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You're being insensitive

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Dave Winer.

I have 18K followers on Twitter. Probably twice that here on the blog. With that many people tuned in no matter what I say someone will be offended.  Permalink to this paragraph

If I say the weather is nice, someone will say I'm not being sensitive to people who live where the weather is bad. Permalink to this paragraph

I could say I'm getting a cold, people who have cancer say I'm being insensitive.  Permalink to this paragraph

Does everyone have to adopt every point of view one hundred percent of the time? Of course not. There are six billion people. Do the math. We'd all blow up if we tried. None of us are god, not even the President of the United States (who btw gave a fantastic speech last night). If I called the President and said "Mr. President great speech but last night you were insensitive to the plight of people like me," do you think I'd get past the White House switchboard? "Send us an email so we can file it with the 100 million others we get every day." Permalink to this paragraph

Insensitive! Sure. And necessary. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named united.gifI've been writing publicly for a long time, so I've had plenty of time to think about being insensitive. People have accused me of it for 15 years. Since I was one of the first to blog, my sin is original, legendary, unique. The reason I hear so much of it, I've concluded, is that I'm accessible. If you send me an email and it doesn't get trapped in a spam filter somewhere (try leaving out the links) I will read it. You can reach me. I'm an icon to enough people, a reason to hate or object or be offended, and unlike other human objects, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, The Dalai Lama, or Pope Benedict -- I will read what you say. They probably get 10000 times more angst than I do, but most of it doesn't reach them. Permalink to this paragraph

When I started out I thought -- I'm going to do it differently, I'm really going to say what I think all the time. Bad idea. Permalink to this paragraph

Now when I get one of these emails or tweets or blog comments, I've learned not to respond with what I really think.  Permalink to this paragraph

A friend of a friend runs a major independent film festival. You'd know its name. People ask all the time what he thinks of their movie. He never says. He always waffles, finds something about the movie that's praiseworthy. "I thought the scenery was fantastic!" or "The wardrobe person should win an Oscar" when he really thinks "This thing is a dog." He's learned, as I have, that people don't actually want to know what you think -- they want you to like it, to give them support, time, money, to think like they think, to see the world through their eyes, to give words of encouragement so everyone can see how wonderful they are because this wonderful person thought so.  Permalink to this paragraph

I've learned if I say nothing that gets me the least angst. So that's what I usually do, say nothing. And every time I do it, my blood pressure goes up a teeny bit, and another hair either falls out or goes gray. Or maybe it goes gray and then falls out. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Last night the President said we need to assume responsibility. People who bought stock in a bank that is now underwater (liabilities greater than assets) have worthless stock. These banks must go into receivership, the worthless assets removed, and a new company launched, probably with the same name, and new stock issued, and sold to the public. That is what must happen for the financial system to reboot. Very little will be lost, since the stock of two main banks, Citi and BofA, are now worth a total of $36 billion. We, you and I, have already spent much more than that to try to get them stabilized and we will have to pay even more. Next time the shareholders get taken out. If they don't want it to happen, quickly find a management team that can make the math work without the people bailing you out. There is no third way. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named down.jpgInsentive to the shareholders? Perhaps. But they're not the only ones who matter. There are the depositors, the voters and taxpayers, other banks that aren't insolvent. Students who need loans to go to school. Hospitals who need credit to make payroll. Etc etc and on and on. On a scale of one to ten being sensitive to the needs of BofA shareholders isn't even on the scale, it's such a small number it's impossible to measure.  Permalink to this paragraph

When I needed heart surgery in 2002 and the doctor told me my life was over if I didn't get it, you might say he was being insensitive, but he was telling me something that I knew was true that I needed to hear. Three days later after the surgery, recouperating, the surgeon told me if I resumed smoking I would be dead in three years. Again, insensitive (he said it with a smile on his face believe it or not), but I'm glad he said it. The way he said it made it easier to quit. Sometimes the truth hurts. You can't blame people for saying things they believe, even if it hurts you to hear it. Permalink to this paragraph

Bottom line: All adults have issues to deal with. These are trying times for everyone, and some more than others, for sure. But your problems are yours and mine are mine and you're not responsible for mine and vice versa. Permalink to this paragraph

PS: I liked that the President, up front, referred to us as "the men and women who sent us here." Nothing abstract about that. We're not The American People, or poll numbers, or users (who generate content), all of which are ways of making all of us inhuman. If you want people to be responsible adults, begin the pitch by calling them "men and women." Works for me.  Permalink to this paragraph

PPS: Reminds me of a moment on Diane Rehm's radio show a few years back. Some pundit said her listeners wouldn't understand some reasonably obvious idea. She interrupted and said basically "Bullshit, my people are smart and educated and that's basic stuff." I yelled out loud to the radio "Right on!" -- I totally understood what the guy was talking about. I am extremely well educated and well-read. You have to try a lot harder if you want to stump me. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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