Ryan Boren has been my most constant coworker since I started working on WordPress four and a half years ago. As lead developer, he had to be my sounding board for everything, and he made me smarter without ever making me feel dumb. Thanks, Boren. There’s a vegan cocoa beach cake with your name on it when you get to the summit in a few weeks.
How many times a day do you encounter someone being rude, mean, aggressive, or telling you that you did something wrong because it wasn’t what they wanted? How often is that person you (acting that way toward someone else)? I deal with a lot of negativity in my job — with a community of tens of million users, thousands of professionals, and hundreds of contributors, there are always people who are dissatisfied. Now that I’m also running a cafe, it’s a dozen times worse (if you can imagine). Every day I encounter mostly wonderful people, and it sucks that even one negative encounter can throw off your whole day. Even worse, it sucks that being treated negatively can cause you to act in a similar manner, thus spreading the nastiness. I know I’ve been guilty of falling into this more than once.
Years ago (decades ago?) there was a Dykes To Watch Out For strip titled “Horizontal Hostility” that hit me like a bus and has never left me. Sadly I can’t find the strip online, but the basic plot was that each panel showed a different character in an interaction gone wrong. An old man yells at a kid for knocking over the trash cans (or something — it was 20 years ago, cut me some slack) in one panel. In the next, the kid throws a tantrum or breaks a window. In the next, the person on the receiving end of the kid’s hostility in turn gets snippy with a friend. Then the friend yells at… you get the picture. In the last panel, the hostility has gone full circle, and the old man is on the receiving end of someone’s else’s hostility, hostility that started with him.
There was a lot of meanness 20 years ago — it inspired that comic strip! But that was all in-person interactions. Today, it’s so much easier to be mean. People type things about other people on the internet that they would never say to your face, whether it’s on a forum, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, or any of a dozen other social media sites. But why? If they really feel that way, why don’t they have the guts to stand behind those feelings/opinions and say it to your face?
In some cases, people don’t have the opportunity to be mean in person, because they are geographically distant. This is often the case around sniping in the WordPress community. Meeting at a WordCamp and sharing a drink or two can usually resolve even the meanest snipefests. In person it’s a lot harder to lob fireballs at someone, because you can see the expression on their face when it hits, and you don’t feel clever or smart then, you feel mean. Most decent people do not like being mean when they realize they are hurting someone’s feelings. But what other outcome is there? That being mean will make someone feel good?
I think most people consider themselves to be decent people. And yet, there’s another social construct that reinforces the mean behavior, in that telling someone they’ve hurt your feelings is seen as weak and/or manipulative. Why has it evolved this way?
I had a roommate once upon a time who worked for United Cerebral Palsy. She came home every day upset because her client/patient had been mean to her. He was a dick! A dick with cerebral palsy, so she didn’t feel comfortable being mean back. One day when he bitched at her while she was helping him onto the bus, she replied, “You know, that really hurts my feelings. I’ll be upset for at least 2 days because of what you just said about me.” He shut up. I remember thinking (when she told me the story that night) that it was a bummer that she had to be manipulative to get him to be nice. A decade later I thought what a bummer it was that my reaction to someone expressing their feelings was that it was manipulative, when in reality it was honest, and kind of seriously brave, given the potential for retaliatory mocking. And you know what? The next day the guy went back to being a dick, and she told him every day that he was hurting her feelings. He didn’t care. He wasn’t a decent person.
