Of codes of silence, workshops and egos

And you can’t talk about it
And isn’t that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you’ve really got a lot to say
Billy Joel, Code of Silence

A while back I went to a “workshop” that I thought would be not very good. Why go then? Purely and simply (and I said this to the wife and she said it was a very bad idea and I totally agreed with her before I even went) because of… ego. I had been invited to be on the closing roundtable, for reasons that remain mysterious to me.

The day panned out as these days always do. A total lack of imagination in format, followed by piss-poor wet lettuce ‘chairing’ that allowed gasbags to do what gasbags do (not all of them men, btw), and the tea breaks and lunch break curtailed/squeezed, meaning that you couldn’t even do any proper seeking out and schmoozing of interesting people. The people present were not encouraged to engage with each other, but merely with whatever “sage” (in the loosest sense imaginable) happened to be on the stage. Ego-fodderfication galore.

Finally, at the end of the day, there I was: one of the soi-disant sages. Well, I (think I) had novel, useful and possibly important things to say about the topic of the day. But (I felt) I couldn’t say them because the format of the event had been so very very offensive. I was presented with the choice of

a) Going with what everyone else had been doing and was doing and treating the audience as ego-fodder for my own ‘benefit’. This is attractive, in some way, but also, fatally, means that I am a hypocrite in my own eyes, breaking my own code (yes, I am quite aware of how pompous and addicted-to-saviour-narratives that makes me sound. Bite me.)
b) Forgoing what I was going to say to turn (most of) my session into the kind of interaction that most of the event should have been. “Taking one for the team,” when there is in fact no team and the non-existent team has no fucking clue of what game it should be playing, and no ability to ever learn: Groundhog Day without Bill Murray being able to reflect. Yum..

I went with b), as I have in the past, and it lifted the mood, for what that is worth. But the event was by then beyond salvaging, and I doubt very very much that anyone present will ever go for option b), or do the kind of disrupting, transrupting that we need. I could be wrong. I would actually love to be wrong.

Maybe I should stop doing b), or stop going to events altogether.

The third option is if/when invited explaining that I am not going to fucking come unless the organisers do SOME of what they should do for their “workshop” to escape the soul-crushing boredom-fests and ego-fodderfication that we all put up with in academia or activism.  I may even send an email something like this.

Dear x,

Thanks for the invitation to present. My ego is suitably puffed up. However, it needs to be kept on a strict diet. So, before a yes or no to attending, could you please explain a bit more – as detailed as you can/you like – about how you intend to make the event one at which people who attend can engage with each other, and find kindred spirits. If it’s all about sitting in rows listening to speakers and then sharp-elbowing to ask questions in the Q and A, before hunting out old acquaintances during the drinks break/lunch break, sorry, but ‘thanks but no thanks’.
Yours sincerely
That asshole.

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