Collaboration in spite of cultural differences

+37 votes

Because we are not all from the same culture on WikiTree we need to understand what collaboration means across the at times great divides…. 

This post is because we have some misunderstandings based on cultural, language, race, sex, religious differences that create filters in how we read and interpret things that are listed.  I posted something today that within 5 minutes I thought, no, I need to take that out and did before anyone reacted to it …  we all react from filters we have based on our experiences, where we grew up, how we were raised, what we believe.  Feelings of frustration, being targeted, labeled, etc can make us forget the “do not Wiki when angry” guideline. 

I believe most of those posting in G2G do so in order to help someone.  I also believe that sometimes what we post can be misunderstood.  Some people are just born with the ability to be tactful, some of us are really good at not just getting one foot in our mouth, but both feet and creating upset and pain for someone else.  At times we may feel justified and at times we might just think we are making a point. 

We may innocently post something that can be construed as racist, sexist, ethnically disparaging, religiously intolerant, and family insensitive.  Repeating:  we need to remember that each of us processes what we read here through filters shaped by how we grew up, where we grew up, and what we have been exposed to. 

For example, the thumbs up sign that is so prevalent in the USA for “I agree” has vastly opposite meanings in other parts of the world   Gestures are one thing… words are another….

When we want to collaborate with someone there are ways to start this and ways to start a war that can and has resulted in a Mentor Intervention Request (MIR) being filed.   Things that can create this latter scenario are:

  1.  Perceived hijacking of a profile.   This is when someone removes prior research without first contacting the PM.   One of our members had an ancestor who fought for the Union in the US Civil War for what was called the Colored Troops.  That means he was not a white man.  Yet someone who had researched and found a white man who fought in the Civil War kept changing the non white person to the white person.  Names not only cross families they often cross races, religions, and nationalities.   So it is really important to read everything on a profile and contact the PM before you remove any research.  The PM may not have put everything they have on WikiTree and it is polite to involve the PM in any changes of substance.  In this example you can understand why someone would think the change is a racist move even if it was nothing more than bad research or not following guidelines to involve a PM before making a substantial change.  I would hope out and out racism is not something we have here on WikiTree.
  2. How we word things if we disagree.  Obviously calling someone a name is a big no-no but also we need to be cognizant that some people are documenting relatives who they knew in their life time.  We need to set up some standards for how to document that since for a while all profiles were given standard verbiage about personal knowledge. (see this G2G thread for examples of the canned phrases This can lead to someone thinking what they see on a profile is the standard verbiage when it is really someone who is providing first person documentation.  My suggestion is, for first person documentation, the person entering it indicate how they knew the person and how often they saw them.  Conversely there should be something on the internet that shows this person besides personal knowledge.  A listing in a telephone directory, a Facebook page, mention in a newspaper article all of which are generally available for free on the internet. 
  3. Many of us are proud of our ancestors who fought in a variety of wars.  But we need to be tolerant of those who fought on the other side and understand that descendants can be just as proud of what their relatives did.  Moral judgements are not genealogy.  Understanding the why behind actions can be.  Many people who fought in wars did so because they felt they were being loyal to their country, sometimes to defend their families, and sometimes because they believed they were doing the right thing.  We may think of them as misguided in the 21st century but it is really unfair to assign 21st Century thinking to ancestors who may have been taught a different set of moral codes.  We all have saints and sinners in our lines and we need to leave judgmental opinions out of G2G.  Judgmental opinions are often seen as racist, sexist, religious or ethnically intolerant.  Following the advice of “if you can’t say something good about someone then don’t say it.” Is probably wise. 
  4. WikiTree is becoming more and more diverse and that means we need to understand how language may not always translate what we want it to.  So, if someone is getting verbally upset that is a clear signal that some misunderstanding is happening and it is a good idea to not just react to a post.   Perhaps say, “Please explain that because it is sounding derogatory to me.” I once tried to translate something, it came out really wrong.  Fortunately, a native speaker came to my rescue and asked me to post it in English which changed the entire connotation of what I had actually posted.  (Open mouth, insert foot).  So, remember many folks are using machine translations or doing their best to communicate in a non native language.
  5. We have people with all different levels of education, experience, and skill sets on WikiTree.  Everyone’s family is important and deserves to be respected just like everyone posting deserves to be treated with respect.  WikiTree as we know has a learning curve and some folks really think they are doing us a favor by posting info from internet trees.  Sometimes those trees can be well researched but most have no sources indicated so it makes them suspect.  Using them is not bad, but thinking they are accurate is a novice mistake most of us have made and learned from.  So be kind when you point out the problem with someone’s research.  
  6. Please use the MIR process when it is needed but don’t be quick to jump to it because someone is “in your way”.  We need to give people a chance to look and react.  I wonder how many MIRs have been filed that really should have or could have been handled with simple private emails or a discussion about the sources in G2G. 
  7. Leadership and diversity.  Are there plans to increase the diversity level of leaders and admins to embrace more minority and international people?  As WikiTree continues to grow, is there a plan to include more people in positions of leadership and administration that mirrors the makeup of the membership?  Often that helps with understanding of miscommunications and issues.  Sometimes having a cultural perspective makes all the difference in the world. 
in The Tree House by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (711k points)
Some good points Laura.
Thanks, Laura, for your well-thought points.  You obviously spent time crafting and thinking about all of this.  I really appreciate your efforts as I'm sure others will.
Thank you, Laura, for providing some ‘guidelines’ for Wikitree.  I’d like to see more people apply them to their day-to-day interactions with others.

