070: Trusting The Universe with Kale Kaposhilin

Episode Sponsored By:

Support for the Greater Than Code podcast comes from O’Reilly Fluent and Velocity conferences. Taking place in San Jose, California, June 11-14, it’s the best place to get the latest in software development, performance, operations, resilience, and so much more. Register before March 30th to lock in Best Price. And use discount code GTC20 to save an additional 20% on most passes! Learn more at oreilly.com/bettertogether.

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Panelists:

Astrid Countee | Rein Henrichs | Jamey Hampton

Guest Starring:

Kale Kaposhilin: @kalekaposhilin | Moonfarmer | Evolving Media Network

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Support us via Patreon!

Show Notes:

02:10 – Kale’s Origin Story

05:10 – Connecting Through Story and Voice

The Law of Raspberry Jam

08:17 – Communicating Through Text vs Communicating Through Speech

Daniel Quinn

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

12:43 – Kale’s Superpower: Facilitating the Voices of Other People

Hudson Valley Tech Meetup

Catskills Conf

17:28 – Running Unconventional Events and Conferences; Trust and Taking Risks

25:10 – Creating Opportunities and Accepting Offerings

27:49 – Encouraging Diverse Attendance and Making People Feel Welcome

Virtue Signalling

38:45 – Interpreting Intentions, Actions, and Reactions; Centering Yourself and Being Vulnerable

Reflections:

Kale: People matter.

Jamey: Helping people be heard both physically and metaphorically.

Astrid: Trust fall into the universe.

Rein: Building the stage so that other people can speak from it makes a great ally.

Transcript:

Support for the Greater Than Code podcast comes from O’Reilly Fluent and Velocity conferences. Taking place in San Jose, California, June 11-14, it’s the best place to get the latest in software development, performance, operations, resilience, and so much more. Register before March 30th to lock in Best Price. And use discount code GTC20 to save an additional 20% on most passes! Learn more at oreilly.com/bettertogether.

Cloud City Development is happy to support our coding community and especially Greater than Code. The Cloud City team are expert software programmers and designers with a strong desire to see more diversity in tech, more kindness on teams, and better tools. Please let them know if you’d like their hard work, mentorship, or sense of humor. They’re a B-Corporation because they believe in sustainability and they’d like to build with you. Please reach out by emailing hello@cloudcity.io.

ASTRID: Hi everybody and welcome back to Greater Than Code. I’m here today with my lovely co-host Rein Henrichs.

REIN: Oh, lovely. Thank you, Astrid. That’s so nice of you. I’m here with my friend Jamey Hampton.

JAMEY: Thanks. And I’m really excited to introduce our guest who’s a friend of mine. Kale Kaposhilin is an entrepreneur, storyteller and community builder. He is behind many of the creative technology and human-first community development projects happening in New York’s Hudson Valley. Kale is the Chief Community Officer and Co-founder of Moonfarmer, a creative digital studio specializing in handmade websites, applications and art. And he is also the Principal and Co-founder behind Evolving Media Network. For the past 14 years, Evolving Media Network has cultivated community in the Hudson Valley by aligning companies and people who are committed to supporting creativity, collaboration, and connection. Hello Kale, thanks for coming on.

KALE: Hi. Thanks so much for having me. Really happy to be here with all of you.

ASTRID: So to get started, we usually want to hear all about your origin story and, of course, your superpower. So take it away, Kale.

KALE: Okay. So origin story. I dropped out at Bard College. With a bunch of friends, started a nonprofit arts organization to provide creative arts resources to emerging artists because when we were at Bard, we had to borrow microphones to record people. And it was really hard to make things we want to make and we just wanted to make great work with our friends. So we started a nonprofit studio and then turned it into a production company called Evolving Media Network. It was just a bunch of friends making different audio and video things, making records, making films. And the internet was sort of coming alive in the late 90’s and we started focusing on that and thinking about, “Well, how can we tell great stories on the internet?” 

I don’t know if you all remember Real Player or Windows Media Player. It used to be a really challenging experience trying to have a good audio or video experience on the Internet. We started focusing on websites and eventually web applications that would help people do that, help them to listen to each other’s music, appreciate each other’s work. And then ultimately realized that people were connecting with each other through the sound of the human voice and through each other’s stories. And we’d be began to realize how very important this was. And our work started to try to facilitate this to the greatest degree possible. This became a production company, became a web application development company. And eventually, we started things like Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and Catskills Conf because we really wanted to connect with other people doing the same type of work, making things that they were proud of, expressing themselves and also finding each other, being inspired by each other, and ultimately connecting deeply.  And that’s really the spirit of all that we do, of our many brands, which take a long time to say, but really it’s all the same thing. It’s all about wanting to…it’s about our love for people. It’s about the experience that people have when they can appreciate the intention and love that other people have, when we realized that we really are all working together to make the world safe and to appreciate each other and live a full life to thrive together. And the rest is kind of just about how we do that and how we express that, as far as I’m concerned anyway. That’s sort of my origin story, what I care about and a bunch of the ways in which it’s manifested in the world.

ASTRID: So what I love about that is I think that you’re the first person I know who’s dropped out of college to start a nonprofit. It’s usually dropping out to start a startup. And thinking so much about people first, which seems to be something that you just always had all along the way, which is pretty inspiring.

