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.
Yes, Standing Up has been a success and very much so, so hats off to all concerned, including your good self, Simon.
I’m not quite so sure, though, that I’d hold up that ATA ethics debate as a model of good practice. Broaching an ethical question in a public forum where individuals are named and without coming to them first privately is a bit close to the bone, perilously close to publicly calling their personal integrity into question. IMHO there was an empathy failure, and the situation demanded a tad more diplomacy than I think it got. Although some of the comments were very balanced, and the aims of the discussion were absolutely laudable, I wouldn’t have enjoyed being on the receiving end myself, and I’m sure others would feel the same.
But if we can learn from that, then I’m sure the future of Standing Up is rosy indeed. Onward and upward :).
Thanks, Oliver. I have to say that when I saw the original post about the ATA I had similar doubts to you. But I thought it was a serious issue that deserved discussing and it was impossible to discuss without identifying those concerned. So I thought I would let it stay there and see how things developed, fully prepared to pull the plug and delete the post if the debate took a wrong turn. And what surprised me, I have to admit, was that it didn’t. Everyone behaved well, there was genuine interest from people completely unaware of the issue, and the comments were all very reasonable. That was what I was most pleased with, really, because it could have turned into an awful slanging match. But don’t worry, I don’t think we’ll have one of those every week.
Pat on the back Simon! Thank you for all your hard work 🙂
Thank you, David. Any credit is due equally to the other admins – Sam and Silvia and also Andrea – and to everyone who has contributed with interesting questions and excellent advice and answers. And also to those who have got very fed up with a particular discussion or a particular member at one time or another but who haven’t let these momentary annoyances drive them out of the group.