I Hate Policies

I received an email recently, asking about my convention's harassment policy. I replied back that we don't have a written policy, but the unwritten policy is 'Don't Harass Anyone.' This goes hand-in-hand with the general purpose "Wheaton's Law".

I asked the person what brought up the question, and I was referred to this website: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/07/02/my-new-convention-harassment-policy/ with the comment 'Some people need help telling right from wrong.'

Mr. Scalzi has made a very bold move, but I still don't believe that we need any sort of codified policy for QCC. I want my convention to feel like a gathering of friends. Not a corporate event. However, I certainly do not want any of my friends to feel like they are being harassed. And if you are harassing someone, then I don't consider you a friend and you are not welcome at this convention.

We had one instance last year that might quality as harassment, though I think it would be a stretch. One person got a little too comfortable with another. He gave someone else a hug that was neither wanted, nor welcome. The hug recipient notified me of what happened. I asked them for details about the situation, and asked what their desired course of action was. The person requested a warning be given, and I agreed that it was an appropriate course of action. I and my chief of security gave the offending person a warning. He indicated that he understood, offered his apologies, and the situation was considered resolved by all parties. To my knowledge, there have been no other incidents that even come close to be considered harassment.

The situation could have gone differently. If the offense was more serious, if the recipient thought a more stern reaction was needed, or if the offending person seemed unapologetic, and likely to continue their behavior, we would have removed the person from the convention, and not allowed them back. In a worst-case scenario, the police would have been involved as well. I consider this to be common sense, and I prefer to rely on it for my guidelines, rather than written policies.

Mr. Scalzi's article did bring up a few interesting points that I agree need to be addressed. First, people don't always know where to go for help. I can address that one easily. If you need help for any reason at my convention, your first stop should be the nearest staff member or, failing that, the Registration Desk. Second, people may not feel like the convention staff has their back. Well, I've got your back, and so does every single one of my staff members. If you ever feel like you are being harassed, you can come find me (usually at the Registration Desk) and I will put a stop to it immediately.

I struggle with the comment about 'some people need help knowing right from wrong' and Mr. Scalzi's idea of using a policy to define right from wrong. It is my belief that people don't need help knowing what is or is not acceptable when it comes to severe harassment. If you choose to take an action that is severely harassing someone, you have done so knowingly and you will be dealt with harshly. See above regarding calling the police. However, defining what is or is not acceptable for minor issues is practically impossible. The hug incident above may have been perfectly acceptable or more severe with only slightly different circumstances. In cases like this, the best course of action is to bring it up with me, and let me handle it personally. I will ensure that the harassing action stops, and that you can enjoy the rest of your convention experience in peace.

One of the reasons that I hate policies so much is that they can be easily turned against the people they are meant to protect. If I don't list 'hugging' as a potential source of harassment on a policy document, then a malicious person could cite that as grounds for hugging whoever they want. "It isn't listed, so it can't be harassment." By doing it this way, I don't give jerks like that any ability to weasel their way out of the consequences for their actions. At the same time, I can ensure that someone who makes a simple mistake isn't punished unfairly. I think this is better for everyone involved.

I welcome any commentary on this topic, whether agreeing or disagreeing with me. I could be completely wrong about this whole thing. Let me know what you think.


Autumn's picture

We ran a MUSH for a long time, and whenever we were asked about those kinds of policies, our response was "Don't be a dick". Boy, does that cover a lot of territory. I think you're 100% right not to make a whole giant list of things you can't do... that is just an invitation to misbehave for the people inclined to. But having a statement that indicates that you won't stand for shenanigans might not be out of line.