KALE: Thanks. The first moment for me really was when I realized that people were connecting with each other’s hearts through the sound of the human voice. That was a big moment for me. Honestly, podcasts I think have emerged because a lot of people are realizing that we can connect with each other and through each other’s stories. And I think that that’s helping to change the world for the better one episode at a time.

JAMEY: I love that. That makes me feel so good about what I do. Thank you.

KALE: You should feel good about what you do. You all should. It’s a really wonderful work that you’re doing.

ASTRID: One of the things you mentioned was connecting through stories which you brought up again with the storytelling. What do you think it is about the storytelling that is so important, especially in technology today?

KALE: Well, stories have a couple of different effects, I think. It’s really powerful for a person to feel seen and heard, to know that they’ve expressed their story and that someone has heard it and sees them. The other part of this that’s really important I think is the effect that it has on the listener. When a person is vulnerable and they realize that it’s okay to be vulnerable. And when you hear the other parts, there’s often in almost any story I’ve found, you can connect with at least one thing – yourself. You feel that. You connect with another person and you’re encouraged yourself to be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more open.

And I think in today’s world, it’s more important than ever because we are building a digital world that is really powerful in some ways. It helps us to do things that we never could do before, but it’s also inadvertently creating distance by helping people. I mean, there’s so many ways in which it’s unexpectedly creating distance while simultaneously creating connection. And I think we can talk a lot about that. But I think that people feel more disconnected than ever while they’re able to chat with thousands of people at a time so easily because of the abstraction that the digital era puts up. And I think that we will eventually…and right now even. I mean, Catskills Conf exists because of the desire to connect deeply in person, to bring together people who are making these systems and help us connect deeply.

REIN: I think what you said about being able to connect with thousands or even millions of people but not really connecting to with any one person is really interesting. Gerald Weinberg has a thing he calls The Law of Raspberry Jam, which is the bigger the piece of toast you have, the thinner you have to spread the jam. And the idea is that your reach is inversely proportional to the connections you can make with someone. What I mean by that is if you talk to someone one on one, you can achieve a certain level of connection. If you write a book that 50,000 people read, you can’t connect with each person to have the same level. If you have a movie that 15,000,000 people see and so on, do you think that’s true in general? Do you think there’s anything we can do to combat that, to connect more deeply with people even while we’re reaching more people?

KALE: I think it’s definitely true that my digital relationships, my associations with people through common social media platforms are great in number, but few in depth. I don’t think that it is a place where I feel that I can really connect deeply with people until we start being able to hear each other or see each other and start to appreciate some of the human characteristics of communication. That might just be me. I think it certainly has its place. I mean, the Internet is a great tool for exchange of idea when it comes to connection of people. It’s been challenging for me to have that more emotional experience, just basically through the Internet. It really takes audio and video for me to connect with another person.

JAMEY: It’s interesting to me because I don’t have the same experience. I’m thinking about it like really deeply right now as you’re describing this, but I find sometimes that communicating through text cannot have all of the limitations sometimes as communicating through speech. And by that I mean when I’m communicating through speech, sometimes I have trouble expressing myself or I spend a lot of time searching for the words, the right words that I want to say. And I feel like when I’m writing and I have a little bit more time to compose like, this is exactly what I want to say and this is the meaning I want to convey, I feel like a lot of times I do a better job. Does that make sense?

KALE: Totally makes sense to me and I actually share those feelings. And a lot of times I feel it’s easier to get across my point by writing, but I don’t often feel like I understand the…like hearing that vulnerability and somebody trying to find the right words makes me sort of feel human in a way. So I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that I have a preference for one versus the other, but I can relate to both, certainly.

ASTRID: I do think that writing gives you the chance to express something human because it is another way of storytelling. I agree with you, Jamey, about how it can be sometimes a better medium because sometimes in the middle of a conversation, you can say the wrong thing even though it’s not really what you mean and it can change everything and you don’t want that. But when you get a chance to think through what you want to say, then you can actually be more clear. But I think that that’s another opportunity to kind of express that very human part of I’m trying to tell this story and I’m hoping that I can put it together in a way that you can really understand what I mean.

KALE: Totally.

JAMEY: I agree with that and I think what Kale said about hearing someone’s hesitation is really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way, like being able to experience the process that they’re going through is almost part of what they’re saying to you.

REIN: One of the challenges here I think is that what you say is only a small part of what you actually communicate. And when you’re restricted to communicating via text, you’re missing out on the majority of what you’d be able to get across through body language, their tone of voice, for all of these things.

ASTRID: I agree with that. But when I was thinking about writing, I was actually thinking like one of the reasons why we still read classic literature is because it evokes certain emotions that are universal. And so in a way, a lot of what is written when you do get a chance to write, especially if you’re pretty good at it, it’s a great chance to connect to people through time, which is really hard to do than any other kind of medium. Maybe you could do that with film. And you can in some ways because of the body language and some things that are universal, but then there’s other things that might distract you. I’m just thinking about that because I’ve been re-watching a lot of 90’s shows. It’s weird when you see them pick up the phones and there’s like posting on some people’s doors.  It kind of distracts me from the moment because I’m like, “Wow! This is not that long ago, but it feels like it’s a million years ago.” But I do think that there are some things that are obviously better in person. And I agree with what you were saying Kale about I make connections with people online and then I feel like I don’t really get a chance to feel like I’m connected to them more deeply until we’re talking at least where I can see them. And that feels like it’s important enough that we have to talk about that I need to see your face and that’s a totally different level.