4 Answers

+20 votes
Best answer
Wow, there is a lot of "food for thought" in this post...(things to think about and consider in our everyday interaction here on Wikitree). Thank you Laura for this well thought out and written post. I hope you get some great responses and feedback from it. You got an up vote from me!!
by Dorothy Barry G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
selected by Pamela Mays
Up vote from me too ... but I'll keep the thumbs up (something I do often) out of it! I had no idea so many of our hand gestures meant such different things, and some such offensive things in other cultures! Thanks Laura for enlightening me/us there :)
+19 votes
The suggestions above look like you spent a lot of time in this post, Laura. I agree with everyone of them. I need to print this out and put it close by whenever posted to the forums. (I sometimes tend to speak before thinking, so I needed this!) Many thanks.
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)
+16 votes
Good points, Laura and I agree with them all. I hope the higher ups take note of this so we have a more open forum for discussion. Good work! =D
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (571k points)
The team participates in G2G all the time :P

Blocking people who are in mediation is standard procedure.

Edit: Note to self: Shouldn't write a post and then leave it sitting for an hour before posting.
Jamie, I agree and am glad you do participate.  

I am not versed in the computer language of :P   what does it mean?
It means someone is sticking out their tongue in a silly manner. Like I made an obvious point. =P

And I know the team participates in g2g all the time. Just saying we might need ways for people who don't know how to contact you guys seem more prevelant and easier to access. I mean had I been a newbie, I'd have had no idea you were an admin. Maybe there should be a way to show that without going to a profile.
Thanks.  I could have looked it up but had my hands full... literally with a small sleeping child I just laid down...  Now I can type with more than one finger again!
No problem.
@Laura - I'm not sure what you mean by "I would like to see at least one leader from the country of a project be a native of that country. ". I am a French native (and resident) and lead French Roots. Bea is Dutch born and leads Dutch Roots. The leaders of South African Roots are South African born. Leaders of Scotland and England are based in UK (maybe not all of them, but most). I also think Australia has at least one Australian leader.

Note that if residents of the EU are banned from WikiTree (which is what participants in another thread are calling for)  you would only lose Bea and me. Ah, and probably Eva and Maggie, the Swedish leaders.
All good info and I do not want to lose anyone!
Wait. Why...

Never mind. Not opening that can of worms. *rolls eyes* It would be nice to have some people in Italy heading up the Italian Roots project with Michael Miaranda and Summer.
Of course! It would be nice to have more people from Italy (and Spain, Portugal, Germany....) on WikiTree. I hope it will happen, eventually. I'm afraid the small proportion of leaders from European countries (UK excepted) reflects the small number of members from these countries. You could say the same thing for Latin America, I guess.
Perhaps we should get the word out then, huh?
+5 votes
Thank you, Laura, for your thoughtful and insightful post.  Thanks also for your reminder not to Wiki angry.  I will try to write carefully, but if I overstep and get ‘asked to leave’ (Newspeak for ‘forcibly ejected’), I suppose I can live with that.

I think we can all agree that conflict comes with collaboration.  How the group manages the inevitable conflicts defines the character of the group.  WikiTree, like most online communities, handles disputes in secret.  Julie says ‘the details … are intentionally kept private so that parties to the conflict are not embarrassed.’  Let me just point out that conflicts here, once put ‘in the system,’ have three parties:  two (or more) members at odds, and WikiTree as represented by the mentors/mediators/leaders tasked to resolve the matter.  Many times the members air their positions publicly in G2G before seeking leader intervention.  Who does a secret process protect then?

