Today I faced a moral question. An author, whose books and teachings have had influence over me, published some statements and ideas I found inappropriate and offensive. Does that mean I should disavow his contributions to the industry I am passionate about? This wouldn’t be an issue if he had followed one piece of advice. Be Excessively Kind.
In my past there have been times I have not been kind to my co-workers. I have been down right mean. But I never felt I was disrespectful. Boy was I wrong. And through the kindness and compassion of a few of my co-workers, the revelation of my inappropriate behavior was made. It didn’t matter what I felt or what I thought. What mattered was how the other person felt as I was being mean to them.
So I have been trying to do better ever since. I have been given the chance to change my ways and I don’t intend of reverting back to my previous behavior. There will always be a part of me that has the ability to be mean to others. But I owe it to the people who were kind to me to keep it in check.
I believe in second chances. However, let’s be clear about that. I don’t mean that if someone does something terrible or inappropriate that they don’t deserve to face some consequences for their actions. I faced the consequences of my actions and probably will for the rest of my career. I work in fear that I am one bad conversation away from no longer being allowed to work in a field I love.
So what do I mean by giving someone a second chance? I believe that people should be forgiven for their bad behavior. It is the first act of kindness I can offer. I need to help them face the consequences of that bad behavior. And if I can, help to get them on a path of avoiding that bad behavior in the future.
I saw a video awhile ago now on how Pixar looked at collaboration:
The two rules the presenter highlights are:
- Accept the offer
- Make your partner look good
In the confines of my work, this implies that when someone presents me with their work or their ideas, I shouldn’t judge it. I accept the work for what it is; a gift. It’s an opportunity to help make the thing we are working on better. And in the process, I need to make the person look good.
I am a software developer and a long overdue change in our industry is to favor compassion over brilliance. Someone may be the smartest person in the room, but if they can’t be compassionate for the people they work with or serve, then they aren’t as important as we might think they are.
One influencer is April Wensel. She created a community called Compassionate Coding https://compassionatecoding.com/. I find her ideas inspiring and hope more people listen to what she has to say.
The idea that the software development culture can’t change is flawed. The idea that you must have people like Steve Jobs ordering people around to be successful is nonsense. Having compassion for your co-workers isn’t a character defect.
Compassion is a desire to help relieve the suffering of others. When you see a co-worker struggling to complete a task, or sense they feel like they aren’t contributing, compassion is what you need. Help them with kindness.
Compassion is a sign of strength. Any fool can argue that they are right and you are wrong. A bully can even force their views on others. But showing compassion means you are willing to help. It shows you are placing others needs in higher regard than they might expect. It means you favor kindness over judgment or criticism.
Scott Hanselman published a podcast episode of Hanselminutes where he was interviewed (for his own podcast). It was fascinating:
In this episode, he describes the process of starting up a community. As a group, you decide what you stand for and what you don’t allow. And Be Excessively Kind.
So in the end, what do I do about my moral question? This person whose contributed some powerful ideas in my chosen profession. Should I forgive them? Certainly, I will. I won’t however, continue to promote his ideas. I can’t promote the work of someone who has said the things he has. I can’t abandon them either. They need help. And kindness.