REIN: I want to get right back to communicating with people. I just wanted to mention that one of the hallmarks for me of great writing is that it can transcend that limitation and connect to you on multiple levels.

KALE: I think that’s a great observation. Interestingly enough, we lost a great author who I think was really good at doing that on Saturday. Daniel Quinn passed away. He was 82. He was the writer of the book, Ishmael and a dozen other books. Beyond Civilization was one of them, The Story of B. And if you’re not familiar with them, I highly suggest reading the book, Ishmael. It was given to me by a person who said that they define their life now by before Ishmael and after Ishmael.

JAMEY: Wow! That’s quite an introduction to a book.

KALE: It’s pretty amazing. It’s a conversation between a person answers a call in the newspaper: teacher seeks student, must be interested in world change. And the person goes and finds a gorilla who is seeking to help people appreciate where they departed and how the world ended up in the way that it is today. So I think that my superpower is a real love to facilitate the voices of other people. I became an audio engineer because I wanted to record other people, help them connect with each other, record musicians, help people connect with what they were doing. And every project that I’ve ever taken up has been to help others connect with each other, to be sort of a beta support person. I’ve worked with a lot of great partners, directors where I was the producer, they have the vision and I would figure out how to make it and I was inspired by them, their love.  I loved that and wanted to help it be realized fully.

So for me, it comes down to, I think, really wanting to support the voices of other people. And there’s something about my own identity which is deeply connected to that. It makes my heart feel full, fulfilling the work I’m here in this world to do. So that is my superpower.

REIN: One of the things I love about that is that sort of like a conductor of an orchestra or a manager of a sports team. The only way that you can be successful is by making other people successful. The only power you have is to empower other people.

KALE: That’s how it feels to me. And that is actually manifested through technical production. So event production, stage craft, lighting, sound, video.  My mission is to deliver a microphone to the voices which are unheard in this world. And that manifests in all sorts of projects like Hudson Valley Tech Meetup where three people come on stage and I lovingly prepare that space and try to create every opportunity possible, whether it’s connecting over the webcast or connecting in person so that people can hear this person and that person can feel heard. At Catskills Conf, we make an entire weekend out of that where people have an opportunity to dive deeper, to spend a couple of days to connect with each other on stage, but then to find each other around the campfire afterwards. Largely, the audience, these people is makers of digital things. But we pound steel together and hike in the woods together and discover each other in new ways. And it’s a real love of my own and of the people that we work with to create the event to help everybody do that.

This past year, I really felt like that was received, that it was understood, and that we were really connecting with the audience. And they were kind of responding as well, including you, Jamey, who had been there in the second year, expressed real excitement for it. We got to know each other. I was so overjoyed that you came and spoke and that you really felt like it was something that you felt welcome at and excited by. And that, to me, was like the most deeply meaningful part was Saturday night at two in the morning, it was you and me and Jim cleaning up just talking about, feeling good about the whole thing. That was like the highlight of the whole thing for me was to know that it was being received and that the people it was intended for, were excited about it.

JAMEY: Catskills Conf is my favorite conference of the year. I’m not just saying that because you’re on the show. I really feel that way.

KALE: Thank you. That means a lot. So Catskills Conf, its evolution has everything to do with those who are excited about it, who have their own ideas on how they can contribute. That’s how it’s evolving is when someone has a spark in their eye and says, “I love this, what do you think about adding this?” Or, “How about a talk about this?” And we just have to say yes. And it’s just the more that that happens, the more that it reflects the community of people who are loving what it is and we’re connecting with it. And that’s kind of its evolution, yourself included. Mandy came for the first time last year and here we are having this conversation. It kind of evolves in this way.

JAMEY: One of the things I love about Catskills Conf is that it’s an opportunity that other conferences don’t have to like do something that’s not typical. My first year, I did foraging and I learned how to like determine what plants I can make tea out of, which is a very good life skill for me. And then this year, I got to do blacksmithing, which was really, really cool. And I think I already mentioned this to you, but if not, I’m springing it on you right on the show. But I’m hoping to do a workshop next year at Catskills Conf about how to read tarot cards and I feel like no other conference in existence could I show up and be like, “Let’s do tarot cards.” We’re doing it.

KALE: That’s amazing. That’s exactly what Catskills Conf is for. And I’m really excited about the tarot card idea that you have. It’s awesome.

ASTRID: So where did this unconventional structure come from? Like what was the impetus behind that?

KALE: For me, it’s what I was just talking about finding other people who had ideas and not wanting to create. I mean, there are some parts that are about structure that are important. We need to make sure that the certain functional elements of an event are executed well. There needs to be enough rooms, there need to be the bare bones of an event. The room needs to hold enough people. It needs to sort of cover its costs in a basic way. But beyond that, the content I think should really be a reflection of the people. And we have, as a group, there’s about a dozen people who are consistently making Catskills Conf every year and it’s about creating a space, I think, in which everybody feels welcome to bring any idea to the table and  that’s really, really important. We also want to create a combination of elements because we’re here in the Hudson Valley, which is kind of an unconventional sort of tech community. And we wanted to celebrate that and bring, as Jamey was saying, something to people that was not typical for a…I really think of it as a tech conference, to be honest. But certainly not typical at a “tech conference”. So we’re in the Catskills, in the foothills of the Catskills and we’re at The Ashokan Center and there are things you can do there that you just can’t do anywhere else. They have a blacksmith shop. They’ve been teaching environmental education to children for over 30 years. They’ve been teaching fiddle and dance and music in the woods for over 50 years, and offering those opportunities to people as kind of a starting place.

