Preamble: The following guidelines are intended to help make the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society a more welcoming place for people of all backgrounds, genders, beliefs, and races. We believe there is value in having these guidelines to help guide further discussion and allow greater community building. This is a work in progress and is actively being discussed on Facebook.
The guidelines themselves are in bold while my discussion points are not.
The Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society exists to provide a safe, inclusive, generative forum for people of diverse backgrounds, genders and beliefs to form skeptical community and have discussions about a wide range of subjects.
If someone is causing you to feel threatened, uncomfortable, or harassed, during participation in the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society events, please let a GESS board member know.
1) Although you do not have to respect the beliefs of any other member, you are expected to treat them personally with respect.
2) The Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society is not a place to impose your beliefs on other people. While healthy debate of controversial subjects is valuable and generally sought after by members of GESS, if someone makes it clear they do not want to talk about a subject, we ask that you drop it.
Points 1 and 2 are more difficult than they may sound. Very often, your opinion of a person can be sullied by simple disagreement. Try to feel some empathy. Consider that their position comes not from willful ignorance of evident facts but from a lifetime of forming a totally different way of thinking than yours. It’s also possible for two people to be given the exact same experience but come up with a different opinion, simply based on genetics. If you’re feeling that burning “but someone else is wrong even though I told them what’s right!” feeling, very little good is going to come out of your mouth. Relax, remember that you’re talking to a fellow human being, clink glasses, and rise above your negative feelings towards respectful discourse.
3) Do not think of the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society as a dating service. Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society meetings and social events are not speed dating events, and GESS online forums are not dating sites. Please respect the boundaries of other members and attendees.
It is the joining of GESS with the specific goal of finding someone to date that is harmful. People who join groups just to find a match rarely contribute. Their primary goal is obvious to all and is immediately off-putting.
4) The Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society is an ideas engine for the promotion of evidence-based uncertainty. Political beliefs (left or right) and religious beliefs (theist and atheist) are often free of evidence-based argumentation. There are other forums for non evidence-based atheist discussion, and other forums to debate non-science, non-evidence-based politics. We ask that you try to choose the appropriate forum for your discussion.
Evidence-based uncertainty is a carefully thought-out phrase that may sound confusing at first. We believe that a skeptical individual is one who would rather say “I don’t know” than “I know for sure.” Being sure of something that is wrong is the worst possible thing for a skeptic. People new to the skeptic community tend to think that critical thinking and skepticism is a way to be “right” or to discover the truth. This is only partly correct. With maturity, skeptics realize that “knowing what is true” is a bit of a fool’s errand. We can only incrementally improve our understanding of the world, and the way we do this is to be eternally vigilant, and skeptical of our own certainty.
5) If a debate gets heated, stick to getting your point across. Avoid trying to make others feel foolish. You’ll recognize the impulse as “trying to score points”. Question your own motives, and do not express your opinion of others’ motives. Question the language you are using – ask yourself if you are being inflammatory.
Painful as it is to admit, a great many self-professed skeptics are fond of teasing others for holding a different belief. Whether it is done with or without humour, with or devoid of wit, many find personal satisfaction in making someone’s blood boil. Regardless of how clever you are, as soon as you’ve deliberately poked someone for your amusement, you’ve devalued your own prior words and destroyed the possibility for a constructive conversation. Eliminating this kind of behaviour means that more people are likely to start or take part in discussions. It also improves the quality of discussions and makes it more likely that we can all learn from them.
6) You may interpret someone’s behaviour as creepy, and they may not see it that way. You may not interpret your own behaviour as creepy, but others may interpret it as creepy. Please be skeptical of your own interpretation. Remember that your intent may be totally different from how you come across through no fault of the creeped out party.
7) Groups like the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society sometimes attract people who are not neurotypical. As long as someone has not transgressed against you, please be courteous and understanding.
Regarding 6 and 7; self-examination is not easy, and in all honesty, people who identify with the skeptical movement tend toward social ineptitude. Are you the last person by a longshot to leave a party, long after other guests have left and the hosts are looking at their watches? You might be a skeptic. Do you tell your coworkers stories while they’ve turned to their computers and have gone back to work? You might be a skeptic. Be mindful of the fact that at some point, a helpful person may tell you that you are behaving in a creepy way. It never feels good to be told you are doing something that others perceive negatively, so remember that the twinge of defensiveness or anger that you are bound to feel isn’t helping, apologize, and think things through. Sometimes it takes time before you can truly come to grips with the fact that you did (or have always done) a particular thing that ends up making others uncomfortable. Chances are you are a smart person, and smart people are good at rationalizing their actions. Stop it! Don’t rationalize your actions. Instead, consider the point of view you’ve been presented with and make sense of it from that new perspective.
If you notice a GESS member behaving in a way that is creepy (be it toward you or someone else), remember points 6 and 7. Be aware of any social awkwardness that might be responsible. Talk to them: remember that they have read this guide and consider themselves to be open-minded and skeptical of their own feelings. If your courteous explanation is not appreciated, remember that you can talk to a GESS board member at any time.
We understand that “creepy” is a broad term, but feeling “creeped out” is sometimes vague, and while the reason and negative effects might be clear, insisting on a definition in order to take action is unnecessarily pedantic. Careful thought and common sense are important here.
We hope that these guidelines will help foster trust between members of GESS, and we feel that they provide a good foundation for a group of people who share a common goal: to learn and to have a good time doing so.