Posted by in Speaking

Anmut ist die Schönheit der Gestalt unter dem Einfluss der Freiheit; die Schönheit derjenigen Erscheinungen, die die Person bestimmt. Die architektonische Schönheit macht dem Urheber der Natur, Anmut und Grazie machen ihrem Besitzer Ehre. Jene ist ein Talent, diese ein persönliches Verdienst.

Friedrich Schiller — Ueber Anmuth und Würde

WordCamp Hamburg 2014 was an expected experience, with all the unexpected details that make each WordCamp unique; familiar and surprising at the same time, the typical signals of an outstanding event, the mood of which was brilliantly documented on Ulli’s video, below:

I was honored to be invited to present the keynote session, and I chose to speak exclusively about the German WordPress community, as seen from the outside, especially by the likes of me, who has been involved with so many other European user groups for so long. Not that I planned to; it just seemed to happen.

The talk, judging from the feedback, went well. Even though there were no questions immediately after, I was constantly beseeched to opine on how communities should organise themselves, when and if should they call themselves one, to begin with, or even if you can have more than one. I answered as best as I could, always trying to keep the subject away from technical or specific recommendations; the reason for that wasn’t clear to me then, but, as I sat down on the plane back home, it struck me why:

The truth is that I have no idea.

(Of course, we’re not dealing here with the question of whether I have authority to speak on the subject or not: it is clear that I do not, but simply try to impart what, to me, sounds like a reasonable approach. The value of my opinion is to be determined by the listener who requested it, not for me to extol.)

I just know this:

  • It is far too easy to fall prey to discussions about structure, departments, rules, and code of behaviour.
  • Discussing issues that are important to you (and others) behind a computer keyboard is risky, in which it can lead to misunderstanding, which in turn leads to aggravation. Technology isn’t a “just faster method of social interaction”, but rather a different one, with some very glaring limitations.
  • Territory and borders, and all the bile that comes with them, such as excommunications, favoured circles, and struggles for power (whether real or perceived), create islands, not continents. And angry ones, at that.
  • Technological purity or fanaticism, no matter of which flavour, breed not excellence, but rather semi-religious fervour, defended by knights of the dogma, priests, and worst of all, popes. In Aldous Huxley’s words: “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.

So, what is it that I know?

It is admitting that WordCamp talks may be important, and that online discussions are an essential collective memory of our efforts to better them, yes, but more importantly it is to clearly see that the most important part of becoming truly kindred spirits happens somewhere else, before all that; between the talks, at dinner, at the after-party, contributor days, and at all those places where our basic manners are unconsciously called upon, to oil the flow of the conversation, because we’re physically sitting (sometimes standing, ok) in front of each other, because our defenses are a little mellower, because millions of other bits of information are a significant part of the conversation (when online, they are filtered on purpose, to get the point across, as fast and as efficiently as possible), because we have no choice but to foster empathy, listen first and only then, answer back. Finally, because we are humans, and when we’re in the presence of each other, we cannot not communicate, even if we try.

In short, I know not what the exact issues are when building a community, but I sure know the solution.

The answer is grace, always.