A rant about ideas, not persons

Subject: A rant about ideas, not persons
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 14:49:27 -0400

<disclaimer>Nothing in this post is about any single individual, directed at any single individual, or intended to provoke any single individual. It does not include quotations from any specific posts. This is opinion. If you want facts, move along; there's nothing to see here.</disclaimer>

People come in all shapes and sizes (I know, I've been most of them--sizes, anyway). They also come equipped with different abilities and proclivities. Just because we all subscribe to a technical writing listserv does not mean that we all have a great deal in common.

However, it seems to me that we ought--as people who claim to be proficient in some aspect of communication--to be able to agree on some basic ground rules of discourse. At the very least, we might be able to avoid talking past each other in mutually incomprehensible patois, as seems to be the situation in the most recent contretemps.

I'm going to propose some simple guidelines that, if we were all to adopt them, might allow us to generate less heat and more light. I do not for a minute think that everyone--or even anyone--is actually _going_ to adopt them, any more than everyone abides by the list rules. I just want to feel morally superior to everyone else, so I'm going to propose them and then occasionally hector people who don't abide by them.

Repeat after me:

1. Just because I don't know anything about a subject, that does not mean the subject is of trivial import compared with things I do know about. I will not belittle people simply because they understand something I don't understand.

2. Just because I do a task or analyze a situation or a problem one way, that does not mean there are no other valid approaches.

3. My experience with a small sample of people is not sufficient grounds to disparage--or even describe--classes of people. There are no classes of people, only individuals who may transiently have some things in common.

4. Observing _that_ an individual has behaved in a particular way does not give me the right or ability to assume I know _why_ the individual has behaved that way.

5. Despite my vehement disagreement with your opinion, I _must_ (this is _NOT_ optional) respect your right to hold that opinion.

6. In all cases of possible ambiguity, I will either give you the benefit of the doubt or inquire directly what you meant. I will make no assumptions about the nature of your upbringing or the organic condition of your brain.

This is just an off-the-cuff essay, so the above list can probably be extended and improved upon. But I suspect nobody is going to pay any attention anyway. I just wanted to get it off my chest.


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