“Life Happens” is an acknowledgement that there are numerous things that people experience in their actual physical lives that suddenly take higher priority than nearly anything else (like participation in volunteer-based communities), and those communities (like the IndieWeb) should acknowledge, accept, and be supportive of community members experiencing such events.
What kind of events? Off the top of my head I came up with several that I’ve witnessed community members (including a few myself) experience, like:
- getting married — not having experienced this myself, I can only imagine that for some folks it causes a priorities reset
- having a child — from what I've seen this pretty much causes nearly everything else that isn’t essential to get dropped, acknowledging that there are many family shapes, without judgment of any
- going through a bad breakup or divorce — the trauma, depression etc. experienced can make you want to not show up for anything, sometimes not even get out of bed
- starting a new job — that takes up all your time, and/or polices what you can say online, or where you may participate
- becoming an essential caregiver — caring for an aging, sick, or critically ill parent, family member, or other person
- buying a house — often associated with a shift in focus of personal project time (hat tip: Marty McGuire)
- home repairs or renovations — similar to “new house” project time, or urgent repairs. This is one that I’ve been personally both “dealing with” and somewhat embracing since December 2019 (with maybe a few weeks off at times), due to an infrastructure failure the previous month, which turned into an inspired series of renovations
- death of a family member, friend, pet
- … more examples of how life happens on the wiki
Values, People, and Making It Explicit
When these things happen, as a community, I feel we should respond with kindness, support, and understanding when someone steps back from community participation or projects. We should not shame or guilt them in any way, and ideally act in such a way that welcomes their return whenever they are able to do so.
Many projects (especially open source software) often talk about their “bus factor” (or more positively worded “lottery factor”). However that framing focuses on the robustness of the project (or company) rather than those contributing to it. Right there in IndieWeb’s motto is an encouragement to reframe: be a “people-focused alternative to the corporate […]”.
The point of “life happens” is to decenter the corporation or project when it comes to such matters, and instead focus on the good of the people in the community. Resiliency of humanity over resiliency of any particular project or organization.
Adopting such values and practices explicitly is more robust than depending on accidental good faith or informal cultural support. Such emotional care should be the clearly written default, rather than something everyone has to notice and figure out on their own. I want to encourage more mutual care-taking as a form of community-based resiliency, and make it less work for folks experiencing “life happens” moments. Through such care, I believe you get actually sustainable community resiliency, without having to sacrifice or burn people out.
Acknowledging Life Happens And You Should Take Care
It’s important to communicate to community members, and especially new community members that a community believes in mutual care-taking. That yes, if and when “life happens” to you that:
- we want you to take care of what you need to take care of
- you are encouraged to prioritize those things most important to you, and that the community will not judge or shame you in any way
- you should not feel guilty about being absent, or abruptly having to stop participating
- it is ok to ask for help in the community with any of your community projects or areas of participation, no matter what size or importance
- the community will be here for you when you’re able to and want to return
It’s an incomplete & imperfect list, yet hopefully captures the values and general feeling of support. More suggestions welcome.
How to Help
Similarly, if you notice someone active in the community is missing, if you feel you know them well enough, you’re encouraged to reach out and unobtrusively check on them, and ask (within your capacity) if there’s anything you can do to help out with any community projects or areas of participation.
for expanding upon
How to help and encouraging folks to
Keep in mind that on top of these life changes and stresses, the need to make changes to social activities (like decreasing or ceasing participation in the IndieWeb community) can be an added additional compounding stress on top of the others. Our goal should be to mitigate this additional stress as much as possible.
How to Repair
Absence(s) from the community can result in shared resources or projects falling behind or breaking. It’s important to provide guidance to the community with how to help repair such things, especially in a caring way without any shame or guilt. Speaking to a second person voice:
You might notice that one or more projects, wiki pages, or sections appear to be abandoned or in disrepair. This could be for any number of reasons, so it’s best to ask about it in a discussion channel to see if anyone knows what’s going on. If it appears someone is missing (for any reason), you may do kind and respectful repairs on related pages (wikifying), in a manner that attempts to minimize or avoid any guilt or shame, and ideally makes it clear they are welcome back any time.
If you come across an IndieWeb Examples section on a page where the links either don’t work (404, broken in some other way, or support appears to have been dropped), move that specific IndieWeb Example to a “Past Examples” section, and fix the links with Internet Archive versions, perhaps at a point in time of when the links were published (e.g. permalinks with dates in their paths), or by viewing history on the wiki page and determining when the broken links were added.
Encouraging More Communities To Be Supportive When Life Happens
When I shared these thoughts with the IndieWeb chat and wiki a couple of weeks ago, no one knew of any other open (source, standards, etc.) communities that had such an explicit “Life Happens” statement or otherwise explicitly captured such a sentiment.
My hope is that the IndieWeb community can set a good example here for making a community more humane and caring (rather than the “just work harder” capitalist default, or quiet unemotional detached neglect of an abandoned GitHub repo).
That being said, we’re definitely interested in knowing about other intentional creative communities with any similar explicit sentiments or statements of community care, especially those that acknowledge that members of a community may experience things which are more important to them than their participation in that community, and being supportive of that.
This blog post is a snapshot in time and my own expression, most of which is shared freely on the IndieWeb wiki.
If this kind of statement resonates with you and your communities, you’re encouraged to write one of your own, borrowing freely from the latest (and CC0 licensed) version on the wiki: life happens. Attribution optional. Either way, let us know, as it would be great to collect other examples of communities with explicit “life happens” statements.
Thanks to early feedback & review in chat from Kevin Marks, Jacky Alcine, Anthony Ciccarello, Ben Werdmüller, and gRegor Morrill. On the wiki page, thanks for excellent additions from Chris Aldrich, and proofreading & precise fixes from Jeremy Cherfas. Thanks for the kind tweets Ana Rodrigues and Barry Frost.
Now back to some current “life happens” things… (also posted on IndieNews)
Murray Adcock on 2021-02-21:
There's a lot I like about the IndieWeb community, but one of the best elements is a constant determination to strive to be better. Their recent adoption of an official "Life Happens" policy is a great example. It's a commitment to recognise that, well, life happens and that being part of an online community, or volunteering time/effort, is never a requirement. That slipping out for a bit is not just okay, but encouraged, whatever the reason. And providing a framework for supporting individuals in the community to whom life is happening.
Kimberly Hirsh on 2021-03-28:
Being in a “life happens” moment myself (finishing my dissertation), I originally missed Tantek Çelik’s chat conversations & blog post about developing a “life happens” approach to community participation & care on the IndieWeb. I love this idea.