth - however subdued it might come across - because (in an actual community, such as here in HN) the group dynamic isn't interested in things like individual ownership and explicit individual control of anything.

For example, we do not come here (to HN) because one voice posts or one narrative predominantly prevails over another. In fact, some of us come here in lieu of other sites (such as /r/) precisely because we recognise that only being exposed to a single narrative that aligns with 'x' isn't conducive to any growth, in either the community or the individual.

In other words, I don't have to agree with you for us to exchange ideas and/or learn and grown from our differing perspectives. Couple that with the fact that your or my viewpoint isn't going to get the entire discussion thrown under the bus (as long as we're being civil about it).

>The preceding sentences serve as clarification and additional guidance/assurance of intent, but if in a small group (book club) setting you wish to explicitly disclaim the ability to boot anyone for any reason, you end up having to create a lengthy and still-gameable set of rules, itself a book-authoring exercise.

True but you're muddying the waters. The single sentence should be first and the rest should follow subsequently because that single sentence explicit infers that it can happen, even if the person in question is the embodiment of the Code of Conduct. All that has to happen is that the organiser has a valid reason (to themselves) to justify booting the person.

The community, as it were, can do nothing about it and it's tucked away in the Code of Conduct that they've all agreed to, yeah?

So, whilst it may come across as a surprise and/or the community might feel the exact opposite about what's happened, you start delineating the whole precept between individual wants versus group wants.

This is when you get off-shoot splinter groups because they don't agree with what 'x' group leader[s] did. It's a story as old as time and we keep repeating it because we fall into the same traps over and over and over and over and over again.

Put succinctly: If the individual supercedes the group (no matter who it is but, in this case, it's almost always the organiser), then what you have isn't a community in the true sense of the word. You've formed a group around an authoritative figure under the auspices of it being a community.

Take a look at any communities around the internet and you'll see the individual dies-away (in the authoritative sense) when true community is the first and foremost priority. Ubuntu's Code of Conduct[0] would be a good example of this. Their Appeals Process for IRC[1] also demonstrates that they're concerned with the community perspective over the individual. "Did Skyler eject you because you made in typo in English? Well, that's not quite fair..."

If you want to foster community (proper-like), you should start fostering the community for the sake of the community (and not the sake of the individual) from the onset.

Suffice to say, we will probably not agree on this and I'm sorry for typing a novel in response. I'll shut up, now. :)

[0] - https://www.ubuntu.com/community/code-of-conduct

[1] - https://wiki.ubuntu.com/IRC/AppealProcess

I suspect we largely agree (and no need to apologize for a lengthy on-topic reply, of course) in the sense that I can't find any significant point of disagreement above. In fact, the idea that if I kick Bob out of "sokoloff's book club" and the rest of the group prefers Bob to be there, then a parallel book club naturally arises that includes Bob, the other members, and "not sokoloff". That's what the community can and should do in response to an other-than-benevolent dictator.

These days, I keep it simple with my small and short-lived groups and opt for a "benevolent dictator" model-- all violations reported to me, I can kick anyone out for any reason.

Whenever possible, inconvenience the people with money and make it convenient for those in poorer areas.

Or, How to organize an event in which you are surrounded only by likeminded people and immediately kick out anyone that thinks differently.

I hope within my lifetime we return to a interpersonal communication model of: “I’m a person, you’re a person’ sometimes we disagree or misunderstand each other, but we both will try our best.” The current trend of over legislating (by actual law or lists of rules) is becoming quite childish, in the sense that we are no longer treating people like adults.

Very helpful article, I especially like the idea of creating a code of conduct as a way to set the setting.

I'll reply to myself because of the general sentiment of the comments seem to be about the safe space aspect. I read this article in a completely different way, I read it as a way to set a tone for the rest of the events within a new group. The examples she uses suite her groups and how she wants her groups to interact. If on the other hand one wants to actively dis-encourage a safe place(it's just an example, I am not advocating this), one could explicitly setup their code of conduct to do so. If nobody shows up, okay so be it, but if people do show up, congratulations you have now built a culture around those specific ideals. Sure maybe this is a little much for a group of 3-5 people, but if one wants a large group with a specific style of culture to form, setting some simple guardrails does seem advantageous. Perhaps 'code of conduct' is to authoritarian but setting group ideals from the get go does not strike me as necessarily bad.


