Don't be a jerk

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Crystal wordprocessing.png This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

Don't be a jerk. This is a corollary of ignore all rules, and most behavioural rules are special cases of this one.

Fundamentals

"Don't be a jerk" is a fundamental rule of all social spaces. Every other policy for getting along with others is a special case of this rule. Although nobody is expected to ban or block somebody for jerkitude (as that itself would be an instance of such), it's still a bad idea to be a jerk. So don't be one. If a significant number of reasonable people suggest, whether bluntly or politely, that you are being one, the odds are good that you are not entirely in the right.

Being right about an issue does not mean you're behaving properly! Jerks are often right — but they're still jerks. If there's something in what they say that's worth hearing, it goes unheard because no one likes listening to them. It doesn't matter how right they are.

This is not the same as just being uncivil or impolite (though incivility and rudeness often accompany it). One can be perfectly civil and follow every rule of etiquette and still be wrong. Standard moves, for example, include such things as willfully (but politely) drawing attention to minor errors in spelling or grammar of an interlocutor's comments, disregarding the Chomskian distinction between language competence and language performance. Truly being civil and polite means that you show respect for others (such as in not needlessly pointing out grammar issues), even when right.

Respect others even when you disagree. Sometimes the best weapon is to disarm your opponent by disarming yourself (via civil and constructive behaviour), transforming an opponent into a collaborator. Subduing one's opponent without fighting is not only the highest form of mastery, it is also a winning solution for all editors involved as well as the encyclopedia. Benjamin Franklin wrote: He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.

Coping with accusations of jerkitude

If you've been labeled a jerk, especially if you have been told this by several people in a particular community, it might be wise to consider the possibility that the accusations hold at least some measure of truth. If you suspect that you may have a problem, the first step is to become aware of it. Ask yourself what behaviours might be causing this perception, and if you can't work it out, politely ask those that perceive it to explain or clarify. Once you have determined which behaviours are causing the problem, try changing them and your mode of presentation. In particular, identify the harsh manners in your communications and replace them with softer ones.

Honestly examine your motivations. Are you here to contribute and make the project good? Or is your goal really to find fault, get your views across, or be the one in control? Perhaps secretly inside you even enjoy the thrill of a little confrontation. This may not make you a bad person, but to everyone who is busily trying to build something great, you become an impediment. People get frustrated, rancour ensues, the atmosphere changes, and the whole project suffers. Are you here to give, or to take?

How to deal with others

Telling someone "don't be a jerk" is generally wrong — especially if it's true. It upsets the other person and reduces the chance that they'll listen to what you say.

Focus on behaviour, not on individuals. Say what you want and why you want it. Say why you think the other person's behaviour is counterproductive. Assume good faith to the maximum extent possible. If you don't understand why someone is doing something, ask. Don't rush to complain until you are sure that good faith negotiations can't work. Understand before insisting on being understood.

Remember that your perception can be wrong. If the other person is writing in an unfamiliar language, or has a different cultural background, you may misunderstand their intentions.

Above all, be genuine. Don't ask questions when you know the answer. Don't say you want one thing if you want another. Don't try to persuade people of things that aren't true. Do not respond to jerkitude in kind.

See also

Audio
This essay also exists in an audio version.

External links