I’ve been seeing a fair amount of talk about GISHWHES in my social feeds. But not random and silly requests for help or funny stories, unfortunately. Instead people are talking about GISHWHES and harassment. And harassment of my SF&F writer community, no less. Here are the details.
This makes me sad. Being harassed sucks and is a big deal. Being inundated with requests sucks too. Some people have trouble saying no, and that can make this kind of thing particularly exhausting. I suspect that if one achieves a certain level of fame (or at least recognition), it becomes imperative to learn how to say no just in order to maintain basic emotional stability. But even so, not everyone will be great at learning this, and people will be at different stages of the learning curve too.
And when they do say no and the askers are rude and harassing about it? Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.
This makes me think about the problems of scale. Because coming up with items for a local scavenger hunt that involves relatively few people who are probably all connected in some way (they work for the same company, for example, or they belong to the same community organization) is very different from coming up with items for thousands of people world-wide. (Wikipedia tells me GISHWHES had 14,580 participants in 2012, and I’d guess that number has grown.)
Additionally, when organizing such an event for a smaller organization, all the people are known to one another, and therefore they hold each other accountable to a certain standard of behavior. But when the numbers increase and there isn’t the same social pressure present, the likelihood of having at least a few people who think it’s okay to behave like jerks increases drastically. Add to this the sheer number of people making requests to the most famous authors, and problems aren’t difficult to imagine.
So while some of us are busy creating a stream of tweets rhapsodizing about dandelions (which it sounds like are not in season right now anyway), there are others who are being rude and unkind, during an event that is supposed to be fostering kindness. Which is really unfortunate.
All of the asking required by participating in GISHWHES also has me pondering the nature of asking. I was raised firmly in Guess Culture and have been gradually shifting closer to Ask Culture in order to achieve more balance. Quick summary: Ask Culture people ask for what they want/need and are totally fine being told no. Guess Culture people usually only ask when they’re pretty sure the answer is going to be yes, and Guess Culture involves a lot of reading social cues. Keep in mind this isn’t a black and white contrast, but a spectrum of behavior and culture. (Want to know more about Ask Vs. Guess Culture? Have some links!) So I’ve thought about asking quite a lot over the past couple of years.
Here are my own guidelines for asking:
1. Phrase your request as clearly as possible. Include relevant details, and communicate which aspects are flexible.
2. Do not assume the person will say yes. Do not phrase your request in such a way that it appears you are assuming the person will say yes.
3. Be gracious and polite if the person says no. If you aren’t sure if you will be okay with a no, that probably means you shouldn’t be asking (barring emergencies, of course).
4. If you suspect you might be dealing with a person from guess culture (or if you have no idea), consider explicitly including some kind of easy out for them in the request. Guess culture people will often get stressed out from having to say no, so be kind and make it easier. Variants include: “It’s totally fine if you can’t help out” or “I know you’re really busy right now” or “If you can’t help, I completely understand.” These sorts of softening phrases can sometimes make a huge difference in how a request is received. Whether they are appropriate varies depending on context, though.
5. Do what you can to make your request as convenient and considerate as possible for the other person. This could include being flexible about timing, for example, or laying out all the details up front so they don’t have to ask many questions just to figure out what’s going on. It could also mean making sure you’re on time, having the correct materials on hand, or giving plenty of advance warning.
6. Consider the ramifications of your request. This might fall into the being considerate item above. For example, before a Gisher asks Neil Gaiman to write them a story, they might stop and consider the fact that he’s probably already been swamped with requests and therefore decide to ask someone else instead.
7. Show gratitude if the person says yes, both when they first reply and when they are helping you. Let them know how much you appreciate them.
I can tell I’m still more on the Guess culture side of things, though, because as I contemplate this list, my natural inclination is to clarify and add more and talk about variables. And I know many people for whom this list is already way more complicated than it has to be. After all, it could be boiled down to:
2. Accept no.
3. Be kind.
If nothing else, the simpler list is easier to remember. And it still leaves space for all kinds of nuance as required.
Are you more Ask or Guess culture? What are your guidelines for asking?