Discussion, not drama
I co-run a Facebook group for translators, which I have mentioned once or twice before in this blog. Standing Up began when members of Andrew Morris’s Standing Out group rebelled against his plan to charge them for forming part of what they had always considered a community that belonged to them, not to him. Several translators, of which I was one, decided it would be a good idea to offer them somewhere to go, so they could continue to enjoy the benefits of belonging to a group of like-minded people without Morris’s rather overbearing way of running things. Rule one of our group was that there were to be no gurus and, if I am proudly discussing it in this blog post, it is certainly not because I consider that the group belongs to me, it is simply because I’m glad to have played a part in making it happen and keeping it going.
Things began slowly and there were initial difficulties. Some people felt betrayed at what Morris had tried to do, others never wanted to hear his name again, and still others wanted to remain on good terms with him while simultaneously trying out the new arrangement. That meant every time his name was mentioned there were terrible arguments. Conversations had to be shut down and people left the group. There were times when I wondered if it was worth carrying on. But eventually feelings calmed and, when the dust settled, not only was the group still there, it had started growing steadily. It is still growing today and only a few weeks ago, for example, we had a sudden influx of young Italian members. It seems we are being recommended in various places.
What makes the group different from many others is that it has such a broad and diverse membership. Where else will you find both new and highly experienced translators; people who were once close to Morris and people who never could stand him; people whose main concern is to improve translators’ skills and people who are keener on marketing; people from the big translators’ associations and people who would never join an association in their lives? Perhaps the self-styled “Mother of All Groups”, Things Translators Never Say, would have them all – after all, it has five times as many members as we do – but that group is for a particular light-hearted way of letting off steam, not for serious discussion.
So anyone who thinks our group is an echo chamber for a particular set of views on translation is simply mistaken. Discussion among all those different kinds of people is positively encouraged and the advice anyone asking for help in Standing Up receives is second to none. This has been shown in recent weeks with some fantastic support, practical advice and salutary warnings given, for example, to people working with minority languages, suffering the effects of Brexit or even contemplating giving up translation altogether. This advice goes far beyond the simple “go upmarket and look for direct clients”, which is all very well but does not provide much immediate aid for a struggling translator who is wondering how to pay the rent next week. It’s also very honest. Members have not been afraid to suggest, in the example I’ve just given, that maybe the struggling translator should actually look for a 9-5 job on a temporary or even a permanent basis.
Earlier this month, though, it could all have gone horribly wrong, and once again Andrew Morris was at the centre of events. His appointment by the translators’ platform ProZ to run its social media groups made him once again the topic of conversation among Standing Up members and feelings ran high. So high, in fact, that our fellow group admin, Andrea Halbritter, decided she no longer wanted to continue. I was saddened and disappointed by her decision, as she had put a great deal into building up the group. Could things be the same without her? I also wondered how I was going to write this post. How could I claim the group was maturing when things like that could still happen?
But I need not have worried. The climate had changed since the early days of the group. Even those who thought we shouldn’t be talking about Morris at all managed not to be too offended by the people who did want to discuss him. There was little or no infighting. My remaining co-admin Sam Nairn and I decided to appoint Silvia Ortíz Miñarro to replace Andrea, and, apart from one isolated case, no-one left.
A few days later, a question of ethics was raised in the group involving the leadership of the American Translators’ Association (ATA). I’m not going to go into details here, but it’s the kind of subject that provokes strong feelings, not only about the issue itself but also about whether it should be talked about at all, because it was impossible to discuss without identifying those involved. But, instead of arguing destructively, members managed an interesting and informative discussion about ethics and responsibility which culminated in the ATA’s Secretary, Karen Tkaczyk, who is also one of our members, reporting that the association would review its conflict of interest policy. An important and contentious issue and been brought up, debated and perhaps even resolved without undue drama or squabbling. Those who know anything about Facebook and other online groups will be aware how unusual this is. Standing Up, I believe, has come of age.
You can find the Standing Up Facebook group here.