Not long ago, I wrote a blog about current issues in the ATA. The dual purpose was to encourage members to evaluate the stated goals of the candidates and vote. A great effort was made to present the issues and to lay out facts uncovered from the ATA website. It stayed away from being judgmental or critical of anyone, since the purpose was to promote positive change.
Open dialog on the issues raised was encouraged, and the results in my comment section and on LinkedIn accomplished that goal. Some of the conversation became critical and negative, which typically makes me uncomfortable. However, it is gratifying to know that many people expressed their honest opinion. The outcome was that many more members became aware of the issues in a comprehensive way. Also, the fact that the issues brought up were immediately addressed in the opening statement of the conference tells me that action was taken in response to member concerns.
When I arrived to the ATA conference, I was surprised to discover that many more people than I realized had read my blog. Some reactions were definitely not positive. Several people that I highly respect took issue with the statistics used to show a reduction in membership. One person I hold in high regard felt that it was inappropriate to be airing ATA’s dirty laundry for the world to see, thus giving a bad impression of our industry.
I stand by my figures, because that was the most current information available to the public that could be accessed. The issue of shedding our great industry in a bad light has been a real concern. The blog considered openly the following problems: budget, public relations, and member discontent. Some commenters reacted with strong words that made me feel uncomfortable.
In fact, due to my discomfort, I blamed the commenters for the negative talk. One fine colleague called me out on this in private. He pointed out to me that I invited the open dialog. It is my blog, and I allowed it to be said without blocking or editing it. Therefore, it was offensive to the people that accepted my invitation to comment that I should complain or cast blame afterward.
He was right, of course. Soon thereafter, the blog was edited, and I apologized for what I wrote. That moment reminded me of what I already knew: words are important! Therefore, they must be carefully chosen. People will read and evaluate every word used and gain understanding not only from what is said, but also how it is worded, and what is omitted.
At the conference, I began to feel depressed and defensive after the initial backlash. Then people approached me with encouragement. Many told me that the blog was good and helpful and that it should continue. Some told me that they learned a lot from the continuing discussion. It turns out that more members perceived it as a positive service, which was always my intent.
So this is my decision. I will work hard to promote the honorable language service industry in a positive light. This blog will continue to consider issues that are important to us all until better options exist. I hope to see in the near future a vibrant discussion forum hosted by ATA for its members where all issues are openly discussed and questions by the members are answered. At this time, forums and listservs are full of discussions. ATA can collect that information. However, rarely do we receive real answers or official responses. If this were done, there would be no need to blog about these things anymore.
Right now, I am still concerned about public relations, the budget, and unhappy members. It can be so easy to simply view some people as complainers instead of validating legitimate concerns. There are concerns about dwindling membership and an association comprised of both individuals and companies, which may have conflicting interest. For the time being, no comment will be made about the Chronicle because I am honored and privileged to be working with a great team to revamp it. More needs to be done for interpreters, such as a way to recognize those who are certified. It would be great to see more voting members and more members willing to give back by volunteering.
Please don’t get the wrong impression; ATA is a great association! Every conference I attended has inspired me to grow in my chosen profession, to form great business connections and friendships. Great new lessons are always gained from the sessions and discussions with my colleagues. ATA just has some issues that need to be considered. Instead of just complaining, it is better to uncover the needs and then work for a solution.
Those important issues will become part of the fabric of my blog. This blog will continue to produce information relevant to our valued clients. But it will now also converse regularly with colleagues as well. Open constructive dialog that can be beneficial to the membership is most welcomed!