Shawn’s Rules for Public Meetings

Some guy named Robert got to have his name on a list of rules, so I hereby claim the following rules as Shawn’s Rules of Public Decency in Meetings:

1) In order to complain about something, a person must actually know what they’re talking about.

It’s important to note that someone telling you about it doesn’t count as knowing about it. It’s also discouraged to conveniently omit key information in your rant that might possibly show you are in some way a party to the problem. Lastly, if you lash out at the only people with the slightest ability to help remedy that which troubles you — please realize that efforts will most likely be put into discrediting your complaints, as opposed to fixing them.

2) If you don’t have even the slightest inkling of a solution, a public meeting is not a place to complain about everything that is wrong with the “establishment.”

Please remember that public administrators are often the target for scorn, anger, complaints, and slander. We mostly realize that vicious personal attacks (even pointed ones) are not directed at the person, but rather the office. However, this also makes us cynical, bitter, defensive people. We’re generally smart, and “get it” when you say things meant to sting us personally. Luckily, our sense of duty is almost always such that we try to do the right thing in spite of such comments and complaints. But we don’t like you. If our solutions to the problems you bring up make you personally miserable, please realize it’s your position that is miserable, not you.

3) If you ask for something, get it, and then complain about it — please be sure to wear the appropriate “I’m an Idiot” hat while speaking.

This rule helps public officials identify personnel issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. Also, be sure to state your full name, so everyone can remember the proper names of the idiots.

4) If you don’t like your job, your working conditions, your benefits, your pay, your boss, your facilities, your co-workers, or even your daily commute, please feel free to quit.

If you don’t have what you need to properly do your job — then don’t do it. This may seem harsh, but really, why be miserable? Life is too short to be unhappy with your job.

5) If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem

Complaining about the problem is not part of the solution. At all.

Ok, that’s it. Too much more would be snark, and I’m in just the sort of mood to be snarky really really well.

UPDATE: I leave you with this gem…


25 thoughts on “Shawn’s Rules for Public Meetings”

  1. Shawn,

    Whenever someone wants to complain about noise or lights in their windows in the middle of the night, or whatever, I’m the guy who gets pointed to. By the time they find me, some people are seriously…irked.

    I usually stand there and listen to them scream at me for a few minutes.
    Then I’m silent. Then, after a suitable pause, I quietly tell them that I’m the only person there who has any reason to give a crap about their problem and I’m certainly the only one who might try to deal with their problem. I tell them that its possible they’d like to make me like them just a little.

    Complainers sometimes lack tactics.

  2. Actually, I like the people who complain at public meetings. They are entertaining in their bizzarro lunacy, and the added bonus (with living in a not-that-big town) is that I learn the names of these people so when I encounter them elsewhere I’m braced for a certain level of indignancy/self-righteousness/paranoia/lack of reasoning skills.

    I like to think of it as the social-engineering side of democracy in action. I engineer to keep socially away from the nutbars.

  3. I thought that if you weren’t part of the solution you were part of the precipitate?


    Sorry you had a bad day Shawn. I do actually know what you’re talking about.

    At least you don’t have to add, “Please do not get touchy-feely with the person who is coming to fix your problem. We don’t like random hugs from strangers.”

  4. Carlie, it’s not wrong. I want to copy Shawn’s rules and post them all over my company, my state, my family…

    In an aside, I’m really glad I love my job. No sarcasm – I really do love my job.

  5. I’ve posted a copy of these rules in my apartment. I can think of a couple of people in my town I’d love to send them to, only they wouldn’t recognize themselves, so that’s probably out.

    And I really like #4. If it makes you so unhappy, why do it? I can see doing so for a short time, especially if you have kids to feed. But there are always options. That’s why I quit the corporate world, moved from the big city to a small town, and have worked for myself for the last 20 years. It hasn’t always been easy, but I love what I do, I can fire clients I don’t want to deal with, and I can say that a number of clients are now also friends.

    Will say sometimes my boss drives me crazy. But that’s just me.

  6. I run across similar situations. The key thing most people seem to fail to understand is that my comprehension of their problem is not the same as coming up with a solution. I can’t count the number of times people have explained something to me then stood there as if I could fix it for them in a few minutes.

  7. I always tell my nearest and dearest that if they haven’t taken any aspirin, I don’t want to hear about their headache. That’s kind of a corollary to your rules, Shawn.

    And what about those idiots that think they’re so important that they’re going to stay at their desk doing email until you come by and personally round them up for the meeting. I am not a cowgirl, and people need to manage their own calendars. Sigh.

  8. People do vent. When doing so, even the most rational, intelligent, and emotionally grounded individual is prone to making statements based on feeling rather than fact. Public forums are useful for airing these feelings and sentiments, but also tend to intensify the very sentiments being expressed.