>infantilizing to women

I respectfully disagree. Even people with above-average ability to stand up for themselves occasionally find themselves bullied, and having a discreet way to get help escaping a bad situation can be a very handy thing.


I think you don't like the author's style, which is fine, but you're arguing that her approach is wrong, or bad, and I disagree with that. The codewords thing may sound silly, and it's certainly not a complete solution, but why not let that be a step towards helping all of us be safe?

If you have more suggestions for how we can bring about a culture where we can all be effective at resisting sociopaths and bullies, let's hear 'em! In the mean time, though, if the worst thing about a partial solution is that it sounds silly, then maybe don't tear it down too much.

As for having a staff to report to -- I think this piece was meant for groups that don't enjoy that level of resources. For larger events with the budget for it, I absolutely agree that you usually need well-trained staff to keep large public gatherings friendly and safe.


I think we mostly agree. 100% with you that we've got to help everyone learn to say "no" firmly.

I disagree with your assertion that employing other tactics diffuses energy that could have been used in the pursuit of more complete solutions, and I really don't think the codewords thing is that silly. It was used in a bar, and the bartender was in on it. This is kind of an elegant solution to make help available if someone wants it. It's not like the bartender would then call in a swat team to arrest the offending party, he/she would (I assume) find a tactful way to help the two parties end their conversation or whatever is appropriate to resolve the situation. In this case the solution was only offered for women, but it wouldn't be much additional effort to have an equivalent offer in the men's room.

>it doesn’t provide a real solution, but diffuses energy meant to solve the problem; it portrays the issue of sexual assault as a gendered issue, and fails to help male victims; it creates drama and victimhood mentality for no reason, by portraying sexual assault as James Bond style crime, when really, you generally just need to firmly say no.

I just disagree with you on all but "and fails to help male victims". Even the item "portrays sexual assault as a gendered issue" - This particular suggestion only helps women, but it is just one suggestion, and it's not implied that it is a complete description or solution to the issue.

To go back to the beginning - you accused the author of unserious social LARPing, and in doing that I think you're angrily and seriously disagreeing with her. If I'm right in assuming the author offended you in a pretty serious way, can you help me understand the cause of the offense?

It's really interesting how political it is. Not just the code of conduct, but the instructions to deliberately inconvenience rich people and to make sure the group is diverse. They're not things I disagree with, just things that would never have occurred to me.

Sometimes I forget that HN and America in general are both foreign cultures.

I think a more charitable reading of that part is like: "If you have to inconvenience someone, inconvenience those who are better equipped to deal with the inconvenience."

It probably goes without saying that you want to avoid inconveniencing people if possible, and that all members of a group should chip in and contribute in some way.

I dunno, the competing theory that there are lots of shitbags out there is pretty compelling.

There are a lot of “shitbags” out there. Narcissists and sociopaths will end up joining your group. The truth is a code of conduct won’t stop them, because they will subvert the rules and manipulate people into defending them. Eventually they become the leaders of the group, forcing you to leave because your favorite hobby was taken over by normies. Code of conduct won’t change human power dynamics.

So lets just not bother with anything and give it all up to assholes cause they are just going to win anyway? A code of conduct made not be able to curb the absolute worst humans - who I think are pretty rare, but it can definitely get those that go slightly out of line and are open to reason and empathy.

> So lets just not bother with anything and give it all up to assholes cause they are just going to win anyway?

No. Kick them out when you find them joining your group. A written set of rules just makes that more complicated because you have to follow those rules. If you're going to write it down, you have to follow it to the letter otherwise why would you write it down? And they _will_ find ways to abuse that.

Reporting sexual harassement is risky. You are likely to be perceived as the one causing the drama and be retaliated against. Depending who abuser is, it might not be option - because of backslash to you later.

The discreet report is for those situations.

Can you walk me through a situation where you could use a codeword to the bartender, one that is known by every female in the establishment, but not, eg, simply talk to a staff member, email them, or call them — and how doing so is more discreet?