I had an illustrative experience at a WordCamp with someone who’d said some nasty things about me (mostly on Twitter). I made sure to meet this person at the afterparty — in truth, I’d gone to this particular WC expressly to meet this person and see if we could work out a more constructive way to communicate when he didn’t like my/core decisions. We ordered a round of drinks and were being friendly when I took a deep breath and asked him why he was so mean to me. He tried to laugh it off, but I kept going, and said he’d hurt my feelings. I could tell by his face that he didn’t like hearing that, but he kept up the cheerful demeanor, said he was sorry if I took it that way but that he hadn’t actually been mean. Then I opened my laptop and showed him my browser, where I’d pulled up the meanest dozen or so tweets. I read them out loud. Immediately, I could see that this decent guy didn’t like/was embarrassed the words he’d posted. The next couple of minutes were awkward and uncomfortable as we had to face the things we’d said online, and how much we were or weren’t willing to stand behind them. We’re friends now. But if we hadn’t met in person, if we hadn’t had that awkward and uncomfortable experience of having to be honest about who we were and how we felt, could we have gotten past the online sniping to talk seriously about WordPress and the issues that were causing a problem in the first place?
I’ll say it again: Most decent people do not like being mean when they realize they are hurting someone’s feelings.
The next time you’re about to be snarky, or snipey, or just plain mean, think about that. Are you a non-decent person? Do you enjoy hurting people’s feelings? Do you want to have a negative effect on the person you attack for days to come? If the answer to these questions is no, then think before you tweet or post to facebook or leave a comment, and make sure your words and tone are the same ones you would use to the other person’s face. I’m going to try harder to make sure my words match my feelings. A smiley face after an insult doesn’t make things right. If you consider yourself a decent person, then be one.
I wrote this long post this morning, then went looking for an old post to see if I’d written about it before (I thought I might have but couldn’t remember). I went to edit.php to see if any titles looked like they might be about that topic (horizontal hostility). Quickly glanced through each and closed. On one though, I saw a typo in the 1st line and fixed it (ordCamp instead of WordCamp), then clicked the Update button. At least I meant to… I then noticed that it was actually the Publish button and that I’d just published an abandoned draft from a past wp community kerfuffle. Even though the screen hadn’t refreshed yet and the spinner by the button was still spinning, on the backend it was published, and Jetpack sent all my subscribers the draft by email before my screen even stopped spinning so I could click Trash. Gah! Apologies! Didn’t mean to stir anything up, it was an accident. That’ll teach me not to clear out the drafts folder more regularly.
Please ignore the emailed post titled “Seriously?”
Like so many mornings.
Update: this was supposed to be a photo added via iphone app. It didn’t post the image. Bug!
It says something about our personalities that when you had to draw weights, the barbell was lifted high overhead. My stick figure man’s barbell hovered just above his waist.
At Tybee we have regular old bottlenose dolphins, and seeing them off the coast or in the river always makes my day. Seeing another type of dolphin be eliminated from the face of the planet due to poor fisheries management is very sad. Nets in general are just evil… we consume so much fish that the fishing industry needs them to be profitable, but even with adaptations to help prevent by-catch and accidental sea turtle or dolphin death, a lot of death occurs. I think it’s time I revisited my pescetarian ways and limit myself to wild line-caught fish.
My own personal habits aside, I hope the New Zealand government takes action to protect the few remaining Maui dolphins and/or engage with a marine wildlife organization for a long-term sustainability plan, probably including some type of breeding program. I fear that hope is in vain, though. 😦
I flew to Austin on Sunday. I was meeting Matt for tea on my way to the airport, and as a result I rushed out of the house without my usual pre-travel checks. When I got to the airport I discovered that I had neither my driver’s license nor my passport with me. Crap!
I thought this would mean I couldn’t fly, but as it turns out, there’s a list of things you can show that aren’t government-issued IDs to get through security with some additional screening. I showed them 3 credit cards and checks I had printed on my computer, but they really needed something with a photo on it so they could be confident I was me.
Hello, gravatar-included business cards! I’ve always been a big fan and proponent of putting gravatars in business cards (like Automattic does), because it provides a better post-event experience after connecting with people at WordCamps and other conferences. Who you are online gets more firmly connected to who you are in person, an makes it easier to remember conversations afterward. At least it does for me.
In this case the gravatar on my business card saved the day — and the SXSW WordPress Party, because if I’d had to drive home to get my ID, the chances of getting a new flight to Austin would have been pretty slim. So! The next time you’re having cards made, consider including your gravatar. It just might save you someday.