And then, in the first year during the lightning talks, Chris Garrett, who is an attendee and a big fan of Catskills Conf, did a presentation on how the technology of the scythe is far superior to the technology of the weed whacker and sort of gave a demo on this, brought his scythe which he uses. And it was quickly apparent that the potential for others to bring new ideas to the table was what we should be trying to support and what we should be trying to create a space for.

I guess in summary, Catskills Conf is a combination of the elements which make it unique in the place in which it is rooted and some of it honors that and creates opportunities that are unique because of that. And the rest is about the unique people who are attending and what they can bring with them to share.

REIN: What would you say to someone who maybe has an idea for a conference or wants to get into running conferences or events and doesn’t really know where to get started asking for a friend?

KALE: Well, I can answer this with respect to Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and Catskills Conf because I think both are successful through the same reason, which is that it has everything to do with the audience and creating a space in which people can express what they want from the opportunity to connect with each other on a regular basis, whether it’s annually or monthly, in the case of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, and really listening to that. The basics though of event production, the fundamentals have to do with being able to do it in a way that is repeatable or that is not too much of a burden on the organizers. And I say that because any new endeavor is an investment of energy and usually there’s a lot of other things going on in people’s lives.  None of these things that we do really have a commercial intention. So, to be able to do them, we have to do them in the context of the rest of the work that we’re doing. Labor needs to be shared. We each create a structure in which that happens. So, if you are kind of approaching it in that same way…there are other conferences that happen in other ways. There are other conferences which are the business of the group, right? And they make income from them and it’s a whole business thing. It’s not really the world that I’m kind of coming from. So if you’re coming from a similar space where you want to bring people together and you want to do something, you want to hold a regular event or an annual event, I think it’s about thinking about how to pull it off at least initially.

And so for us, the first hurdles were, where do we do it? And oftentimes if you engage a venue on a commercial level, there is a significant expense. And for your first time out, you’re wondering, “Wow! Can I risk several thousand dollars to do this?” Sometimes that might stop people right in their tracks right there. Personally, here in the community we’ve been developing in Kingston, we knew people who had a space available and who were interested in bringing people together also. And they said, I approached the venue owners and said, “We have this interesting idea to do this. We want to bring some people together.” They said, “Oh that sounds interesting. Sure, you can use our room.” And in the case of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, that room we started getting 20 people out the first night or 10 people. We ended up getting about 30 or 40 and the owner of the space was there.  It’s actually a nonprofit called RUPCO in Kingston. And Kevin O’Connor was in the room that night and he said he could feel the love and enthusiasm that was in the space. And from the first night he said, “You can have whatever building we have. What you’re doing here is deeply meaningful. It has community impact. So please call on us if you want to use one of our spaces to bring people together.”

And I believe that in almost any community, those types of properties exist. Those types of people exist. And if one wants to do an event, you should try to find other people who want to create community. And then some of them will have spaces, some of them will have, who knows, food, AV equipment. Just kind of put the question out to the universe of how you can do this and I promise you that answers will start to emerge and you can share your story and people will respond and that will kind of be the next step. And if you do this and you do it with a good intention and you honor the people in the process, I think that you can produce events in a non-commercial fashion in a way that is good for everybody and ultimately reflects all of the collaborators and people who are kind of putting a stone in the soup.

JAMEY: I love that. You’ve hit on one of my big life things that I think about all the time, which is you never know what someone’s going to say until you ask them. And the worst thing that someone can say is no. And you wouldn’t believe what kind of things can happen if you’re just willing to go out and ask for them.

KALE: I couldn’t agree more. That was an idea that I was exploring actually in college before I left school. I went hitchhiking around the country specifically to explore the idea of what would happen if you just put yourself out there and asked for a ride or asked, just asked what would happen. And what I learned at a very young age is that if you kind of trust fall into the universe, I mean, I’m not advocating doing anything dangerous, but if you trust and if you take a little bit of risk, if you are vulnerable and honest and kind, the things that you’re looking forward to make, the work that you want to bring to the world will start to emerge. I can almost guarantee it, though I certainly can’t speak for all people, but that has been my experience. 

JAMEY: That’s beautiful.

KALE: Thanks. But all that we’ve made in many ways has been on those themes. And it’s a really beautiful experience to see it emerge because, like I was saying earlier, you need to have enough consistency, schedule structure in order to make certain things work properly. But you also really need to leave space for what you cannot predict. It’s those parts that, for me, are the most meaningful. They weren’t premeditated. They came from somewhere else, from another person or from, I don’t know what. But it feels special when it’s starting to happen.

REIN: You mentioned this earlier too that sort of the identity of the conference was shaped in large part through listening to the audience, through listening to the people that you’re bringing to the conference. How do you balance that sort of collaboration between your own vision for the conference and what you’re hearing from other people?

KALE: I think that there are some components of it that are consistent and which are consistent with the original vision. We wanted to bring people to the foothills of the Catskills and to our area where we lived and welcome them to our backyards. So we host Catskills Conf at the Ashokan Center and that is consistent. That’s probably the place where the conference will always happen, though I suppose it could happen somewhere else. There are aspects of our area including the food, the things which are made here which we will always celebrate and always want to offer to people who come to the event.