    As a public figure in a few different venues, I can empathize with you. It is never easy being the target of public criticism. Long walks, soaking in a hot tub, and escaping into classic literature have proven themselves soothing after particularly troubling public or organizational meetings. Or you could just move to Guam and start over with a new identity. Either one.

  9. Josh, Shawn is not allowed to go anywhere, he must remain where he is and continue to entertain us.

    And as someone else who does computer support, I have experienced most of what Shawn says–and I’m often not quite as nice as he is. Sometimes PEBKAC is the answer, whether people want to hear that or not.

  10. Hmmmm…..I just ran across this site. I don’t know you…so this may be random. I just had to comment. I have the same job as you do, and it’s something I’m very passionate about.

    I am a Technology Administrator for my school, as well. Very first, and foremost, the most important job I have, is to make sure our staff and faculty members are taken care of, so they may educate our kids.

    At the end of the day, Shawn, it’s about the kids. What did you or I do to improve education today? This is the question we must ask ourselves, before we rant…

    It is very difficult for Teachers to follow harsh curriculum guidelines set before them. It’s a hell of a lot harder when they have to meet technology benchmarks…when their equipment is either 1) Way out of date, 2) not working properly, 3) feel like their Tech Admin is completley unsupportive.

    I used to be a Teacher, believe me…..Teachers adore their Tech people……..when you are decent and helpful.

    You referred to them as “idiots”. Wow. And…they know about your blog now? I feel sorry for you. This situation is just plain sad and pathetic.

    An “idiot” is a person who is ignorant. Are you sure you are aware of how busy and frustrated teachers are? Ironic.

    It is my job to *HELP* my faculty. As an administrator, I do not view myself as a target for scorn, anger, etc. All of my faculty may not be in love with me, but they know that I have an “open door” policy.

    When requests are made, I do everything I can to research, beg, plead, whatever I need to do to fulfill that request. I have never had a teacher behave in a threatening manner towards me or my work.

    So people are not are not allowed to speak their minds at school board meetings? Why do you get so upset? If you are doing your job well, covering your bases, and being an advocate for childrens’ education, I don’t understand your anger.

    It seems one doth protest too much.

    Your “Rules” are based upon, what seems to me, your insecurity, impatience, and lack of desire to improve the school in which you work. …a great cover for a lazy person?

    I invite ideas for new technology. And, given the fractional amount of time teachers have, Board Meetings are the place to ask for these things. This notion that techies in the workplace should hate the general population is old and worn-out.

    We work for a SCHOOL. I don’t know about you, but I want my Teachers happy! …it doesn’t take much. They email an issue, I respond, and treat them like human beings.

    Maybe Shawn should live by “Shawn’s Rules”. It seeems to me that you are unhappy with YOUR JOB. The absolute irony here, is that fact that you are complaining about your job, man. ….Your place in life.

    Why are are you blogging at work so late at night? Maybe you would get more work done if you didn’t give people constant updates about your “medicine” and awful working condidtions…while working!!!!

    And dude, are you taking pics of yourself, in what seems to be your office? This is just plain stupid. I think you should consider yourself lucky. Schools FIRE people for this kind of stuff.

    I can only imagine how pissed off your teachers are right now. You have all this time to complain and whine AT WORK.

    Have you ever seen a bored teacher? Who takes pics of themselves at work? I hope you have never bragged about your work ethic to anyone. I guess it doesn’t matter now, anyway. The proof is literally in the pages! BUSTED.

    One final note….at the end of “Post Comment” you literally write:

    “everytime someone comments on this post , I’ll RUN to my computer and send you an email. I’m just that kinda guy.”

    Do you “RUN” for your teachers? for the kids’ sake?

    “I’m just that kinda guy.” ….you mean off-task, whiny, desperate for attention in cyberspace?

    I hope you’re looking at the Job Classifieds. Please, for the sake of education, don’t work for a school. Work for Microsoft. Your rants may work there.

  11. Well, Daphne, your technical prowess is such that you can copy and paste comment spam in two places on my blog, so I’ll give you that…

    I find it interesting that you “happened” across my site, and yet seem to have significant clairvoyance regarding my work situation. Your one size fits all understanding of education is refreshing. I’m gonna have to get me a pair of those rose colored glasses.

    The truth of the matter is that you really are clueless. I refuse to get into a whizzing match with you, because feeding trolls only makes them grow.

