Well, NGS is over and done with, and although I am exhausted I have a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling about it. I did a lot of things at the conference that I had not done before.
One of the things I did was for the first time was I volunteered to do some of the speakers’ introductions. I loved it. I got to speak to the lecturers for a few minutes before they got down to teaching. Some of them were very friendly and “chit chatted” while some were a little more distant. I didn’t take that personally ….even old pros can have butterflies or are just in “the zone” concentrating on what they are about to present. As a “transitional” genealogist (one who is moving from hobbyist to professional) I am trying to “rub elbows” with those who are already firmly established as professionals. I don’t do this to have some of their star shine rub off on me. I want to be around them, talk with them and pick their brains to find out what steps they took to get where they are now. I want to know how they handle certain situations. I want to be them when I grow up.
I also would like to talk to professionals because sometimes I feel as though I am a small tasty critter in a tank full of sharks. I want to know how to navigate these shark infested waters.
Make no mistake…. These are shark infested waters. Almost all of the professionals I meet are full of smiles and good wishes. They talk to me and act like they are more than happy to spend a few minutes answering my questions. But sometimes there is emptiness behind their eyes. Their smiles don’t quite reach to their hearts. Do you know what I mean? Now don’t get me wrong. Not all professionals are like this, and I do understand that sometimes, especially at national conferences, they are forced to deal with “fans” or those who want to be their “friends” for the perceived notoriety they will receive by “hanging with the cool kids.”
Beyond that there seems to be some politics involved, as there is in any group. Furthermore, sometimes I sense an almost cliquish atmosphere. You remember back in high school when everyone found the “group” they “belonged” in? There were the pretty people or cheerleaders, there were the jocks, there were the nerds, and there were the “outcasts.” Everyone forced into their “correct” social group through peer pressure and rejection or acceptance. I hate to say it but I sense a little of that same atmosphere. And here I am walking into it…not sure where I belong, wanting to be friends with everyone; knowing that if you become friends with an individual with one group of people you might be unable to become friends with an individual from another group. A cheerleader will not befriend you, no matter how much you get along or have in common if you are known to be friends with an outcast. It was the same way in high school.
I wish it wasn’t so. I wish that everyone treated everyone else with a sense of equality and respect, but that just isn’t the real world is it?
Now please understand, I am not talking about ALL PROFESSIONAL GENEALOGISTS or even ALL PROMINENT GENEALOGISTS or even ALL CERTIFIED GENEALOGISTS, I am talking about a small few. There are some prominent genealogists who greet you with open arms and make you feel welcome. There are some who include you or advise you without checking with their internal “society meter” to see if you are worthy. But, do I risk being shunned by the “others” for seeking out the “friendly genealogists” counsel?
In genealogy we constantly hear about “the proof standards,” that we are encouraged to use to bring our research up to a certain standard. The bar has been set and we are expected to try and meet or exceed that level. I would like to propose that as professionals everyone should look at their standard of how others are being treated, our professional demeanor and raise the bar a bit. Let’s ask ourselves; “Am I treating others with respect or condemnation? Am I coming off as professional or aloof and unfriendly? How can I help those who will be teaching beside me in a short time? Am I approachable? Am I giving back…willing to be a mentor…giving advice and encouragement or am I acting as if I belong to the popular kids club?”
Being a professional does not make you “better” than a hobbyist or a transitional genealogist…it makes you experienced. It means you have already swum through those shark infested waters and survived. I hate to think that we may have had an “Einstein” or another Elizabeth Shown Mills in our midst and he or she was treated badly or not encouraged and we are the poorer for it. How many really fine genealogists gave up when they were not welcomed in and nurtured? I think we as a community can do better.