Cutting each other a bit of slack

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Thursday, October 18, 2001, 11:44 PM -- Golly, we seem to be at each other's throats constantly lately.

Can't we cut each other a little bit of slack? Other people aren't evil because they disagree with us, or because they advocate something that we think would have bad consequences. They aren't stupid because they make arguments we find completely unconvincing. They are all imperfect in various ways, and we shouldn't expect them to be perfect, or even to be particularly good--we should expect them to be average. But what is average? Well, especially on Wikipedia (because this is a project made up of volunteers who are smart and generally cooperative), other people are generally nice, reasonable, and sensitive to the concerns of others.

But they sure don't look that way if you approach them with hostility. They can look that way if we approach them as a colleague, someone to be respected, a potential friend. How they appear very often depends on how you perceive them--on your prejudices.

There is an art to stepping aside from a situation, and rather than engaging it head-on, asking yourself what engaging in it in in a hostile way accomplishes--and then, engaging it in a spirit of general helpfulness and goodwill. Sometimes nonengagement is best--sometimes the best approach is silence--and writing another encyclopedia article!

In the future, Wikipedia could become well-known as a place where collegiality thrives, puzzlingly (or not so puzzlingly), in spite of (or because of) its anarchic nature. Let us show the world that anarchy (in a positive sense) can exemplify virtues that have never been associated with anarchy, virtues like good humor, friendliness, reasonableness. That would be great.

These are just idle late-night thoughts, not a careful philosophical essay. I hope it does a little good.


Let's not forget to cut the perceived hostile ones a little slack, too. Just because you're offended by something doesn't mean that it's wrong, or that the author is evil or unkind, or that he is personally attacking you. Different people are offended by all kinds of things, some of which are simple, plain, honest expressions of belief. For example: "I believe that it is not possible to be a morally good person and to believe in God". That will offend a lot of theists, but it is not at all hostile or offensive except in the minds of those who choose to be offended by it. It is a simple, unadorned, honest expression of belief. Likewise "That statement is false/nonsense/propaganda" is a simple, honest expression about what its author believes, and the author of the original statement should not take offense, but rather use the knowledge of how someone reacted to his text to improve it. Practice tolerance as listeners as well as speakers. --LDC

Remember that diplomacy is the virtue of making honesty consistent with politeness. For elaboration, see a comment I put on Lee Daniel Crocker. --LMS

I think if everyone received a stipend from Bomis, there would be less in-house dis-collaboration. Since what is worked on seems so important, people "defend what they cannot see with a killer's pride Bob Dylan. Is Wiki for educational purposes ? If so, what is the problem including copyrighted material under the fair use provision ? You haven't responded to that yet.

A stipend?! You must be kidding. Why don't you just sell your work to the New York Times instead?

I've been trying to follow the suggestiion of this page title. I've had some pretty good successes. However, one particular contributor and I aren't getting along at all and I'm about ready to go bonkers. Any suggestions?

Yes, two suggestions. First, take a break! You'll feel better when you come back, and the world won't end. Second, try e-mailing the other person. It might be difficult, but it helps. --LMS

Thanks! Unfortunately I've just returned from a short break. :-)

The problem with including GNU FDL incompatible copyrighted material under the fair use provision (as Everything2 seems to do excessively) seems to be the lack of a regular way to get the excerpts marked as "invariant sections" under the GNU Free Documentation License. --Damian Yerrick