Public Lab Research note


Concept of social rules from Recurse Center

by liz | September 24, 2018 14:59 | 99 views | 0 comments | #17165 | 99 views | 0 comments | #17165 24 Sep 14:59

Read more: publiclab.org/n/17165


Sharing this excerpt from the Recurse Center in NYC https://www.recurse.com/manual because i think they have captured a lot in four very short and sweet "social rules":

  • No feigning surprise
  • No well-actually's
  • No back-seat driving
  • No subtle -isms

Social rules

Another way we try to remove obstacles to learning is by having a small set of social rules. These rules are intended to be lightweight, and to make more explicit certain social norms that are normally implicit. Most of our social rules really boil down to "don't be a jerk" or "don't be annoying." Of course, almost nobody sets out to be a jerk or annoying, so telling people not to be jerks isn't a very productive strategy. That's why our social rules are designed to curtail specific behavior we've found to be destructive to a supportive, productive, and fun learning environment.

No feigning surprise The first rule means you shouldn't act surprised when people say they don't know something. This applies to both technical things ("What?! I can't believe you don't know what the stack is!") and non-technical things ("You don't know who RMS is?!"). Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it's usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that's not the intention, it's almost always the effect. As you've probably already guessed, this rule is tightly coupled to our belief in the importance of people feeling comfortable saying "I don't know" and "I don't understand."

No well-actually's A well-actually happens when someone says something that's almost - but not entirely - correct, and you say, "well, actually…" and then give a minor correction. This is especially annoying when the correction has no bearing on the actual conversation. This doesn't mean the Recurse Center isn't about truth-seeking or that we don't care about being precise. Almost all well-actually's in our experience are about grandstanding, not truth-seeking. (Thanks to Miguel de Icaza for originally coining the term "well-actually.")

No back-seat driving If you overhear people working through a problem, you shouldn't intermittently lob advice across the room. This can lead to the "too many cooks" problem, but more important, it can be rude and disruptive to half-participate in a conversation. This isn't to say you shouldn't help, offer advice, or join conversations. On the contrary, we encourage all those things. Rather, it just means that when you want to help out or work with others, you should fully engage and not just butt in sporadically.

No subtle -isms Our last social rule bans subtle racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of bias. This one is different from the rest, because it covers a class of behaviors instead of one very specific pattern.

Subtle -isms are small things that make others feel unwelcome, things that we all sometimes do by mistake. For example, saying "It's so easy my grandmother could do it" is a subtle -ism. Like the other three social rules, this one is often accidentally broken. Like the other three, it's not a big deal to mess up – you just apologize and move on.

If you see a subtle -ism at the Recurse Center, you can point it out to the relevant person, either publicly or privately, or you can ask one of the faculty to say something. After this, we ask that all further discussion move off of public channels. If you are a third party, and you don't see what could be biased about the comment that was made, feel free to talk to faculty. Please don't say, "Comment X wasn't homophobic!" Similarly, please don't pile on to someone who made a mistake. The "subtle" in "subtle -isms" means that it's probably not obvious to everyone right away what was wrong with the comment.

We want the Recurse Center to be a space with as little bigotry as possible in it. Therefore, if you see sexism, racism, etc. outside of the Recurse Center, please don't bring it in. So, for example, please don't start a discussion of the latest offensive comment from Random Tech Person Y. For many people, especially those who may have spent time in unpleasant environments, these conversations can be very distracting. At the Recurse Center, we want to remove as many distractions as possible so everyone can focus on programming. There are many places in the world to discuss and debate these issues, but there are precious few where people can avoid them. We want the Recurse Center to be one of those places.

Why have social rules? The goal isn't to burden everyone with a bunch of annoying rules, or to give us a stick to bludgeon people with for "being bad." Rather, these rules are designed to help all of us build a pleasant, productive, and fearless community.

If someone says, "hey, you just feigned surprise," or "that's subtly sexist," don't worry. Just apologize, reflect for a second, and move on. It doesn't mean you're a "bad" person, or even a "bad" Recurser. As we said above, these rules are meant to be lightweight. We've all done these things before. In fact, we originally adopted a no well-actually policy for our company because Nick and Dave well-actually'd each other all the time.

Sometimes pointing out that someone broke a social rule can be challenging or feel awkward. If you don't feel comfortable pointing out to someone that they are consistently breaking a social rule, ask a facilitator for help.

Code of conduct The social rules don't cover harassment or discrimination. For that, we have a code of conduct enforced by the RC faculty. All members of the RC community are expected to abide by our code of conduct.


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