I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying I literally can’t imagine that being useful for stopping someone I’m afraid of committing crimes against me, because shared codewords don’t actually solve a problem I’ve had in such situations.

No one is saying there shouldn’t be a discreet way to report abuse — I’m saying having to publicly say it to the bartender using language that every female in the establishment knows to be a sexual abuse report isn’t a serious suggestion for discreet reporting.

I’d like to hear how I’m wrong, though.

I don't know how precisely it translates into this situation, but there are several other distress codes where the coded nature only has to pass the harasser not "everyone". In aviation, the hijack code. In POW cases, blinking Morse code. In mall or convention security, calling the cops and asking for "Nora" ("Need Officer Right Away"). In law enforcement, 10-codes.

> I’m just saying I literally can’t imagine that being useful for stopping someone I’m afraid of committing crimes against me

Imagine that you're a typical stature (or even smaller) woman who is being harassed at a bar by a typical (or even larger) man. Imagine that the security staff has been selected and trained for their ability to provide security in a bar. You can't imagine how being able to communicate your need for security or assistance discreetly and unambiguously to them could possibly be helpful?

I don't think it's that a woman intending to get help with a harasser cares that "every female" knows the code phrase, just that the bartender and security staff do, and that it's going to be able to be unambiguously communicated to the staff before the harasser can intercept it. It's not a matter of shame where secrecy from all is important.

You mention scenes. Perhaps that is the key. I went through life without ever having to be in groups of people where any of this is warranted. Perhaps if you are involved in scenes with a high percentage of people with extreme social inaptitude - there is no way around it?

I think I came across as more disparaging to codes of conduct and those kinds of things than I meant to — they certainly have a place.

One example where you’d want one, where everyone has high social skills, is during a negotiating summit: you want to clearly define the boundaries of when and where are appropriate to negotiate, not because people would be offended, but because people have different (valid) expectations and it helps to established a shared set of norms upfront, to ease the contentiousness later.

If I tried to do the same for my friends negotiating where to eat tonight, they’d all pretty quickly agree the answer was somewhere I wasn’t.

I think it has more to do with the scale and conflict inherent in the gathering, rather than social aptitude, per se. The smaller and more aligned the group, the less useful formal process is.

You probably oppose codes of conduct in general, because you do not think your conduct should be held to a standard, personally.

I oppose it for small events. You don't have a code of conduct for a party or a gathering of friends. It's just assumed that if you're not a positive influence in the group you're probably not getting invited to the next gathering.

To me, it just feels too impersonal. Everyone is different, and most people like to be treated differently in some ways. People communicate this through facial expressions and body language.

It just feels more organic without too many formal rules.

> To me, it just feels too impersonal.

This is a relatable criticism. I think you're right that we lose some sense of the carefree, unfettered relating when we pause to articulate our codes of conduct. I, too, yearn for such liberated communities, and cherish them when available.

However, I don't think we can, as a society, afford to make assumptions. What's not explicit often exists, as I've tried to illustrate in sibling comments, implicitly and politics—ie the distribution of power amongst individuals—always exist. They're better when they're explicit.

Even between only two people! Every relationship should stand on the basis of explicit boundaries and expectations. It's often said that asking and checking such boundaries "kills the mood," and I think you're making a similar argument. The rebuttal is that relationships are much safer, and therefore deeper and valuable, when boundaries are explicit. They're worth it, every time, from 2 individuals to 7 billion.

Explicating boundaries might even be a fundamental necessity of relating, in an informative, topological sense.

I think codes of conduct become relevant somewhere between 100 and 1,000 people, organizationally.

Around the point you’re transitioning to more political structuring because simpler mechanisms break down.

The unexamined political structure still exists.

As it is said, "In the days when Sussman was a novice..."


What conditions define the eventual 100-person code of conduct? Implicit and explicit codes of conduct implemented by scales 0-99.

It's hardly over-eager when it's easily copy-pasted.

That is quiet an inference to make. You are just making an unsobstantiated ad hominem attack.

I there's a strong enough correlation.

Article is just a blank page for me, even after turning on JS and disabling tracking protection. Luckily it's archived: https://archive.fo/Lxeqy

> 1. code of conduct

Yeah... hard pass. If the first thing I'm doing is defining a code of conduct for a few (close) people with shared interests, something is very wrong with the kind of friends I keep.

