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Feeling worried?

Hey all. I’m Catherine, and I work on CEA’s Community Health and Special Projects Team. One of my roles is to act as a contact person for the EA community, alongside Julia Wise.   

I just wanted to let you know that I’m available if you want to share EA-related worries or frustrations with me (they can be specific or very vague). My email is catherine@centreforeffectivealtruism.org, or you can reach the whole Community Health and Special Projects team on our form (which can be filled in anonymously if you wish). Sometimes I’ll have the time to jump on a video call to talk it through if you’d find that helpful (but it might not always be possible). Maybe I’ll be able to help in some way, or maybe not. I also read through all the posts on the Forum relating to worries about the community (and the comments). 

What I’m worried about right now

Please feel free to reach out about any manner of worries relating to EA – whether they are related to my current worry or something entirely different. 

Personally, I’m currently feeling disappointed, worried, frustrated, and a bit angry (which isn’t an emotion I commonly feel) about a few things that I’ve read on the Forum recently. I’m also incredibly privileged in nearly all metrics of privilege one can imagine, so there is a high chance that what I’m feeling doesn’t scratch the surface of the feelings some of you are experiencing. 

But, I also notice that there are a lot of people in the wider EA community who don’t follow  the online EA spaces. They’re just getting on with the job of learning, upskilling, or making the world a better place. I’ve been oscillating wildly between feeling that my worry is a really big signal I should pay attention to or mostly a function of me spending too much time online reading meta-EA things. 


One thing I tell myself when I get upset, angry or frustrated in an EA space is “This space ≠ EA”. 

  • If you’re feeling one EA space is bad for you, consider trying another EA space (for me, I sometimes get disillusioned when reading the Forum, but in-person meetings or video calls make me feel SO MUCH better about our community.) 
  • You might like to try rereading the texts that first brought you to EA (my personal choice for reinvigorating myself is On Caring - it’s not a happy read but for me it brings things back into focus). 

And, just a reminder, sometimes the right thing to do is to take a step back for a bit. 


 

Comments15
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:39 AM

I would recommend NOT speaking to Catherine. 

I spoke to her about a sensitive issue, and sometime later, it turned out she lied to me about confidentiality.  I cannot share more details without accidentally doxing myself.

Retracted: Read this for why.

Tl;dr - my (potentially flawed or misguided) attempt at a comment that provides my impression of Catherine as a particularly trustworthy and helpful person, with appropriate caveats and sensitivity to Throwaway's allegation.

Note: I haven't written this sort of comment before, and appreciate that it would be easy for this sort of comment to contribute to have a chilling effect on important allegations of wrongdoing coming to light, so would welcome feedback on this comment or any norms that would have been useful for me to adhere to in making it or deciding to make it.

First things first: I'm sorry that Throwaway had had a bad experience with Catherine! Notwithstanding the lack of further detail, I recognize that given this comment there's a reasonable chance that there was miscommunication or Catherine made mistakes around confidentiality, including some chance this was in poor faith, part of a meaningful pattern, or involved misjudgement that could call her position into question. Throwaway has my empathy and I wish them the best in their forthcoming post, which seems courageous and selfless to do given their experience. I appreciate that what I say below would be very frustrating and disheartening to read for someone in the position they mention in the comment. I'll certainly do my best to read anything further from them with my best attempt at good faith and unbiasedness, and would need to apologize to them and downgrade my confidence in my ability to judge people's trustworthiness if the picture I paint below turns out to be have been unhelpful in hindsight.

With this said, it makes me feel uncomfortable to see a fully anonymous/uncorroborated/non-specific allegation of wrongdoing prominently in the comments to this sort of post - I'm not sure I like the incentive structures where anyone can costlessly cast a significant shadow on someone's reputation, given the costs involved in dissuading people from talking to someone whose role is to provide community health support. I definitely agree with Lorenzo's impression that it would be great to have appointed independent/external person or body that someone could take these sorts of allegations to with confidence.

I feel compelled to provide my own impression of Catherine (for context, we first met 5+ years ago through the Effective Altruism community in New Zealand; my early experiences involved sharing some thoughts with Catherine based on my experience of having been involved with EA a couple of years prior to her,  and I helped her put on a Giving Game, we have subsequently continued to have conversations when we have the chance to see each other out of a mutual good feeling and an interest in EA community health). 

