Rachel Andrew on discussion versus public humiliation
On her blog, developer and edgeofmyseat.com founder Rachel Andrew has written a piece called Be kind to one another. In it, she says she’s always loved the kindness and openness within the web industry, which has helped people learn from one another and make better stuff. However, she’s concerned that while arguments and disagreements are one of the ways in which everyone moves forward, too often the industry now sees abusive ad hominem attacks that stem positive discussion, entrench positions and impact negatively on individuals and the industry as a whole.
We spoke to Andrew about her post, and she expanded on her thoughts about this aspect of the industry. She said that it was written in response to nasty attitudes she’s seen of late, in response to things people disagree with: “Whether that's nasty remarks while a speaker is on stage at a conference, unsolicited rude comments on Twitter, weird passive-aggressive stuff like putting people on Twitter lists (for example: ‘people I hate’), knowing that the person involved is likely to look at the lists they have been added to, nasty one-liner comments on posts or whatever… It's not pleasant.”
Andrew told us she’s keen to see new people writing, speaking at conferences and immersing themselves in the industry in other ways, but the nastiness can put people off, especially women: “Women tend to be a bit more sensitive to criticism, especially when we are in the minority. Also, the nastiness when directed at women tends to be about looks, what we wear, and so on, which is horrible in itself. Of course this happens everywhere, but we, as an industry of supposedly intelligent people, should be able to rise above it.”
Honesty versus rudeness
There are some in the industry who appear to believe that a certain level of bluntness – perhaps even arrogance – is a plus point, but Andrew told us there’s never any reason to descend to being rude to your peers: “I'm a blunt Northerner and frequently re-read my own emails and think I could have phrased something better! The advice to be kind is as much to myself as anyone else, because I think you can be honest, direct and call out bad advice and still be kind. Argue against the points in a presentation, write a counter-post to an article, focus on the actual inaccuracy that you see – not the individual making the argument.”
Since writing her article, Andrew has received communications from a number of people, stating they don’t write publicly, for fear of being ridiculed for getting something wrong, or saying they’d love to speak at conferences but fear Twitter’s mob mentality. Andrew thinks this is sad, since while it’s important to point out when we think something is wrong, and that we should “argue like crazy till we sort out the best way to do new things”, we should also “be kind to each other and respect the feelings of others while we're at it”.
Ultimately, Andrew is just keen to encourage more people to contribute without fear: “I don't want to encourage someone to step up and write or speak and then find they are destroyed by people who think that the minute someone has an alternative point of view, or even makes a mistake, they are fair game for public humiliation”.