As you may know from my *ahem* discreet, completely modest, not at all obsessive hints, another activity I engage in is moderating a genre fiction group on Goodreads. People have been saying nice things about the group lately, and I’m quite proud (discreetly and modestly, of course) of the community we’re building, the books we’re exploring, and the discussions those books foster. So, while I gear up for the marathon of the last chapter of the third book, here’s my rules for moderating.
1. Everyone should feel valued.
Often the internet feels like shouting into the void. I never want anyone in my group to feel that way. All new members who announce themselves should be welcomed, individually, by name. While all members who participate in conversation should feel like they’ve been heard and considered, particularly those comments made by people who are new, less talkative, or who share sensitive things with the group should be addressed and encouraged or validated, as makes sense. Call backs to previous conversations, especially with people who’ve expressed uncommon views, marginalized identities, or personal truths should be done whenever possible to remind people that they are heard, their stories matter, and here they are friends. If I respond to something and there are other comments between that post and my own, I’ll make sure to say something about each so they don’t feel overlooked. Efforts are made to ensure that our bookshelf and conversations reflect every sort of person we hope to see in group.
2. Everything should be read in the kindest way possible.
Our group is global, which means that oftentimes we do not all share one culture. Language, humor, formality, views on religion etc. are not all shared, which can make tone difficult to parse. I attempt to read everything posted with the thought that it was said with good intentions and all due respect. I am not perfect, but it’s something I try. And if I fail, I attempt to make a response that assumes the best but requires clarification. When it is my word choice that is not understood or is accidentally offensive, I apologize, and do my best to make it better going forward. The other moderator and I often run things by each other first, to make sure it’s read as intended, and that our reactions aren’t triggered responses.
3. Inclusion means setting expectations and boundaries.
When I see conversations begin to veer into territory that might not make others feel safe or welcomed, I attempt to realign the thread then, rather than wait for the words to be said. Apologies are beautiful and necessary, but words can hurt forever. I’d rather send a polite reminder before the words are out there than attempt damage control after the fact. If the hint doesn’t work and words that can harm are said, then the actual behavior that caused harm is addressed, the course of action I’ve taken or would like to see taken is explained, and I express gratitude for behavior that has been corrected. Correction shouldn’t be a production, but at the same time, if there is conflict beyond disagreement about choices, that conflict is with me on top of whomever else is involved. I am a big sister, and all people, regardless of age or family status, become my younger sibling when they are welcomed into a space I help maintain. I will not hurt them with silence when direct, respectful action can be taken instead. Everyone is assumed to have agency, but no one else in groups I host is required to take the burden of education or anger–and certainly never alone.
4. Be consistent with rules and expectations
My group has a published set of rules for how our month works, what works are allowed for selection, a harassment policy, how authors and other professionals may interact with the group, and how on topic threads have to be. There are 21,000 people in the group at the time of this post. Rules are how we all get to feel heard, safe, and appreciated. I know it gets irritating when a perfectly good conversation gets nudged back on topic, but it’s that or never be able to find conversations again. I know authors wish they could mention writing wherever, but it’s not a group for authors, it’s a group for readers. Their comfort comes first. And, it should be said, while I am still human, this reasoning applies to most endeavors. Beyond a few viewpoints I cannot tolerate for the sake of us all, (such as ideas that support genocide) the rules of the group apply to everyone. Again, this is something the other moderator and I work on together to ensure that we’re providing clear, useful feedback and that the group is seeing us demonstrate the behavior we anticipate.
5. Build community
Speculative fiction is all about the heights and depths of human achievement. It’s about pushing beyond the status quo, overcoming, and the heart that compels us to those achievements. With that as a common language, it should be easy to share compassion among our members. I strive to make connections between people. Silly posts, discussions of what we do outside of our literary lives, buddy reads, requests for reading ideas, meet ups…all of this gives people safe, fun ways to express themselves and receive support. Raising each other’s voices and sharing in someone’s life, no matter how briefly, is a wonderful thing that should be celebrated and encouraged.
There’s a lot of great information out there on creating safe and/or creative spaces in education and the gaming industry. As these are sort of the burgeoning space for discussions of safety and inclusivity, as well as areas where belonging can be crucial, it makes sense that a lot of effort is being made there to live up to that need. Inclusive game designers, con organizers and teachers have a lot to say on this topic, and I heartily recommend everyone give it a look, even if games or pedagogy aren’t your thing. I use this all the time as a host in my home, a lawyer counseling clients, and, of course, as a moderator. With all of the news, the #metoo movements and the rise of more marginalized people everywhere, no one can afford to assume that everything is and will remain fine. To quote Dr. Horrible, “the status is not quo,” and anyone with a shred of authority can be part of the shift to a better world, be it within your home, your shop, your workplace or your online book club. And when people feel like they’re part of something better, they move the dial a bit towards a brighter world for all of us.
We live in the future. People are constantly in our space through our phones and computers. Let’s use that to build something more beautiful than our epics, and more perfect than science fiction has ever dreamed!