My impression of Catherine is that she is a particularly kind, trustworthy and  virtuous person, with an interest in doing right by people and not breaking commonly accepted ethical norms. Concretely, I'd give at least 5-to-1 in odds that a year from now, I'll continue to both recommend her as someone particularly helpful and trustworthy to talk to, and endorse her meaningfully remaining in her current role (of course, in the hypothetical where I'm telling someone this, I would out of transparency note that someone has called into question her upholding of confidentiality in one instance).

I appreciate the caveats in this comment.

I hope to caveat my forthcoming post with a similar level of thoughtfulness.

Hey - I'm Chana, currently interim head of the community health team.  I'm really sorry you had a bad experience. If you'd like to discuss concerns you have with members of the team, you're welcome to contact me via the forum, my email (chana.messinger@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) or via anonymous form (note that with the form, I won't be able to follow up). If you'd like to express more thoughts to our team but not in public, we also have a team form that can also be anonymous. 

If you still would find it useful to talk to a contact person, you can request to talk to Julia, now or in future (conditional on her capacity).

Linch
1y37
20
3

Flagging that if I was in the same position as the OP, if I had a bad experience with Catherine, I would probably not trust you here either. Just a pretty unfortunate situation all around. :/

Yeah, that would be understandable (and as you say, unfortunate), and I appreciate you flagging. For what it's worth, I don't think this would be true of everyone - when I was a teacher some but not all people felt comfortable expressing disagreements with me to my principal, for instance, and I'm operating here off what I think of as the standard thing of talking to people's managers if they have concerns. But maybe you mean specifically in the realm of confidentiality? Either way, I think there are a few reasons people might just not feel comfortable being able to raise concerns here, and that sucks.

If you have thoughts on things that would make you feel more at ease in this situation (which you're raising as a hypothetical but isn't for the commenter), I'd be very up for hearing.

As an anecdote, my previous employer had an external independent counselor/support-person/coach/therapist/something that you could go to if for any reason you didn't want to go to the company ones. (I don't remember if they had paid for like 20 hours total, or if there was a cap of one meeting per person). I never looked into it, but I think the idea was that the external person would then report things anonymously or in aggregate, or not report anything and just offer support.

I'm not sure if it would be net-positive for EA (or even doable at all), but as a hypothetical, I think it would make me feel safer about confidentiality if I was talking to someone that was not employed by EA, close friends and colleagues with many senior EAs and grantmakers and so on.

Thanks for this!

Hi Chana. 

I will not be sharing further information with the team but instead creating a post outling my experiences on the EA forum.

The reason being is, I think, there should be reviews of services provided to the public (ie, the wider EA community)  by institutions - this includes the CH team at CEA - so people can make up their mind as to whether to use their service.

I appreciate that I will end up doxxing myself to the CH team and perhaps even harm my future working relations with CEA (as I've did some work for them previously) by doing this but I consider this will be net positive in informing the judgement of the wider EA community.

FYI, for those interested, I cannot make a post immediately for reasons to do with this that I also cannot explain. I hope to be able to do so in some weeks.

Retracted: Read this for why.

Really brave of you to do this. It's important. 

Update

I will no longer be writing a post as I find it very difficult to write and seeing this Twitter thread of harrasment against those critical of EA is  discouraging.

I will retract my comment.

Speaking personally, I have no idea how to update based on your comment and "retraction" and this just leaves me rather confused.

This would be bad, if true, given that it is essentially the same complaint that was levelled against Julia Wise, of community health, by Alexey Guzey previously.

Jona
1y10
3
0

Thanks for highlighting this offer again and sharing your feelings, Catherine! 

I like how you highlight that the forum is just one element of EA. Personally, I also distinguish quite strongly between EA  as a question and set of evolving ideas and the EA community (which is obviously a part of EA). 

Historically, I found it super valuable to talk with you through various sensitive community-building considerations and benefited a lot from your experience managing countless tricky situations I wasn't even aware of. Thanks for doing that important and hard behind-the-scenes work! 

for me, I sometimes get disillusioned when reading the Forum, but in-person meetings or video calls make me feel SO MUCH better about our community

I can definitely relate to these feelings. Sometimes, I find the dichotomy between my face-to-face interactions and what I read here on the forum to be incredibly stark (and not in a good way). This is probably just due to the online disinhibition effect and thus I can't say for sure whether or not the difference in magnitude between online/in-person experiences is unique to EA community.

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