Over the weekend there was a fairly spirited debate going on. I blame it all on Howard J Rogers
, and a recent blog entry
of his. The basic thought: "are some people above reproach for some reason".
The debate wasn’t over the answer to that question, that question has a fairly obvious (to me) and easy answer:
No one is above reproach, everything can and should be debated. Experts are often wrong. Besides, being above reproach would be way too much pressure. You would actually have to be right all of the time. Some people are correct frequently, but no one is 100% correct all of the time. A simple typo can alter the meaning of a simple sentence. A discussion forum I belong to had someone post “The Importance of proof reading”:
"Setting db_cache_advice will incur some latch overhead, though it is usually very significant."
See how two tiny little letters, I and N, could make all of the difference in this sentence! Without them, well, it not only reads funny but says the wrong thing (this was a metalink support note being quoted, it has been fixed). Mistakes are easy to make, we all make them, point them out as they happen. Fixing material is easy, really.
Back to the debate however, the debate was about the use of a particular word – “minion”. Some people found the use of that term to be derogatory and others not so. (sidebar: I myself have never thought of the word minion in the positive sense and the one time it was flung out on asktom, I’m pretty sure the person using it did not mean it in a positive way). It made me think about how hard it is to communicate sometimes, over cultural boundaries, in text, without seeing the face.
I don’t like talking on the phone, I find it hard to carry on a conversation without seeing the facial expression. Two times in the last dozen years at Oracle I’ve had conference calls go really bad. I remember both of them. In both cases, I aborted the call prematurely (politely but – we really needed to just hang up) and visited them in person. After 5 minutes of face to face – we got down to business and things went really well. But without being able to see each other, read the body language, see the raised eyebrow, crossed arms, dis-interest, whatever – it was just not working.
The same thing happens when we “converse” in text. We try many things to make up for it – smileys, “air quotes”, tons of detail, “don’t get me wrongs” and such – but the fact is you can read the same text many different ways. But conveying the emotion, the intent – that is really hard to do. A joke not interpreted as a joke becomes an insult. Sarcasm is missed and taken as honest advice instead (“suuuurrrreee, go ahead, type format and see what happens”)
Over the years, I’ve learned that “the less you know someone, the less you should read into the text”. What I mean is, if someone I know pretty well sends me something – I have enough information about “them” in my mind to be able to read a possible message behind the message. On the other hand, if I don’t know someone very well, I ignore hidden, possible messages and just go by what is there – giving the benefit of the doubt in all cases, being forgiving of things that come off insulting – but might not have been intended that way.
For example “Hey Kyte …”. Calling people by their last name where I come from isn’t a sign of respect, but in other parts of the world it is and “Hey Tom…” would be considered rude where they are. First couple of times I got the “Hey Kyte” – it didn’t sit right. Now, it is just another thing to call me.
“I have doubts…”, doesn’t sound right, sounds like they are questioning “me” – not that they have confusion surrounding what was said. Depending on the context, “I have doubts” many times comes out sounding wrong. I silently translate that into “I have some followup questions”.
“Please do the needful ASAP”. I’ll translate that into “If you can get back to me with anything, even “I don’t know”, as soon as you have time, I’d much appreciate it”.
I find if I treat things that way, things go much smoother (for me). Guess I’m saying it takes more to ruffle my feathers than it used to 10 years ago. I give the written word the benefit of the doubt. Don’t get me wrong – if you come along and say ‘well, that’s the biggest pile of rubbish I’ve ever seen written’ without any sort of supporting evidence whatsoever (and people do :) expect to receive a truly smart response from me. But, it takes something that strong to elicit that sort of response. If you come along and say “I don’t think that is quite right” and provide some supporting evidence – great, we’ll see what the truth is. And that is what is important isn’t it? How stuff actually works, today. So please, bring it on.
On a related note, beware political correctness too. Consider this article:
The word "fail" should be banned from use in classrooms and replaced with the phrase "deferred success" to avoid demoralising pupils, a group of teachers has proposed.
Sugar and spice and everything nice, but it doesn’t accurately describe the reality that “they failed that grade”.
So, keep the comments and criticism coming. Be polite (sure, makes sense), but don’t over correct. Be careful in your choice of words, words have meanings and come with their own baggage sometimes. I tend to read and re-read my replies a couple of times and try to edit out the flaming sarcasm when appropriate (remember, sometimes sarcasm is useful in making a point and not insulting to the person reading it).