Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Beyond The Slogans



This is part of what I will likely be working into a future talk. That talk, by the way will be in a place I'm not quite at liberty to discuss just yet, but once I've been given the go ahead and confirmation to shout it from the rooftops, rest assured, I will.

So, what does this odd slogan have to do with anything? Keep reading ;).

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post for Zephyr titled "Let's Stop Faking It", and in that post, I gave some thoughts as to how we could get out of this mindset. Initially, I said there were four things we could do:

1. Declare a “Not Faking It” Policy (stand up and admit you don't know what you're doing)

2. Start Looking For Ways to Remove That Ignorance (figure out how to fill the gaps)

3. Find People to “Jam” With (look for people with skill to emulate)

4. Do Not Be Afraid to Ask “Stupid Questions” (which, really goes with #2)

As I thought about how I might expand on this idea, I came up with another thought I wanted to add... eliminate needless jingoism, or more to the point, be "less partisan, more observant".

This bumper sticker comes from a site that I adore, and they specialize in Nuanced, Ambivalent, or Guarded Stickers. This is one of them, and yes, it's the wording that I love. they have several others that are equally as good, but it's the point that the sticker makes that I want to emphasize with this post today. When we make ourselves partisan, we miss a lot of what's going on around us.

First, a bit about my personality. I am rabidly non-partisan. It's not that I'm not willing to "stand for something" (I absolutely am), I just refuse to do so blindly. I'm not much of a tub thumper when it comes to getting into people's faces for causes... well, except for snowboarding; that's something I love with irrational abandon, and I'll extol its virtues until I'm blue in the face. However, if you like to ski, I'll say "great, let's go hit the hill and make a day of it!"

When we allow ourselves to be wrapped up in sloganeering, or what I call the "Home Team" mantle, we are doing so in a way that cuts us off from really learning something. When I was learning Ruby, I did everything in my power to ignore any framework or structure that didn't use it. That meant that, if I wanted to use a language to do something, I forced myself to focus on Ruby. There's nothing wrong with that on the face of things, but in truth, if we do it all the time, we stifle our understanding. When I moved over from Sidereel to Socialtext, I left an environment that was Ruby centic and came to one that was mostly based on Perl. OK, now what is that Ruby foundation going to do for me? Surprisingly little... and surprisingly, a lot! Now, I'm looking at code modules that are written in Perl, and sometimes I think "oh, this would be so much less of an issue in Ruby", but sometimes I also notice "Hey, that's kinda cool... Ruby doesn't do that!" In short, letting go of the jingoism, it lets me see other possibilities that a "rigid mind" wouldn't allow. 

I will admit, I can be a "fan" of things as much as the next guy, and I'm not saying "don't be a fan". What I am saying is "don't let your fandom get in the way of how you see things".  Don't let your enthusiasm bias you to what could happen if you were more detached, or less "emotionally invested". If you're not willing to shut it down completely, OK, but make it a mental exercise to try. Think of ways you could approach a problem and remove your "favorite thing" as the default option. Just for a while. Try to interact a different way. After doing so, do some introspection.What did you learn in the process? I'm guessing quite a bit. It may be positive, it may be negative. Either way, it'll probably get you closer to actually understanding what you want to know than if you just grab for the default preferred option. 


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