I feel strongly that fair proceedings take place in the open.  WikiTree has a documented conflict resolution process that looks fair on the screen, but takes place in secret.  In the end, no one but the parties involved knows whether the process was followed as described, and whether it was executed in a fair and impartial manner.  A leader says the process is scrupulously fair and unbiased; all we can do is take her word for it.  Speaking only for myself, I have very little faith that I can expect fair treatment in one of these proceedings.  If the leaders object to my saying that, too bad.  If you don’t want people thinking that way, open the doors.
by Living Tardy G2G6 Pilot (733k points)
edited by Living Tardy
Herb thank you for posting your thoughts because without open and honest communication a lot of misunderstandings take place.  I think everyone understands confidentiality but at the same time it does open up questions of what is done behind closed doors.  Here in the US we have a jury by peers and even have a process for a change of venue if there is belief that a fair trial cannot be held there.   Business disputes are rarely open and not done anywhere but behind closed doors.   The best run companies do allow both sides of a dispute to ask that others with knowledge be contacted and that is often done in a way that is not public.  Wikitree is a weird combination of public forum and business with a bunch of volunteers doing their best.  This is going to at times create discord and even huge feelings of disparity.  The question becomes when does perception become a reality and when is reality feeding a perception?  And sometimes two people see the same thing and have totally different perceptions about what was said or done.  Whose reality is reality?  And cultural triggers are being pulled that are inflaming a situation?  

I would be highly surprised if you were banned because of your post.  Some people may not like it but we need to have these kind of honest and open discourses. It is healthy for an organization to reflect on if their processes are in fact sending the signal they want it to or creating an atmosphere of mistrust and hurt feelings.   

I am leaving here in a few minutes and will be gone for about the next 6 hours.  So if I do not respond and someone wants me, I will respond when I get back.  Once again my hope is that this thread raises everyone's conscience.  It is easy to get frustrated and lay blame.  We all have to curb that tendency and given the right set if circumstances we all do that...

Hi, Herb --

What you call "secret," we call confidential. I don't think it's ever appropriate to ask people to air their dirty laundry in public, and we strongly discourage people from airing their grievances about individuals in the open forum. I'm not sure why that would be appropriate. So, the process you're questioning protects the parties to a conflict and prevents public humiliation, which would benefit no one.

Most of the time when there is a conflict, it boils down to a misunderstanding of guidelines and policies. Sometimes, it's a person who is unable to operate in a collaborative fashion. To be honest, most MIRs stem from new members who haven't figured out how to use the website yet and they're grateful to have the assistance of a mentor.

Occasionally, we'll get an MIR from someone who doesn't like the way someone else is doing something and it turns out that the person who filed the MIR is the one with the misunderstanding. In these situations, we ask a mentor to contact the submitter of the MIR and work with them to explain how things work.

When a situation gets bad enough that it requires a person's account to be closed, they have the option of a Public Review. This means that the whole shebang is presented in G2G so that the community has an opportunity to see how things were handled and comment on it, but this only happens when the party involved in the conflict requests it. 

Despite what you're feeling, I can promise you that problems are handled as fairly and equitably as humanly possible. Mediators look at both sides of the story, changes to the profiles in question via the change logs, and they review communications that have taken place between the parties to a conflict. Most of the time, this results in the conflict being resolved peaceably.

It's also important to know that discussions that occur about policy, site changes, etc., are held out here in G2G. I think you'd be very surprised to find that this just doesn't happen much amongst team members and leaders. If a discussion about policy starts amongst team members and leaders, Chris or another team member or leader will remind them to take it out here in G2G so that the community is able to read and comment.

I'm sorry that you don't feel that you can trust the way the site is operated. If there's been a situation that has caused you to feel that way, you are always welcome to contact the team at, post about it in G2G, contact a leader that you know and trust, etc. If it's been a situation with an individual, then you should go through the Problems with Members process on the Help menu -- this applies to problems with leaders and team members, as well. We're all human and are just as capable of making mistakes as anyone else. 

Given the nature of most sites on the internet, it's understandable that some people might find it hard to believe that things operate the way they do here. Open communities like this are few and far between, especially communities where members are expected and required to be courteous. Even more unusual is a site where the community is encouraged to help develop the rules and policies, but that's is, indeed, how things were designed to operate here.

I don't mean to sound all pollyanna-ish. I'm just trying to let you know that what you see is what you get here. G2G is where it's at. ;-) 

Thank you, Julie.  I understand about privacy and confidentiality, but we are all adults capable of protecting ourselves.  'Secret' is a perfectly appropriate word to describe a closed-door unaccountable fact-finding activity.  I think disputing members should at least have the option to hold an open proceeding.  Certainly many of those who have already publicized their issue on G2G would exercise that option.  It's all in the WT family, after all.  In the meantime, all we have is your unsupported assertion that matters are, in every single case, handled by impartial unbiased Leaders and resolved in strict adherence to the published process.  I only want to hold that statement to the same standard of proof that we demand for profiles.  Show the documentation.

If you want to propose that conflicts be handled in the public forum, you are welcome to put together a proposal for the community. The steps to do that are here:
Thanks Julie.  At this time, my devotion to WikiTree falls a good way short of contributing that amount of free labor.  Anyone who likes the idea has my blessing to run with it, and even to claim it as his or her own.

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