There’s a few things that we look for when someone has an offering and I can’t say that we’re terribly critical. It’s only our third year. I’m trying to think if there’s anything that we’ve ever rejected. There have been, which is really important to have a balance of diversity on stage, and in attendance in general, but certainly on stage. So there’s really only a couple of spots available for cis white males because there’s plenty of opportunities for cis white males to speak in the world. And so, we have turned down ideas that were either delivered by a cis white male or when there was already a couple of them on the bill, so to speak, or ideas that were really commercially driven. I mean there’s plenty of tech conferences where you can go and do skill development or where you can go and look at demos of things that are just a product demo. We are interested in work that is shared, that has a human component to it, that is the story is presented by a person who is sharing their human experience with the development of something or the making of something. So if it is an offering which is purely about ‘check out this cool thing I made’, it’s hard to describe the difference, but it’s really about creating opportunity where there is often not opportunity for people and to really celebrate the human characteristics of the work. If we do that well, vulnerability I think touches all people, stories emerge, and ultimately it serves its mission to create deeper connections over a three day period.

JAMEY: You talked about how important it is to have diversity. And when you’re talking about the stage, you have a lot of control over that as organizers. But when you’re talking about attendance, how do you encourage a more diverse attendance and like what do you do as an organizer to make sure that people are going to feel safe and comfortable and welcome in your conference?

KALE: The most obvious things I can point out is something that I can’t personally take credit for. Shauna Keating has been working with us here at our company, Moonfarmer, for a couple of years now. Shauna came to Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, was a real go-getter, wanted to do and be as engaged as she possibly could in all things and that included participating in Catskill Conf. And last year, in wanting to pursue the outcome which you just described of being welcoming and inclusive as much as possible, we just decided, and I’ll say at that time that it was mostly white male organizers of the event. And the first year was almost 80% to 90% white male organizers. We said, “Well, we need the organizers to have some diversity. And so, that was the right move. And then Shauna said…so second year, Jamey, you were talking about pronouns and the importance of pronouns.  And so the combination of Shauna starting to be a leader and us getting an awareness of the importance of stating pronouns resulted in the pronouns of the first couple of speakers being expressed on the website very early, including yourself. And I heard from many people that that was one of the flags which they saw and said, “This is for me.”

In summary, and that’s just one example, but I would say that it’s really important to show that there are people attending who expressed the diversity that you are trying to support and for you to say that in a way that is helpful and encouraging and welcoming. And the only way to really know that I think is to have people organizing who represent the communities that you’re trying to reach.

JAMEY: When I first got the chance to speak at Catskills Conf, I got a message from Shauna and Milo that was like, “Hey, we’re just working on the website. Can you send us your preferred pronouns and your favorite kind of tree leaf?” And I was like, “Okay, I’m not sure why you need all of this information,” but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing once whatever happens with it.

REIN: Okay. What’s your favorite tree leaf?

ASTRID: Yeah, I want to know too.

JAMEY: My favorite tree leaf is an oak tree leaf, but not like the pointy kind, like the kind that’s very round around the edges. And it’s because when I was growing up actually, the largest tree in the county was in my backyard and it was protected by the county. And so we had this like gigantic oak tree with all these leaves.

REIN: Okay, that’s fine. It’s supposed to be maple, but I’ll accept that.

JAMEY: I’m so glad to have your acceptance, Rein. 

REIN: I just wanted to mention one thing about what you said Kale, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but what you just described is literally virtue signaling, right? But not in the way that it’s come to mean. What you did is you signaled to people you wanted to be a part of the group in a way that they received and that they understood.

KALE: Ah, that sounds right. Though I think the most important part of what I was trying to express was that the idea to do that came from a person who was a member of the audience that we’re trying to receive or welcome. So it made sense to them and made sense to the community which they were a part of. That could be a community of women, for example. If you want to create diversity, I think ultimately the simplest thing is to make sure that the organizers are as diverse as the attendance that you are trying to create.

REIN: Was the goal of putting the pronouns on the side because you wanted pronouns on the side or because you thought that it would be a way to signal something about the conference?

KALE: It’s both. I think that it is important to acknowledge the importance of pronouns and that also is a signal to all attendees that that is something which they should know about, learn about and consider. And that it is a space in which that is something which is honored. I don’t know if I exactly answered your question.

REIN: No, no. You did, for sure. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that in-group signaling is a normal thing that humans do and is not necessarily nefarious.

KALE: Like I said, I don’t think of it as a nefarious thing. It is an effort to communicate with each other, our intention.

REIN: Oh, I wasn’t suggesting the way you were doing, but it has been…

JAMEY: The term virtue signaling has a negative connotation, even though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing, I think is the point.

REIN: Yes.

KALE: I see.

REIN: That was much better [inaudible] than what I was saying. Thank you.

KALE: I’ve actually never heard the term. So, forgive me.

JAMEY: Can I tell a story about signaling? But I remember one time I was on Twitter and some guy was like, “I’ve figured out the gays. I’ve figured out how they’re signaling to each other. It’s with their haircuts and colors and they’re flagging each other and they mean different things.” And it was such a ridiculous post, but all of my friends were like, “Oh my God! He figured it out. Now, we have to kill him.”