  12. Re: the Daphne comment. I think her big concern is the same I posted about earlier: that you seem to have such open anamosity towards your users. Also, I don’t think she has clairvoyance, you are pretty forthcoming with what your job is and how you feel about your coworkers

    Before being a system admin I worked in technical support for several years. Believe me, no matter how “bad” or “clueless” your users are, I guarantee I’ve dealt with worse. People swearing at me and threatening me with lawsuits for things that were out of my control. One of those clients, one of the worst in fact, I took the time to listen to and understand where he was coming from. I was patient and understanding. After that we had a great working relationship.
    You sit at the intersection of the people using the technology and the techology itself. You have to be good at both. If you don’t really like dealing with people, that’s fine, some don’t. However, you would probably enjoy being a system engineer better than a system admin.

    What do you do in those situations, no matter how hairy? You COMMUNCATE with them. In my experience there are people who feel that any sort of negative comment or problem someone has with something is a personal afront. I guarantee you, they aren’t. It sounds as though you are taking this very personally. I would be good money, that if you sit down with your users and have an open meeting about what their concerns are, you will feel better, and they will feel better. Communication is key.

    Because right now, all they have is a blog of yours that they’ve found, where you seem to be pretty openly bitching about them in a very thinly veiled way. In which it seems that you are saying that they are idiots and that your job would be great if not for them.

    I also agree with Daphne about the worn out idea of tech guys being at odds with their users. This may have been acceptible in the early 90’s when tech was on a golden pedestal. Now, we are IT professionals. We interact with all facets of an organization. We have to be able to communicate and empathize with the people we work with. We have to be able to convey complex ideas to those with limitted tech background, and we have to understand what they are trying to say when they may not be exactly sure what is happening themselves.

    By dismissing their concerns as baseless and idiotic, you feed into that old stereotype. Yes, it’s probably frustrating that they don’t understand everything. But also understand that they don’t see but a fraction of what is going on and you are the one they are depending on to ensure their technology is working correctly. Just because they’re raising concerns or saying something doesn’t work, does not mean they are attacking you personally. You’re busy, they’re busy, often times, meetings are the only place to talk about these things.

  13. Yeah…I knew I was gonna get busted for copy/paste in more than than thread. I really wanted you to read it. Sorry…I know I broke a Cardinal Rule.

    “You don’t wanna know. I’ll say that it’s no small coincidence that there was a school board meeting this evening….”

    I may be a “troll”…but I guess trolls do not need to be geniuses. You make it pretty clear about what you do for a living and how you feel about it. It was not hard to deduce, man.

    I would like to know where you work…but I figured that would only add to the nasty comments I was soon going to recieve from your blogger buddies.

    “Rose-colored glasses”? I never implied ANYTHING is at all perfect in the world of IT and Education. It gets very hectic and crazy and there is alot to complain about. I guess I just figured you knew that already. I think you are confusing a pair of glasses for some patience, civility, and people skills.

    “High Horse”? Yeah, that’s why I work in the field that I do. So…I can claim how glamourous and imperfect things are. I told you I am not perfect. I like that comment. Come & work for a SCHOOL….maybe you will see it’s not a “High Horse” we are on….but eggshells. I do what I can to help. This makes me a bad person? On the contrary.. this “Woe is me” thing going on is very unattractive. People see right through that. Everyone has it hard who works for a school.

    I may have been harsh, Shawn. But we really DO create our own happiness. It’s obvious to me you are miserable. The farmer did lose his joy for helping the racoons remember? I am merely suggesting you follow your own rules. If you’re not happy, leave.

    As far as “discovering” this site…I really did. I get home at the end the day and play on my mac. I googled some key words about my job and rants. I do not have it perfect, either. Sometimes it’s fun to read blogs about situations close to yours. Maybe you want to beef up security? Your blog was not hard to find.

    I WISH I knew the details of your situation. I mean, the ones you already haven’t written about.

    Anyway, I do not wish to get into a “contest” with you, either.

    It’s not worth it. However, having the same profession…I commented to let you know that not everyone shares a sense of doom and gloom in this field. We really are there for the kids…and if you have lost this perspective, it’s time to go.

    No joy? Leave. I had to go 800 miles away from all my friends and family to find a position within a state and school sys I liked. It was hard…..but I’m not the kind of person to sit on my ass and moan.

    Maybe you could write children’s books? or more really “cryptic” parables in which you are the hero….and the antagonists have no voice to respond to to your God Complex.

    Farmers are a LOT smellier than B. Sprouts…believe me.

    Shit or get off the pot. No one likes a bitch.

    Really…stop referring to people who have a different perspective as “Idiots” or “Clueless”.

    It is the equivelent of, “No..You are!” Find some eloquence.

  14. Daphne,

    I never intended to “hide” my post from anyone, and in fact, emailed it to many of the folks I work with, because it was a unique look back on a public meeting. This is my website, and it exists to amuse me. If I’m going to rant a bit, I’d rather it be in public than in gossipy hallways and offices.

