There is a great scene in Cold Mountain where Inman, who is AWOL from the army in The Civil War, is walking through the woods on a horse opposite Bosie, the deputy charged with catching people like Inman. The two are at a gunpoint standoff:
Bosie: Tell you what I got on my side.
Inman: What have you got on your side?
Bosie: The confidence of youth.
Bosie is absolute in his convictions. Inman had done wrong and for that he will die. The truth, of course, is far more complicated. Inman is sick of war. He doesn’t understand it. He does understand there is a pretty nice life waiting for him back at Cold Mountain if he could get back there and get people to leave him alone. Bosie just can’t see it. He either lacks the life experience, or is clouded by some anger issues, or is motivated by some other force. (I mean, yeah, it’s his job, but you know what I mean.)
I think about it whenever I read something that feels absolutist. You know the article. “AND LEMME TELL YA ANOTHER THING. HERE’S THE WAY IT OUGHTA BE OR THIS DANGED INDUSTRY IS GOING STRAIGHT DOWN THE TUBES.” Or your website is going to start on fire. Or you are wronging all of humanity.
The truth, of course, is far more complicated.
Discussions are always worth having. Weighing options is always interesting. Demonstrating what has worked (and what hasn’t) for you is always useful. There are ways to communicate that don’t resort to dogmatism.
What’s tricky is that you have to grow out of it. Or otherwise find a way to relax your convictions. They don’t sell empathy pills. Bosie had one thing right, I suppose:
That’s what they call a conundrum.
Also, he dies.
The “gray” I refer to in the title is the metaphorical mixing of the black and white extremes. (It’s also a sweet Mike Doughty song.) If the extremes have any use, it’s that they frame the conversation. They paint the boundaries that I like to stay away from. I like to live in the gray. Oh, comfortable, reasonable, gray. The gray world in which we consider options and chose things that work for us and ours.
'The hardest problem in computer science is not being an opinionated jerk about everything.' — @ntakayama
— Computer Science (@CompSciFact) June 22, 2015
Nice post Chris. I like quick little rabbit trail that veer off the coding path a bit. This one is right on. It’s always fun talking with a dev/designer so set in his ways that he’s a stone to bounce ideas off. That really helps with team collaboration.
I’ve been designing and coding for 15+ years. Over that time I’ve grown in and outside of the web environment. I have three teenage boys now. A stronger marriage. Stronger faith….if I didn’t allow myself to learn and adjust to things confronting me in my life, it would all be a wreck.
In the web environment, if I don’t try to find the best, most effective, techniques and tools, then I do a disservice to myself, but mostly to my clients and co-workers. You learn this with age and experience, as well though.
Thanks Chris – thanks for Shoptalk, too :)
Thank you, Chris.
Thank you very much for the perfect comeback to be used the next time I speak to enthusiastic XML enthusiasts in the publishing industry.
We need more “live in the gray” responses to the “get offa my lawn you damn kids!” demands when it comes to the subject of XML in the publishing industry.
This would be a good topic for a poll. I’m still in the camp of youthful idealism, and sometimes I’m not invited to project meetings because of it. It just feels good to have a soapbox to stand on for some reason. It just feels like if everyone in your company held to a unified standard and process that you have taken point on, everything would be peachy, all the orphaned puppies would find good homes, and your company can finally reach maximum efficiency. It’s hard to kick that feeling. And industry blogs kinda drive that, I think.
I think you are dead on. Thanks, Chris.
My guess is the root of these brash opinions is in the general fear of “not being good enough yet” that lurks inside all of us. The context is always changing in development. If I can assert something that I heard somewhere else and it happens to be topical, I can establish to others that yes, I know what’s going on, yes, I am relevant, and yes, I am valuable.
The reality is that we are all these transient taskers with the dev climate morphing around us and for the most part, all of us are clueless about 25%+ of what we encounter because we encounter new things every day. You will lose the fear of “not being good enough” when you learn that in that sense, we all aren’t “good enough”.
That realization comes with experience and with it comes enough humility (or is it self-deprecation) to hold back from the polarized conversations.
I don’t know. I really appreciated you writing this.
Some sage advice, young fella. :-)
You included the concept of ’empathy’ in framing your post: Yes. That’s a key. Along with empathy we don’t necessarily have to relax or suspend our beliefs; we likely just have to chillax.
We can get so uptight, threatened, offended etc, etc by a differing view point. Yet it is possible to be 100% confident and comfortable within our own position or belief system and still being empathetic and comfortable with a another’s diametrically-opposed POV. We can even respectfully and amicably (what a concept!) agree to disagree, and still be cohorts, best-friends (or even spouses.)
Maybe it helps to distance or even remove our own personal stake from the equation. Understanding the influence and impact of our own competitiveness, e.g., driving our motivations, on any given dialog is probably helpful in this.
Somehow (human nature?) we tend to operate in the everyone-must-be-or-think-like-me zone.
The peeps who impress me (and who teach me a lot by their example) have this innate ability to be respectful, to stimulate dialog, and they are very empathetic. All the while I may or may not have any idea as to where their personal opinion or beliefs fall in relation to the issue at hand.
What is very clear is that they are rock solid–comfortable and confident–in who they are as a person. I want to be like that when I grow up. (I’m mid-50’s now.)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for a stimulating presentation. Our growth as professionals is impacted by our growth or lack of growth as individuals. Thank you for the encouraging nudge in the right direction.
Right the eff on, Chris. Couldn’t agree more.
There is, however, another angle to consider: the proliferation of click-bait. Unfortunately, the nature of the internet is such that extreme positions and sensational post titles are rewarded with more views. Fortunately, as CSS-Tricks demonstrates time and again, it is possible to grow an audience through great content, and, as this very post demonstrates, it is very possible to write intriguing post titles without resorting to spammy click-bait. But sadly, this is very much the exception.
But but… if everyone lived in the grey, and no one kept their ‘confidence of youth’, who would chase the deserters?
And it’s more complicated than black-grey-white. We’re going to need more colour to really define competing points of view As Una Kravets says
How important today is it to chase Civil War deserters? How important is it to fight over the best way to design with tables? Another reason not to be dogmatic about today’s web development battles – they may not matter when the world changes again.
Good post, Chris. I like how you are becoming more mature in your judgments. Did you think the same way about web development ten or even five years ago?
What a pleasant surprise! Lovely to see an opinion piece from a tech writer! And some very decent comments too!
But you should, really :) I like the white – my white, of course ;)
What a nicely thought-out piece of content, thank you.
I’ve come to web development from a background in Philosophy, and Chris’ attitude is only second nature to those who have dabbled in this field.
More than associating this approach to life and work with the color gray, I’d associate it with orange, yellow, or red, that is, a vivacious color that makes me think about open-mindedness, doubt/self-doubt, and lively curiosity, which is at the roots of knowledge and understanding.