KALE: That is crazy and funny. I do sometimes struggle as a cis white male with the way in which I express certain ideas and the way in which those are going to be received. I think in my Twitter bio, I put feminist at one point and because I’ve been trying to learn a lot over the past couple of years, I find it sometimes hard to be a supportive white male other than as a listener and as a person who is there to support. I feel like I have been unable to know what to do in group conversations because I feel like I’ve lacked perspective and I needed to listen to those who had perspective. So that’s been kind of a big thing for me. And so at one point I felt courageous enough to put feminist on my bio and sort of got called out that I was putting that there because I wanted to advertise myself in some way. Maybe that’s what virtue signaling is. Also, I was trying to be a white male showing support and that was my point, and wanting other people to do the same and wanting people to see that and feel that there were white men who supported feminism or who supported the use of pronouns. But then sometimes people are like, “Oh, you’re just trying to look like a white male who is feminist and you’re trying to advertise that.” And I’ve struggled with this a bit. I feel like I’ve probably put it up and taken it down a couple of times.

ASTRID: What you’re talking about, Kale, reminds me of some of the criticisms people had when it was popular to put safety pins on, I guess as a sign of saying that it was a safe person to talk to you, a safe person to communicate with. And some people felt like, “Why do you need the pin just to say that you’re safe. Shouldn’t you always be safe?” Why are you saying that? Are you just staying that so you can feel good about how horrible things may be. Then when you’re trying to have those conversations and then you don’t really mean it. So I think what you said about listening is a valid contribution. I think that it gets downgraded, but I feel like a lot of times if people listen to each other a little bit more, then a lot of these other types of ‘we went down the wrong path but didn’t mean to’ wouldn’t happen. And I also think it’s valid to vacillate back and forth because everybody is not one thing. And so, there’s a lot of different identities that you’re always going to be grappling with to try to figure out what’s authentic to you right now and that’s going to change. And it’s not easy to put up a sign basically and say ‘this is who I am’ for everybody and always feel like it’s the truth. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either.

KALE: Nice, I appreciate that.

REIN: I think the moment safety pin thing jumped the shark was when you could buy a $50 gold safety pin from the jewelry store.

JAMEY: I hated the safety pins from the first day. It was just really obnoxious to me and like people really wanted to push it on me. They’re like, “You’re not wearing a safety pin.” I’m like, “Nope, because I think it’s stupid.” And it was just this very weird dynamic.

ASTRID: It felt like a forced thing. Like instead of it just, I don’t know.

JAMEY: What I didn’t like about it is that there was this idea that like, “Now that I’m wearing a safety pin, marginalized people can come to me.” And I’m like, “You’re still putting the burden of like coming to you on the marginalized people. You’re not actually going out helping anybody. And that was a little frustrating to me.

ASTRID: Yeah. I think that’s what I mean. Like there’s like a forced interaction instead of just doing the messy hard part, which is if you really want to help, you got to go where the people are and actually listen to what they have to say and realize that you could be part of the problem and just deal with it. And it’s not easy.

REIN: It was basically a way for privileged people to say, “Notice me, please. Don’t forget about me.”

ASTRID: I think that also there were people who were doing it who didn’t really want to be that person, but they were trying to figure out how do I signal that I care. And I think that that’s hard to do because everything that can be seen in a positive way can also be seen in a negative way. And I think that sometimes it’s just a matter of you have to be a person that somebody, like a community of people, they’ve been around you long enough to know that this is really true about you. Because even with things that are a little bit more benign like volunteering, some people will say, “Oh, you’re just volunteering because you want to feel good about yourself.” Some people are volunteering because they actually care. If they volunteer once and maybe never again, maybe you could say that’s true although that’s not necessarily an indication. But I mean, if you know a person who volunteers every month for years, you stop questioning what their motives really are, but you have to get to know them. And I think maybe because of the, like what you were saying earlier, Kale, about how the Internet has created the connection but also created a lot of disconnection because you don’t have that depth anymore in a lot of your relationships. Maybe that’s part of the reason why some of this stuff feels so offensive because we don’t really know people that well and we’re trying to kind of force this closeness or this trust that’s not really there yet. And the only way to do that is to actually have like those moments together to be a part of each other’s lives in a much deeper way. And that just takes time. And if you don’t, you can’t just rush that by putting on pins or buying $50 gold pins, which is a bit ridiculous. And I think it’s an uncomfortable reality that a lot of us are dealing with and it’s just not going to go away anytime soon.

REIN: I think you mentioned something that’s really important for me, which is that we don’t get to control how other people perceive us, for better or for worse.

KALE: That is true. For me, the intention matters a lot. One of the things that I struggle with the most is that my intentions would be misinterpreted and that’s just been the case my whole life. The idea, but you’re right, that that can certainly happen. But also for me, when I think about how I feel about what someone else is doing, their intention matters a lot to me. People certainly make mistakes all the time. The only thing that I ever really get upset about is if someone intended to harm or intended to do something wrong. Accidents happen, people make mistakes, people evolve. That’s what life is. We are all, I think, trying to do the best that we can in the world and for the world, hopefully. But for me, that intention matters a lot in all of work that I do and the people that I want to connect with in the world I want to build together.

