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Rejection and Renewal

In June I was contacted by a friend in the EuroPython community.

They were looking for articles about how to deal with rejection and what to do when one's proposal for a conference talk wasn't accepted. Since they couldn't find anything suitable, they asked ChatGPT for suggestions, and this is how it responded:

In an entirely predictable turn of events, ChatGPT was wrong (no such post existed at that time), and so I puckishly proposed writing such a post. We can't have ChatGPT telling lies can we?

This is it.

It is a rare privilege to find oneself in a community who genuinely cherish and support the participation of all. Such company guarantees we encounter folk who are different to ourselves: an opportunity to learn from each other's contrasting backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. It's why diversity is a precondition for growth: our worlds are mutually enlarged by our differences.

But this isn't an easy journey.

It takes compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness to nurture a safe space where such encounters take place. Participants - through their actions, attitudes and attention - embody and live the inclusive and open minded ethos necessary for such a precious situation. This is a complex relationship between the individual participant's personal outlook and the collective esprit de corps that emerges from the aggregate contributions and interactions of many different individuals.

Here's the challenge: it's not enough for a group to say they're inclusive, open-minded and whatnot... that's just empty virtue signalling. Merely "going through the motions" is an ignorant and insidious sort of cultural cargo cult ~ communication at the expense of community. It happens far too often, and normalizing such behaviour actively diminishes the possibility of a genuinely inclusive and open-minded space.

Rather, such a community spirit springs from the quality of the interactions between individual participants. Sometimes such interactions are unavoidably painful: as when a proposed contribution to a community event is rejected by the organisers.

Yet it is at these moments when embodiment by individuals, and the emergent community spirit, are so important.

This equally applies both to organisers and participants.

If you are an organiser of a community event, and have a call for proposals but limited space, then you will inevitably reject (and therefore exclude) some of the proposed contributions. If you believe in a diverse and inclusive culture then this process may feel deeply uncomfortable and paradoxical.

But this is the puzzle you face, and (I'm sorry to say) there's no right answer.

Actually, the notion that there is an answer to such a situation is, I believe, deeply flawed. Rather, how you choose to conduct yourself, pay attention to the situation and engage with the unfolding events will reveal your community's spirit. I hope you make a conscious personal decision to choose compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness over going through the motions of a performative brain dead cultural cargo cult.

Alternatively for participants, it can be deeply upsetting if your contribution to an event has been rejected. All sorts of complicated feelings may come up (although some may just shrug and move on). I want to reassure you that it is natural and understandable to feel sad, disappointed or upset by such rejection. Lean into such feelings and give them the time and space they deserve. The worst thing you can do is ignore them.

Most importantly, pay attention to what happens next.

If the organisers of the event embody an inclusive and empowering community spirit, their interactions with you will be affirmative, compassionate and supportive. If you engage in good faith, such organisers will likely welcome feedback or suggestions. But please remember they're human beings too and they may respectfully disagree with you. This is what it is to be in a diverse community - you'll meet folk with different outlooks to your own.

It's an opportunity to learn!

As an exercise in self-understanding and growth, you may want to explore why your proposal was rejected (if this hasn't already been explained). Such feedback is best received in a spirit of constructive collaboration. You'll either discover how to improve your next proposal or come to see how the event in question isn't a good fit for what you want to contribute.

If the former, reflect and refine for next time.

If the latter, your niche might be elsewhere, so keep exploring!

If the event organisers are simply going through the motions, you'll know to avoid the event in future.

In any case, be you an organiser of or participant in community events, best of luck. Just remember flouishing and fulfilling communities are all about the quality of individual interactions, something over which you have direct control: how you choose to participate.