There's a lot of potential ick as things in EA formalize and professionalize, especially in community building. People might reasonably feel uncomfortable realizing that the intro talk they heard is entirely scripted, or that interactions with them have been logged in a spreadsheet or that the events they've been to are taking them through the ideas on a path from least to most weird (all things I've heard of happening, with a range of how confident I am in them actually happening as described here). I think there's a lot to say here about how to productively engage with this feeling (and things community builders should do to mitigate it), but I also think there's a quick trick that will markedly improve things (though do not fix all problems): transparency.

(This is an outside take from someone who doesn't do community building on college campuses or elsewhere, I think that work is hard and filled with paradoxes, and it's also possible that this is already done by default, but in the spirit of stating the obvious)

I've been updating over and over again over the last few years that earnestness is just very powerful, and I think there are ways (though maybe they require some social / communication skills that aren't universal) to say things like (conditional on them being true):

NB: I don't think these are the best versions of these scripts, this was a first pass to point at the thing I mean

  • "This EA group is one of many around the country and the world. There is a standard intro talk that contains framings we think are exceptionally useful and helps us make sure we don't miss any of the important ideas or caveats, so we are giving it here today. I am excited to convey these core concepts, and then for the group of people who come in subsequent weeks to figure out which  aspects of these they're most interested in pursuing and customizing the group to our needs."
  • "Hey, I'm excited to talk to you about EA stuff. The organizers of this group are hoping to chat with people who seem interested and not be repetitive or annoying to you, would it be ok with you if I took some notes on our conversation that other organizers can see?"
  • "EA ideas span a huge gamut from really straightforward to high-context / less conventional. These early dinners start with the less weird ones because we think the core ideas are really valuable to the world whether or not people buy some of the other potential implications. Later on, with more context, we'll explore a wider range."
  • "I get that the perception that people only get funding or help if they seem interested in EA is uncomfortable / seems bad. From my perspective, I'm engaged in a particular project with my EA time / volunteer time / career / donations / life, and I'm excited to find people who are enthused by that same project and want to work together on it. If people find this is not the project for them, that's a great thing to have learned, and I'm excited for them to find people to work with on the things they care about most"

Not everything needs to be explicit, but this at least tracks whether you're passing the red face test.

I think that being transparent in this way requires:

  • Some communication skills to convey things like the above with nuance and grace
  • Being able to track when explicitness is bad or unhelpful
  • Some social skills in tracking what the other person cares about and is looking for in conversations
  • Non-self-hatingness: Thinking that you are doing something valuable, that matters to you, that you don't have to apologize for caring about, along with its implications
  • A willingness to be honest and earnest about the above.


 

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3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:49 AM

Unsolicited feedback: I love both of the posts you have done recently. IMO they identify problems and solutions without under or over-stating them, are emphatic and measured, and conclude with actionable and proportionate advice. Thank you so much :) 

This is great. 

A few musings/nitpicks:

I wouldn't use the words "quick trick". For some people it won't be quick or easy, and in my view it's importantly not a "trick" either. When it 'works', it works exactly because it's not a trick! (Of course other factors have to line up as well.) I suspect the underlying theory of change and values that guide people will be very different if they view this as a trick rather than if they have a deeper understanding of why this way of engagement can have very high returns. 


Non-self-hatingness: Thinking that you are doing something valuable, that matters to you, that you don't have to apologize for caring about, along with its implications

I wouldn't call this non-self-hatingness, although self-hatred may heavily hamper what you're describing. What you're describing sounds closer to having genuine belief in the value of what you're doing, or perhaps some amount of willingness to trust yourself in the face of criticism. What do you think? 


I basically agree with the skills you say are required to execute this well, but I would phrase it in a softer way than using the word "requirement" - it makes it sound too binary and might unwittingly discourage some people by making it sound too fancy or requiring skills they don't have and don't know how to develop. Whereas the core idea is pretty simple and human (albeit with a wide range of difficulty of execution). I also think people can develop these skills, even if they start at a low level. 

This is a fantastic post