JAMEY: I’m still thinking about this idea that everything that Astrid said that everything that can be seen in a positive way can also be seen in a negative way, which is just really like us, like a hard thing to grapple with emotionally. And I wonder how it affects how people act because I feel like there is some sense of like this is seen in a negative way and I’m not going to do it, but since like everything can be like how do you decide? Even though some people thought this was great and other people didn’t, I think this is great and that’s what I’m going to do anyway. Like at some point, you have to make that decision for yourself not based on how people are perceiving you from it. Does that make sense?

ASTRID: Yeah.

KALE: Yup, it does. [Inaudible] ever since Astrid mentioned that and really perspective is huge. Perspective can have a lot to do with how we feel about something or consideration of the different ways in which someone could be looking at something. I think it is true that there will always be the opportunity because other people will perceive something not just because of what happened in that moment or what the thing that they’re perceiving did, but where they come from or what it meant to them, what the implications were based on the life that they’ve had. And this was something that I realized very early on in life when I don’t know if I just decided or just felt that it was foolish to be judging other people’s actions because I could almost never appreciate all that went into, what their action was or what their reaction was. And the best thing I could do is do my best to understand it or think about it or consider it or learn about it, but my perception of what they did might very well not appreciate the things which went into the background of that. And that ultimately does lead to the way in which people respond to things differently or perceive it differently.

ASTRID: I think that this part of the conversation is really important though because I feel like this is a lot of what people are struggling with. I think that there’s a lot of people out there who are very…they’re not bad people. They want to be a good person. They want to show that they’re a good person. They want to be a supportive person and an ally. They don’t know how to do it because everything that they try to do, they feel like can come across as fake or bad and they don’t want to be that person. Especially when you really care about helping a group of people who may be being attacked or being marginalized. You want them to feel like there is somebody who cares. It’s really a challenge to figure out what the right thing to do is all the time. And I think it’s one of the reasons why some people kind of check out and just say, I can’t do this, and they just kind of try to be blind to everything.

But I do feel like, I know for me personally, I go through this a lot as well, but at lately this is where I am now. I just feel like it’s more important that I be consistent with myself so that whatever my actions are, at least I understand why I’m doing them. And I can explain that if somebody ever asked because I will have enough of my own understanding of my behavior.

To your point, Kale, about intention, I can explain my intention. I think it’s harder when you’re trying to match your behaviors to what it looks like. Other people will perceive a certain way because that’s a moving target and it’s constantly changing. And it kind of makes you look crazy because it feels like you’re constantly doing all these things and it’s not really who you are and then people question if you are authentic or not and it’s just easier to try to find your own center of gravity and stick to that as best you can in the midst of everything else that’s going on.

KALE: I agree with that 100%. I think it’s also the same idea is expressed when we think about somebody doing a presentation on stage or delivering an idea on stage. A very common thing that I’ve heard said is don’t play to what you think the audience wants to hear, just try to find your own truth. Just honestly express that idea. And that’s ultimately what people will connect with. And the other path is ultimately I think just a diluted reflection of what is already in the world or what is a very abstract, homogenized idea out there versus what I think many people are seeking, which is human connection, which is connecting with other people, and that can only happen when people are really trying to express their own truth. I don’t think they’re often trying to be vulnerable in the process, but just the idea of feeling comfortable with that  and that’s to try to be yourself. And it’s manifesting in that way.

REIN: It’s interesting that you’re talking about vulnerability because we all wear masks, right? We all wear a mask that we think will let us be perceived in the way we want others to perceive us. And those masks also protect us. And when you’re talking about speaking your truth and being open and honest, taking off the mask is inherently vulnerable.

KALE: It is. I completely agree. I think so much of the environments that I want to be in or where people are safe taking off their masks. And even to the point of celebrating that and be, “Hey everybody, [inaudible] masks on.” Just putting it out there really being like open about that. I don’t want people to feel that they have to wear masks.

JAMEY: I think a lot of this comes back to an issue of like what’s being centered. And I think that the problem with questioning people’s intentions starts to come about when it feels like there’s centering themselves for doing a good job rather than centering this idea or this action or the needs of the people that they’re trying to help. And I think to some extent, it’s like a very natural thing to try and center ourselves because like we are kind of the center of our own universe and everyone is kind of self centered in that way. At least a little bit just by necessity to like take care of yourself as an important thing. But once you are out into this world trying to do something for other people, there’s definitely a perception of, and I think this is getting back to this idea of virtue signaling that we were having trouble putting our finger on, which I don’t think it’s inherently bad, but I think the reason that some people are frustrated by it is because there’s a perception that someone is trying to center themselves rather than the discussion, if that makes sense.

ASTRID: Yeah.

JAMEY: Kale, when you talk about safe space, I really liked that because like if everyone is taking off their masks together, then no one person is centered. The concept of the space is centered.

KALE: That makes sense. I think, it makes me think a little bit about, I sometimes struggle with the idea of it feels to me like what I was saying my superpower was, it feels to me like my purpose. I feel the best when I am creating an environment where other people can feel hurt or I’m supporting another person or I’m helping in some way. I’m like a helper. There’s a term for this, like in psychology. If I had a therapist, I feel like we’d be talking about how I’m a helper and it feels good to me to do that. But that also is, I think what you were just describing, it is sort of self centered. There must be some component of self centered feeling that comes from that. Like, “Yay! I did a good job.” But it’s like what feels right. And so I sometimes struggle back and forth with like, “Well, what’s me and what’s…I’m just…” It’s hard to know and sometimes I feel sad about it and other times I’m like, Well, this is who I am and what I have to offer the world. So, it’s all good.”