I read this thinking it might be interesting because I'm organising a book club at work. But it's more "how to make a safe space". No. My book club will not be a safe space, it is open to everyone who reads the book.

Including someone who interrupts and talks over everyone else and doesn’t change in response to feedback?

Of course not, just like my forum would not be open for people who post flame-bait like yours.

Behaving like a decent human being is an implicit, obvious rule.

" I'm sorry why are you kicking me out? I read the book and I'm not doing anything wrong! I guess I'm talking a bit more than some other people but they are just quiet and I'm an outgoing guy. "

"Are you seriously implying that I'm not a decent human being because I talk a little more than Bob? "

Which can be answered with a simple "get lost".

edit: Since some people seem to disagree, why not? I fail to see how its any more complicated then those two words. You put in the effort to organize the bookclub, you have the prerogative to say who can participate. If you dont like that make your own bookclub. Forums have thrived on this concept for decades and it only got complicated once they became business enterprises.

Maybe to phrase it more broadly outside of the organization aspect and for general social interaction. You dont have a right to be part of a social group or go to a certain party. If I dont like you I likely wont spend time with you.

Now I realise there are multiple people in this thread but the bookclub went from:

"My book club will not be a safe space, it is open to everyone who reads the book"


"Behaving like a decent human being is an implicit, obvious rule."


"a simple 'get lost' [..] you put in the effort to organize the bookclub, you have the prerogative to say who can participate "


This is a way any and all small-scale social interactions work, and have worked since forever. Pushing a CoC onto this is trying to override the natural way small groups of people form, replacing it with a formal structure that's not fun for anyone except people better at lawyering and - to borrow FakeComments's excellent term - social LARPing, than actual interpersonal skills.

EDIT: oh, you are a different commenter than black-tea.

Well, the points still stand. Your position is different than his.


> flame-bait

I’m not trying to divert the conversation to pointless angry arguments. I’m trying to direct attention to the core thesis of the post.

Genuinely. I don’t know how to persuade you that I’m not trolling, but I’m not. I care deeply about this topic.

> implicit, obvious rule

The rules which people call obvious are often very hard to learn because people are unwilling to give clear feedback about them. If someone grew up in a boisterous family from New Jersey and who learned that people speaking over each other is fine, why would it be obvious to them that what they were doing was rude?

Getting kicked out without clear feedback just conveys “people don’t like me”. Nothing obligates you to teach them, but its nice to. And I think “this person isn’t willing to listen to/adjust their behavior in response to feedback” is a very reasonable line to draw for kicking someone out.

But I’d ask you to you recognise the differences among “everyone who in my honest judgement isn’t rude”, “everyone who is open to feedback”, and “everyone who has read the book”

Common sense is a thing, you know.

So... can you explain more what you mean by “my book club will not be a safe space. It will be open to everyone who has read the book” means in practice?

Do you mean, “we’re going to discuss Huck Finn and not worry about which words offend the sensibilities of liberals and be annoyed at those who want to prohibit certain words. We expect you to bring $10 for your share of the barbecue.”? Cause thats still kinda a code of conduct, its just a different one than the author would have.

It means that if someone says something controversial and you get upset, it's your problem, not theirs. Basically, it will be the type of discussion that adults have always been having together.

pjc50 9 months ago [flagged]

"Today we're going to discuss whether people like you should be allowed to exist. If you get upset, that's your problem"?

(You have not explained what you mean by safe space and why you want your book club to be unsafe)

Would you please follow the site guidelines when posting here? They include: "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."



We've banned this account for posting uncivil and unsubstantive comments and ignoring our numerous requests to stop.

Could you please not create accounts to break the site guidelines with?


> organising a book club at work

If you're doing this at work, or even among primarily co-workers outside of work, then your organisations policies on harassment and (to a certain extent) physical safety apply. It's a safe space whether you like it or not.

(I am unclear on why people want to organise unsafe spaces; nobody puts a trip hazard and a couple of exposed electrical wires in their office to make it feel more welcoming)

People don't usually put electrical outlet covers and foam edge bumpers on their cubes.

I work with adults. They are fine. Don't worry.

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