    I would talk more about specific circumstances, but I don’t think it would help anything. Since you don’t know the specifics, isn’t it fair to give at least a small benefit of the doubt? Maybe I’m not a raving lunatic. Maybe I actually have a point. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not a stereotypical BOFH. (Of course, maybe I am, you never know…)

    When I spoke about rose colored glasses, I was referring to the assumption that all districts are the same, and that what’s true for you is automatically true for me. I’m far from perfect, but I’m more than just whiny.

    And really, since you don’t know me or the specific situations sparking my rant — it’s shocking how quickly you assumed I was such a miserable cuss. Browse around my website. I’m a pretty happy guy. I’m friendly. You might actually find I’m not the stereotypical insecure IT guy you pegged me for.

  15. First things first: I may have been harsh, Shawn. But we really DO create our own happiness. It’s obvious to me you are miserable.

    This is the utmost ridiculous statement I have ever read in my entire life. Just saying.

    Second, I’m beginning to wonder whether you to actually, you know, work with people in your jobs. Why, because I’m also in computer support. Unlike Shawn, I’m not an administrator, but that it because I purposefully chose NOT to apply my boss’ position when it opened. Why? Because I love my job just the way it is. And I do mean LOVE.

    What is my job? Teaching and software support. So I deal with users on a regular basis EVERY DAY. I also am in charge of scheduling our computer classrooms, so I have to deal with professors on a regular basis.

    And you know what? Users and professors can be obnoxious gits at times. And when I’ve spent time dealing with some of the obnoxious gits, what do I do? I rant about it. Usually to my coworkers, by I will sanitize things and put them on my website as Shawn did. Why? Because sometimes you have to get things off your chest and out of your system or they EAT YOU ALIVE.

    I’ve said far worse about specific users than Shawn has said her in general. Doesn’t mean I don’t like my job. Doesn’t mean I’m a miserable person (of course it doesn’t mean I’m not a miserable person either, but I know for certain you can’t just that from several paragraphs of my writing.) It simply means that sometimes we have to deal with users who are OBNOXIOUS GITS. It’s part of the job, and to do the parts I love, it also means I have to deal with obnoxious gits sometimes.

    But I will certainly not keep quiet about it. In fact, I do pretty much what Shawn does, and get together with my friends and make jokes about it. As in, “if I see (redacted) walk through that door I am going to run out the window.” and “Remember: Lack of planning on (redacted)’s part does not constitute an emergency on your part.”

    Actually I say that last one a lot.

    The point is that any kind of tech admin or support job has days and users that are absolutely horrifying.

    Writing about those days does not mean we hate our jobs or hate all users. It simply means that that a certain subset of users are nightmares. And let me tell you, after 20 years of therapy, I can tell you that in a relationship of any sort (personal, business, whatever) there is only one person you can change. And that is not the other person. So the best thing to do is come home and laugh it off.

    If you’re incapable of seeing that is precisely what Shawn was doing here, then I suggest you probably won’t like the rest of his website. And I doubt you’ll like mine either. Or the websites of any of the rest of us who visit Shawn.

    But if you’re willing to accept that Shawn was simply venting over a situation, and that in jobs like ours we ALL need to do that from time to time, then I would say dollars to donuts Shawn would love to have you stick around, and that you’ll be welcome to any of our places.

    Michelle, Information Technology Consultant, Health Sciences Center, WVU.

  16. Hey Shawn… just a reminder: you own your own blog, and have the right of editing or removing all content. My comment policies on my blog are less assertive than Scalzi’s and they still make clear that it’s my blog.

    Someone visiting my blog can certainly dissent. I welcome it! It’d be really boring if everyone agreed. I’d consider comments suggesting alternative approaches, or identifying what the commenter themself would do in similar situations, to be constructive and good discussion.

    I consider commenters that drive by and harshly criticize me, my blog content, or my values, perspectives and sense of humor to be pretty completely out of line. It’d be like visiting someone’s house, plopping down, and denigrating their furniture, telling them their children are rude & ugly, and turning up their nose and complaining loudly about the food and drink you offer them.

    If they have opinions that they’d like a forum for, then then can start their own darn blog. Maybe they have … but they don’t usually do the reciprocal courtesy of linking to it. Glass houses & all…

    The decision to moderate is yours and yours alone… after a single smackdown & warning, I”m fairly willing to use the delete button myself.

  17. It seems that it is very easy to come in and give advice with no knowledge of specifics. Well intentioned advice, but like many things on the ‘net, not very useful.

    Anyone reading your blog long term, Shawn, knows you are generally an extremely positive person. Someone who imagines that you haven’t brought that humor and thoughtfulness to your currently-frustrating job situation obviously doesn’t know much about you.

    I agree with Michelle. Sometimes a funny rant among friends is just what you need to move forward with things! 🙂


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