JAMEY: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing something because it makes you feel good. I have been called self centered for that and it’s like, I volunteered because I felt good about it and I donated money because it made me feel good. And when you’re doing something good, I don’t think the fact that your intention is about that is inherently bad. I think it’s more about the way you present it to other people. If I can do something good and feel good about it by myself and that’s just fulfilling for me then I think that everybody wins. You know what I mean? But if I go out and say, “Look at all this great stuff I did,” then it’s a little bit different.

ASTRID: Well yeah, because then you’re not feeling good because of what you did. You’re feeling good because other people know about what you did.

JAMEY: Right.

KALE: I actually feel really awkward talking about the things that I did, like even when you were reading my bio in the beginning thing, I was like, “Wow. Yup, those are all things…” Actually a woman who we’re working with who helped us do our brand helped me write that bio because it was impossible for me to like put my accomplishments out there in this way. That was like, “Hey, look at me. Look at all these things I made.” And it feels really awkward to do that. But I keep being encouraged, like that’s your identity, that’s what you’ve made, people have to know about it, it’s part of our PR. But I’m still awkward about it. I kind of like in my own head, I’m like…you know what I mean? There’s an emotional side of communication. What matters, like what will start the conversation, what is the purpose and intention of it. I keep feeling like I need to be off the stage entirely and just creating the stage and people keep pushing you back on to be like, “No, Kale. We need you to talk about this. It’s really important for you to be heard also.” I’d really go back and forth on it a lot. And my feeling is that I should be off of it, honestly. Like my heart tells me, make the stage, make the lighting great, make the sound great. It’s other people who need to be on that stage talking to people and that that’s my role. And I have people come out to the community and say, “Kale, why are you behind the video camera? We need to see you as a leader in this community and expressing these ideas that you do so well.”. At gets awkward for me and I’m considering this for a long time and will continue to consider it. If you ask me though, my job is building the stage, not speaking from it.

JAMEY: I think that the people who frat the most about this kind of stuff are the people who are least likely to overstep their bounds.

ASTRID: Yeah, I agree.

KALE: That’s a good point.

REIN: For a while, the bio I would give at conferences ended with, “He is uncomfortable talking about himself in the third person.”

KALE: Love that. I love that. I might have to steal that for my bio. 

ASTRID: So at the end of the show, we do reflection, which is something that came up in the conversation or some sort of call to action that we noticed and we just go around and say it.

KALE: So yeah, my reflection at this moment is I thought we were going to be talking about making great conferences or how did you make conferences? The most wonderful part of this recording was just getting to know you all and connecting. And it just reinforces what I already know which is that it’s people which matter. Which is also the story of Catskills Conf, also. 

ASTRID: It’s also our hashtag.

JAMEY: I think Greater Than Code and Catskills Conf are a perfect match for each other.

KALE: I agree completely. I was overjoyed when I first had the chance to talk to Mandy and learned about Greater Than Code. I was wholeheartedly, please join us, did everything I could to create an environment that would be exciting and conducive to Greater Than Code. And I hope for the next Catskills Conf, that will happen again and we can continue working together. I also proudly wear my Greater Than Code shirt, like as soon as it comes out of the dryer, it is back on and then it is back in the washing machine. I literally wear the shirt every week. It’s one of those like couple that are in constant rotation. Just going to say, it’s a double XL. It’s going to be worn out soon.

JAMEY: I wear mine all the time too. What really struck me was when Kale was talking about helping people be heard at the beginning of the show and how that’s his mission. I really liked how seamlessly he was merging this idea of like the physical and the metaphorical. So it’s like I’m physically helping people be heard, doing audio engineering and like giving them a microphone. But I’m also metaphorically helping people be heard by like giving them an audience and like inviting them to speak. And I like the idea that those are kind of, in a lot of ways, the same thing. And I particularly like it because I feel like I’ll hear people say things like, “Oh, I just do the audio.” “Oh, I just do this.” I’m like, nothing is ‘just’. It’s very important. And when you think about it as one piece, it’s very clear how important it is. And I really liked that.

REIN: Managing the literally literal with the figuratively literal.

JAMEY: Thank you, Rein.

ASTRID: I wrote down what you said, Kale, trust fall into the universe just because that sounds really awesome. And also because I think I understand what you’re saying, which is sometimes you just need to believe that if you make the space and you believe that something will be there, then things will happen that will allow for you to move forward. And you can kind of see that in some of the things that have occurred in your own background and history, which like what Jamey was saying, it’s really cool that you can actually do it physically do it, but you’re also supporting these things in an abstract way. So I feel like this is something that I could grow and I could learn to be a little more trust falling.

REIN: I really like that. People say manifestation isn’t a thing, but the universe doesn’t care about [inaudible] would respond but the universe contains humans. My reflection is I think one very specific thing  that you said, which is that you want to build the stage so that other people can speak from it. And to my understanding, that is what you do if you want to be an ally. So, I really liked hearing about that.

KALE: Thank you all for your reflections and appreciating some of the things I said and the offerings which I’m learning or what I have to give to this world. It means a lot.

JAMEY: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. This was really great. I feel like we covered a really dense amount of interesting stuff in a short time.

KALE: This has been great. Thank you.

ASTRID: Thank you, Kale.

KALE: My pleasure.

 

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