Why we taught wikimedians how to breathe mindfully. And what you should know if you want to do the same.

Bessi, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Polska has organized many community meetings, and we want to do even more of them. But the one we organized on March 7th, 2021 was different from all the previous. It was an event during which we made no edits, we did not plan or work together – instead, we meditated. There we were – a group of about 40 Polish Wikimedians, sitting completely silent in front of our screens. With our eyes closed and our breath guided by a soothing voice of Zuza Ziomecka, our trainer. Feeling present and connected in a very new and powerful way. Feeling calm and aware. Engaging into a mindfulness practice during a stress reduction workshop organized as a part of Wikimedia Polska community support program. 

What does mindfulness have in common with the Wikimedia movement?

Editing can be stressful – we need to deal with vandals, take part in difficult discussions, sometimes our articles get deleted, sometimes we get into a conflict. Wikimedia-related stress is often even more intense because we care so deeply about our work and mission. And let’s not forget that during the pandemic we all experience increased long-term stress in our lives. 

Long-term stress affects us not just as individuals. By affecting us it affects the way the whole community functions. It lowers our capacity to communicate in an empathetic way, to remain calm and kind. When we are stressed – we have less patience to help a newbie in need. We can get drawn into conflicts more easily. If we feel a lot of stress, we can consciously avoid engaging in difficult situations which can increase it, such as reacting to harassment or rude behaviour in the projects, and we should not step down – the projects need us. 

This is why Wikimedia Polska recognized stress reduction as an important need of our community. We wanted a tool that would allow wikimedians to deal with the on- and off-wiki stress, to increase their wellbeing and to support them in difficult pandemic times. And we wanted it to be evidence-based. In one word – we needed mindfulness. 

We were lucky – we found a perfect expert to work with. Zuza Ziomecka, a top Polish journalist who once wrote an in-depth and deeply empowering article about the gender gap on Wikipedia is a European-certified expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction. As a journalist, she could easily relate to our mission and as a person who has a lot of experience and deep involvement with things that matter, burnout risk included, she was able to understand our community. Frankly speaking, she had already known the community and valued its work. 

The two-hour workshop helped us understand how stress works, created space for conversations about how it affects our daily lives, taught us about mindfulness, and (most importantly) taught us how to bring the said mindfulness into practice. It gave us tools to reduce future stress. On-wiki and off-wiki!

What to remember when you want to have a stress reduction training for your community. 

A lot of people reacted with scepticism when I told them about Wikimedia Polska’s plans to have a mindfulness workshop for wikimedians. Somehow… it sounded like a challenge. Will wikimedians even attend? Will they engage? Will it work? Yes, yes, and yes. But there were some things that are important to keep in mind if you want to take this path. 

  • Wikimedians are a not a regular audience (and your trainer should know that). Wikipedians are all about facts and information. In order to trust the trainer and truly engage in the workshop, they will need all the information to be supported with facts, citations, and science. If they are not “fed” with fact-checked knowledge – they will reject it. Our trainer took pains to make sure that the wikimedians’ curiosity and need for verified information was fulfilled and it really paid off in their engagement. 
  • Privacy is a thing. You also should keep in mind that wikipedians value their privacy highly and that not many of them will want to work with their cameras or microphones turned on. It is not easy to connect with such an audience during an online event. But a good trainer will be able to do it. 
  • Talking with wikimedians about stress is not easy. Talking about stress and burnout is never easy, period. But it is even more challenging in the Wikimedia context. Our projects are built around facts and reason. There is not much space for talking about how we feel. You don’t exactly go to the Village Pump to share your feeling of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. In our communities we value staying cool when the editing gets hot. And while this is not wrong per se it does make opening up more difficult. What worked in our context was our trainer, sharing her own very personal experience of how stress impacted her life and using this courageous vulnerability to create a safe space for others to share. 
  • One workshop will not automagically change everything. As Emilia and Amelia Nagoski wrote in their (amazing!) book “Burnout”: The cure for burnout is not “self-care”; it is all of us caring for one another. Mindfulness is a powerful tool and teaching your community to use it to cut down the stress levels is an amazing thing to do. However, to prevent burnout we don’t only need to increase the resilience of individuals. We need to engage in building an empathetic, caring, and kind community in which mutual support and care are a standard and in which showing recognition and appreciation is easy and common. This is difficult, yes. But, hey, we are Wikimedians, we build and sustain the largest knowledge base in human history. We are great in doing difficult things. We surely can make this happen.