Respecting my community

Nov 21, 2013

To my ScienceOnline and BlogTogether friends, colleagues and connections,

These past weeks have embroiled us in controversy and dissension, and challenged our trust in each other. I know many of you are feeling angry, or uncomfortable, or disgusted, or concerned, or confused, or desperate for the right words, or impatient for justice, or fed up, or focused on the future. I’ve felt all of that myself.

But as one who has talked about us as a community more than perhaps any other single person, I know we can get through this together. I know this because I have watched you for more than 10 years. I have seen how much you have enjoyed the company and conversation of each other. You have shown me the value of connecting online, meeting each other for face-to-face conversations, and spreading the message of science and collaboration to the far reaches of the World Wide Web. I have seen the way the world has reacted to your enthusiasm and exuberance, and clamored to join in the fun and empowering experiences, and the constant online dialogue, we have together. I have watched you be kind to each other, teach each other, care for each other, support each other.

But our community, like any community, is made up of human beings. And humans are imperfect. We make mistakes, we act in ways that harm the people closest to us, we say things that can be mean, we react without thinking or waiting for all the facts.

Societies and cultures and faith traditions develop systems to address the complexities of humanity and to function for a greater good. Our community is young and still developing, but from the beginning we agreed to listen to each other. I believe that it’s this shared value of listening that can help us regain our trust in each other, and our faith in our community, and our dedication to communicating science through online tools.

At each and every one of the BlogTogether and ScienceOnline conferences, I have stood before you and asked just one thing from you: respect. I asked that you respect yourselves and your talents. I asked that you respect each other, me and my co-organizers. I asked that you respect the principles of our community.

And that’s why now I’m asking us return to that shared respect. Let us once again respect the promise of our community and the capacity we have within us, individually and collectively, to work together to advance science, communicate the wonders of the world, and bring others to an understanding of this amazing existence.

I’m immensely proud of Karyn Traphagen and the ways she is leading and shepherding the ScienceOnline organization. She has worked tirelessly and conscientiously this year to find creative and responsive ways to improve on the ScienceOnline conference model, so that each person who attends can feel that much more welcome and comfortable and ready to learn. ScienceOnline Together 2014 promises to be another intense and satisfying gathering, and we are delighted so many of you have shown your eagerness to come to Raleigh in February to listen and learn.

But I ask you to join me in listening and learning even before then.

I invite you to join me in participating in the StoryCorps National Day of Listening on Friday, November 29. Find a friend or a co-worker, sit down with a visiting family member, or walk to a retirement home and find a lonely senior. Ask that person to share a story, and listen. (And if you have children, take them along — one of the defining moments in my life was when my parents took me and my brothers on a Christmas day to a nursing home, and we helped defeat loneliness in one person’s life.)

And here’s an added challenge: stay offline that day, and don’t rush to share your interaction with the world. Instead, learn from the person’s story, and find a way to make yourself act better tomorrow than you did today. You may not get the satisfaction of sharing your experience immediately with the wide online world, but, trust me, your effort to change will be noticed. Because if there’s something that a community of science communicators is good at, it’s observing and connecting and understanding.

Thank you for being my community. Thank you for letting me be a part of your community.

If you haven’t listened to my spoken essay from last month, please take seven minutes to listen now.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC