“I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus” – Firesign Theater
We added forums to the school for heroes site a couple of weeks ago, and the response so far has been amazing. We had over 100 posts before we opened the forum (we accidentally made a link to them while we were testing the software). We currently have about 2000 posts… in two weeks.
Several forum users have raised the question, “What are the rules of the forum?” We find that an interesting question because we didn’t really make “rules” – We provided “guidelines” for use of the forum. It’s a subtle, but important, distinction. “Rules” are cast in concrete, cover only the situations they specify, and need to be enforced by Those In Authority.
That’s a bit of a problem for us, because we’re supposed to be the Authorities. We don’t have time to go through every post and red-pencil the ones that “break the rules.” We wouldn’t do that if we did have the time. Censorship is a good way to kill discussions and it’s insulting to any well-intentioned posters. It’s just not fun. It’s a good thing that there’s a better way…
Who Shall Watch the Watchmen?
Moderators on our forums have a lot of power. We can delete or edit other people’s posts, lock threads so that no more posts can be made in them, and flag users as “bozos”. A bozo can post anything, but no other user will see the posts. But power tends to corrupt, and the more it is used, the more it seems appropriate to use it in borderline cases.
Where is the line between “acceptable” and “unacceptable”, between “questionable taste” and “forbidden”? We don’t think that censorship is our job as moderators. We’re here to support and help, not to shut a conversation down. We can help direct an off-topic discussion, but so can any student. And that’s the key to making the Student Center great.
It’s EVERYONE”S Responsibility
“… institutionally established authority [is] a weak substitute for genuine authority, which comes from having the best grasp of the situation… The issue of who owns what responsibility is not very interesting. In fact, it’s a waste of time to try to sort out ownership.” – Jim McCarthy, “Dynamics of Software Development”
Think of the power that gives every one of you! You don’t need Official Authority to fix a problem. We are very fortunate that our forums are populated by this tribe of Heroes. One of the hallmarks of heroism is personal responsibility. Every contributor to the Student Center can consider how their words will “play” to other readers and decide whether those words are Heroic. It’s really a variation on The Golden Rule – “Write unto others as you would have them write unto you.”
That doesn’t mean you need to water your message down. It’s ok – even great – to write controversial messages that will add energy to a discussion. However, there’s a not-so-subtle distinction between unconsidered and inconsiderate messages such as, “You’re an idiot,” vs. something like, “Giving spare change to beggars may seem like a great way to help the poor, but handouts don’t work. It just makes them even more dependent on continuing gifts so they don’t look for work.” It takes a little longer to make a reasoned argument, but it’s a lot more valuable to everyone reading it. We might not agree with what you say, but we will defend – to the pain – your right to say it.
Other readers may also disagree with your premises or the point you are making. That’s fine; that leads to spirited discussions. But ad hominem arguments – attacking the person rather than the ideas – are discussion-killers, not discussion-makers. Trite answers – “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard” – are equally useless. Keep it friendly even when the discussion gets intense.
Don’t Flip the Bozo Bit
Jim McCarthy wrote a great book on managing project teams in 1995, “Dynamics of Software Development” . He subtitled it, “Don’t Flip the Bozo Bit and 53 More Rules for Delivering Great Software on Time.” (The current edition is up to 56 rules.)
What, you may ask, is a “Bozo Bit”?
In software (and hardware), a “bit” is a toggle switch – It is either “On” or “Off” at any given time. “Bozo” was one of the most famous circus clowns, and clowns are best known for tripping over their own feet and in general getting in the way of progress. So “a bozo” is someone who is a net negative to getting things done.
We are wired to make snap judgments. When you see a tiger moving, it doesn’t pay to sit there and analyze whether you’re its target. You move – as fast as you can. Unfortunately, we often let that emotional wiring override our good sense. When someone does a thing or two we don’t like, it’s very easy to decide they’re a bozo.
McCarthy’s point is that once we “flip the bozo bit,” everything that person does is filtered through the clown filter. They could be making some really great decisions and doing terrific work, but we won’t see it that way. All we will see is that bozo clowning around, trying to grab personal glory at the expense of progress, and otherwise getting in the way. Once the bozo bit is On, it becomes very difficult to turn it off again.
The thing is, that’s not what people are or how they work. The wisest among us sometimes does something idiotic. What a person is and what that person does can be two very different things.
BBPress (the software behind the Student Center) provides the moderators with a Bozo Bit, and we delight in not using it. There are no bozos in the Student Center or the School. Instead we have are a disparate group of bright, goal-oriented students who work, think, and approach problems in different ways. Lori and I see that diversity as a strength, not as a weakness.
We rely on all of our students to set their own bozo bits – not on themselves or others, but on the words they might say that could be harmful. To the extent you “write as a Hero,” nobody will have to censor your words or delete your posts. Words from the heart are never truly evil. Well, not very evil – Even the Evil Meep has valuable things to contribute to the School.
One Forum All, and All Forum One
The forums are a place for all students to share, discuss, grow, learn, and have fun together. We hope you will take advantage of them – in a responsible way. If you haven’t posted something already, at least get in there and introduce yourself to the other students. Try it; you’ll like it!
And if you have to be a bozo, at least be the best bozo you can be. Bozo the Clown was famous because he knew how to make people laugh. It’s ok to be a bozo of that type! In some sense we’re all bozos on this bus, and that means it’s up to every one of us to provide some of the entertainment. Otherwise we’ll have to leave that all up to boring people whose noses don’t even honk.
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