Tuesday, April 16, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Hey man. Hey woman. It's raining in California. I love it! Hot. And wet. Almost sticky! So unusual for California.
Many of my friends are in Jamaica. Not me, I'm nerding out on the net. Is there a net in Jamaica? Maybe. Watch out. If they get reliable T1s down in the Caribbean, I might be outahere.
I got an invite to present my ideas on a random mailing list. I don't want to say which one for reasons which will become clear.
I know it's a hotbed of flamers. I'm sure they have motives. Let's get Dave to come visit. We'll give him a piece of our minds.
Such sad people. They could open their eyes and discover there's a big world out there. Instead they recline in the comfort of their right-ness. Anyone who enters our sphere is roasting material.
I have experience with this mailing list, having been singed once, but I recovered. Being flamed is not pleasant, so I declined to participate.
When I see other people get flamed, I get sympathetic. My first impulse is to defend them. Sometimes I give in to that impulse.
Here's a case. Brad Schrick, http://www.brad.net/, is not happy!
He runs a big website that glorifies the Macintosh as a web server. He does it as a labor of love. No money for Brad.
Brad posts a long sad missive about Apple abandoning the Mac OS in favor of Unix. As I read it, I recognize his discomfort. I've heard Apple people make these noises. It bothered me too. I run a Mac web server. I like it. It works. Having Apple say that Unix is the web server platform of their future makes me think I'm making a mistake by continuing to invest here. In other words, I see the truth in Brad's point of view.
I didn't read all the responses to Brad's message, but I read enough to recognize the pattern. A flamefest. Out of control. They do things I hate. They tell Brad what he really means. They expose his conflicts of interest. They paint him as a fool. They tell him Apple is going to be angry with him. They say he's wrong.
Could all this possibly be true? Could anyone really be as bad as Brad would appear to be from the email he generated? No way. I know that Brad is a good guy. I think most of the flamers, in calmer moods, understand that too. So why do they attack so personally?
Psychologists are going to study Internet mailing lists someday; here's what they will find out...
When they work, they're like offices and meetings. Collaborative places where people help and support and listen to each other. People contribute to each others' success. Give and get.
When they don't work they're like unhappy families. Thru the virtual interface it's very easy to project. A psychological term, it means "to cause a light and shadows to appear on a surface," like a movie projector that casts images on an inert screen.
I've seen that before! your inner child screams. That's bad!
Time to release, to let go of some old stuff. And out it comes. People are hurting. It comes back together, eventually, but no one forgets how they didn't get heard, how right they were and how wrong everyone (or someone) else was.
I'm right, therefore you're wrong. This is the argument we had in the family I grew up in. I think this is the big argument of humanity. The problem we have with everyone else. They're so wrong, and I'm so right. If only they would listen to me, do what I want them to do, they'd see how right I am!
Instead of participating, someday, make an effort to observe an email flamefest and stay uninvolved. Imagine people actually saying those things to other people, face to face.
Clue: this is the stuff that people are thinking but don't dare say.
Internet mailing lists are like sewers, carrying the refuse that we can't share with other people who could hit us, or fire us, or abandon us. But on the net, we can broadcast our pain to the world, using a virtual person, a total projection, as a symbol for our discontent. Here's someone who's wrong. Everyone look! Agree with me or suffer the consequences.
Another experiment: in your day to day real life, not the virtual one, try to make eye contact with people you meet. Then tell them they're wrong. Can you look people in the eye and say they're wrong? Probably not. Maybe there's a clue here.
As soon as you make someone wrong, communication stops. The discussion gets down to their quality as a human being. It's a silly argument. Not likely to reach a resolution. Can you imagine someone admitting, after a long heated discussion, you're right, I'm a hypocrite. I have other motives I'm not revealing. I'm wrong. You're right!
There are so many ways to say someone is wrong. But every one of them is a waste of time because everyone, at their core, is right. I really believe that. I think I can almost prove it. People can get confused and do and say things that invoke our sense of wrongness, that remind us of our values, and of times when we couldn't be heard when we had something important to say.
It doesn't make them bad, or wrong. And if you insist that they agree to being wrong, you will never be satisfied.
On 5/4/95, in The Cute Little Nut, I suggested that everyone forgive each other. "Hi, I forgive you," says Jeff. "Thank you. And I forgive you," says Judy. "Thank you," says Jeff.
The conversation continues.
Jeff says: "I've been thinking about our last argument. Now I understand what you've been saying. I'm so glad you argued with me. I can see why it was important to you. Thank you for helping me understand this."
When you're in the middle of an mailing list flamewar, try saying that, or some variant of it. Say it first to one side. You make good points! I'm learning a lot. Then say it to the other side. You're doing great! Your arguments make a lot of sense. Give each participant the right-ness they're asking for. And watch what happens.
I suggest doing this off-list, otherwise it's likely to divert the flamers to you. It could ruin the experiment. And possibly be unpleasant too.
Percentile-wise, I'm probably near the top of the pyramid in terms of being able to make things happen with words. But does that mean that my ideas are any more valuble than the ideas of people who can't express themselves as powerfully?
We'll never know! The person who figures out the meaning of life may be a deaf-mute. That sure would be ironic!
Words are the window inside. They give you a look below the surface.
The only way to find out what's going on inside another person is to listen to them. Their words may be confused, but you can be sure of one thing, they're trying to say something. Everyone is, young or old, educated or not, woman or man, rich or poor. Everyone has something to say. And some reason for believing they're right.
The key is to ignore it when they say you're wrong. I know it's hard to do! But when they say you're wrong, they're just telling you why they've decided not to listen to you. That's all they're doing. Nothing more.
PS: Can you forgive them for that?
PS: A flame reduction suggestion. Offer each side a place to state their point of view on the web. Let them add to it when ever they want. The web may be better suited for debating than mailing lists are.