Yesterday was Insites: The Xmas Special, a brilliant event put on by the lovely Keir Whitaker and Elliot Jay Stocks. After being well fed, everybody in the room gave a six minute(ish) talk about something they’ve learned in 2012.
It was a personal, open and incredibly meaningful set of talks. There were no slides, and nobody in the room was sat behind a laptop or Twitter. The conversations that ensued afterwards were greater than anything you’d get at any big conference. We had all shared our experiences equally and honestly. As Rachel Andrew put so well, it was almost group therapy.
One of the rules of the day was that what happened in the School Of Life stayed in the School Of Life, so far be it for me to report the personal stories of other people. However, I’m happy to share what I spoke about, so I thought I’d share it here…
Not picking sides
I’m the eldest of five children in my family. It’s a big family and none of us are shy. However, I’m usually referred to as the “sensible one” or the “calm one”. I’m all about diplomacy and trying to keep the peace if there’s any upset or argyments. It’s not that I’m afraid of conflict, I think arguments can be healthy and constructive, but I really don’t like picking sides.
Yet for so many years I didn’t take this approach when I was working on the web. CSS layouts were good, tables were bad. Semantic web was good, Flash was bad. To me, these were facts and exceptions were begrudgingly accepted as freak edge-cases.
When there’s so much to learn on the web, it’s much easier to follow than to lead, or even just make up your own mind. As humans we seem to be drawn to polarity; picking sides. Which football team do you support? Which political party are you aligned to? Which religion do you believe in? But it’s such an unhelpful way to live. Polarity lacks subtlety, it leads to blind acceptance of everything you’re told.
If you think about it in terms of politics, you feel forced to toe the party line. This kind of politics is damaging in itself; if everyone in a group is made to believe exactly the same thing, unquestioningly, it’s very hard to accept any new ideas or change your mind. You can’t back-track. And because you feel as though you must “stick to your side”, you blindly defend you side’s beliefs at a risk to your own integrity.
Integrity is something that has always meant a lot to me. But I feel like sometimes I’ve been guilty of risking my own integrity in order to fit in. It’s hard to go against the group, nobody wants to feel like an outsider.
But life’s too short to do things that don’t make you feel proud. Of course we all do those projects that are good for cashflow or good for your profile, and hopefully these don’t run completely contrary to your personal beliefs, but even if we can own a tiny little part of these projects; do something good and something that we’re proud of, we can make that project worthwhile in terms of our integrity.
We need to continually question what we’re doing and why we bother. I think I’m right in saying that most of what we do isn’t just “a job.” We do this because we care and we want to make better experiences for everyone.