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Volunteer Masochism
Biting the Hand that Feeds, One Finger at a Time

The other day, I got involved in a bit of a mailing list flame war related to the folks that work for and put on a local convention (I might have mentioned it before...Penguicon?) As a result of someone taking (for the umpteenth time) pot shots at the quality of the job being done by the staff, I fired off some snark. I was responded to in private, but my reply…well, my reply I felt I had to share. I am including only the first sentence of the originating email, because it is the only part to which I responded. So this is my message to anybody who finds it acceptable to abuse those who give of themselves for free.

Dude, I think you've maybe taken things too seriously.

Let us play pretend. Close your eyes and allow a vision to take hold... let us pretend that a group of people are donating—at varying degrees of personal expense—their time, energy, cash, and personal property in a labor of love to create something. Picture the group of people who would be into that sort of thing.

Picturing it? What a handsome, idealistic group, eh?

Now carry it further. Pretend that this effort, this time-energy-cash suck as it were, goes largely unappreciated. Nobody recognizes the work that goes in, so nobody provides praise, accolades, or awards. There's no pay, no medal, no recognition of any sort. So now, the potential pool of talent has been weeded down from those who would do it for only a modest amount of public recognition to those who can work absent that.

Did your mental picture get trimmed a bit? Did several people disappear? Perhaps a sizable percentage? It should have, but wait, we're not done.

Now, let us not just fail to recognize the hard work...let us actively shit on them. Let us tell them, repeatedly, that the efforts they are putting together are shit. They are doing a shit job. They are unresponsive, bad at their function, and are otherwise performing like shit. Imagine the way that the potential pool of talent gets winnowed down from only those who are willing to work, tirelessly and unrecognized, to those who are willing to work tirelessly while actively being disparaged.

In your mental image, are people fleeing the scene? Is there madness and chaos as people are trampling others to get free from this trainwreck we have created? Does the scene degenerate into utter lunacy as people panic in the face of the frenetic outbound flood of people that lie before them as they attempt an escape? Oh, we're not done though...

No, now those precious few individuals we have left don't just get told that they suck, that they are pieces of shit, and that they are doing poorly...WE...DO...IT...PUBLICLY. That's right, we go straight to a public forum full of their friends, associates, and cohorts and we publicly chastise them for the shit that they are foisting off on us—say, for example, on a mailing list that they frequent. How fucking DARE they provide (for less than the cost of creating such a spectacle) anything short of professional perfection, we tell them. For $25, or $35, or $50—a sum that none of these volunteers see a dime of—how dare they give us less than a professional conference financed by a mega corporation?

In your mental image, do you see a tiny handful of people—broken spirited, exhausted, wiped out, and trying to continue to make this event happen?

Because, sir, that is the reality of the situation. You have a collection of people busting their asses year after year to create this show. They sweat, and bleed, and work when they're sick; and they make it happen. Every year, we get a new collection of people who are willing to throw in that effort…and every year people like you shit them right back out of the organization…

…and here's the rub, you don't even recognize you are doing it. When it is pointed out you say “whoah, I think you're taking my comments too seriously” or “hey, I am just pointing out the truthful fact that some responses are slow or nonexistent” to which I have one simple response: That is bullshit so thin as to be entirely transparent.

The truth does not mitigate the dickishness that is conveyed by many of your posts. The fact that you didn't mean to disparage the job that this team is doing is entirely moot; the drunk driver doesn't mean to run over the pedestrian, but that makes said pedestrian no less a casualty. Whether your words were meant to castigate the staff or merely did so through blithe lack of ability with language, they achieved the same effect.

You mention later in this missive how one of the tasks that you and your group handled last year was one that none of you would touch again for years to come, because you felt as though you “survived” the day and that it took a lot of the fun out of the con for you. Recognize that the shit you received for grossly mishandling that segment of the event was a mere patch on the sea of shit the entire concom receives about everything that happens throughout a given year; only we don't get the option to place tail between legs and disappear for a few years. If the people you are shitting on this year all disappear, there is no event next year. It dies, or exists as a mere phantom of itself.

It won't die, mind you, because we are irreplaceable (well, except me, but I'm pretty awesome). No, it dies because this history of people taking shots at the efforts of the people who put in their time and effort have created a dearth of talent. My plan, for two years now, has been to take a much needed (and frankly, well deserved) break. I can't, though, if I want this place to be here when I'm done relaxing. There is nobody waiting in the wings to take over. I'm not unique. Most major positions do not have an assistant because nobody wants to work without recognition, let alone get shit on. When I approach people who have been useful in the past, they tell me why they left and why they're unlikely to come back: why would one go where they are abused? Why do for unappreciative, complaining, dicks? Better to pay your $50 and not have to hear it.

So, no, I'm not taking a goddamned thing too seriously. The fact that I—several days deep in “way-too-fucking-sick-to-be-working-on-this” swamp—spent most of the day working with another person who comparably sick making sure your convention happens while you piss on the whole staff with your warnings about how unresponsive we are means that I am entitled to be pissed by your presumption.

Short story long (like I do), if you want a professionally run event, go fucking pay for one. If you want to attend Penguicon, learn to accept the best efforts of a team of (largely) amateurs who are creating this from their spare time and desire to make this happen.

I'm not even bothering to address the rest of the message, because it is semantically null; you defending what is, at its core, a dick move. So, you'll either recognize the elements of truth in what I have to say and make changes, or you'll decide I'm being my traditionally asshole self and blow it off. It makes no difference to me, I have ridiculously thick skin and I know that I am awesome at what I do…but recognize that shit like this doesn't get a free pass from me any more. From now on, every single time you, or anyone else, decides they can take shots at the efforts of better folks, I will hasten to take my shots back; and I am reasonably good at that, too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to shoddily running this convention you are all looking forward to seeing at month's end.



It bears mentioning that the individual in question replied by way of doing the oh-so-clever public email about how grateful he is for all of the hard work I do and how he's sorry if he hurt my little feelings. Fortunately, I didn't feel the urge to get to snarky back…I mean, I did predict that he would be the sort to throw that sort of reaction. Sometimes, you get what you expect.