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01:33 – Superpowers and Acquisition
02:50 – Reflective Listening
11:54 – Asking Content-Related Questions
15:10 – Who is the target audience for this book?
17:45 – The Evolution of Writing the Book
19:39 – People-first Language
23:40 – What if you get it wrong?
1. Try to do good.
2. Fuck it up.
4. Try not to make the same mistake again.
That’s the job.
— Kronda (@kronda) December 21, 2014
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29:40 – Fearing Shame
34:22 – Political Correctness and Language Evolution
44:11 – “Use with Caution” Words
Astrid: The less that something is happening the way I want it to, probably the less that I know.
Sam: Learning something from a joke!
Jamey: People who don’t want to learn new things are boring. Also, not being self-reflective.
Audrey: It’s amazing to pay people for their work.
Thursday: Pride for the contributors of this project.
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ASTRID: Hello everyone and welcome to Greater Than Code. I am Astrid Countee and I’m here with my great friend, Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: Thanks, Astrid. I’m also here with my friend and co-panelist, Sam Livingston-Gray.
SAM: Hello and thank you. We also have two guests today. Jamey, why don’t you go ahead and introduce the first one?
JAMEY: I’d be happy to. Today, we have on the show, Thursday Bram. Thursday writes, speaks and organizes communities around technology, business and culture. She was the editor of ‘The Responsible Communication Style Guide’ and you can find Thursday online at ThursdayBram.com.
SAM: And our other guest today is actually returning to the show from Episode 13. Audrey Eschright is a writer, community organizer and software developer based in Portland, Oregon where it’s lovely and rainy now. Yay!
SAM: She’s the editor and publisher of ‘The Recompiler’ and previously, she founded Calagator, an open source community calendaring service and co-founded Open Source Bridge, which is a great annual conference for open source citizens. Welcome to the show Thursday and Audrey.
THURSDAY: Hi, thank you.
AUDREY: Thank for having us.
JAMEY: A question that we really like to start off a lot of our shows with is what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
THURSDAY: I can tackle that first. My superpower is that I will go and talk to just about anyone and I don’t feel shy most of the time, which I think is a pretty great superpower. I just was always like this. I was a very nosy child so I didn’t really acquire it. I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive shy person or anything.
SAM: You’re parents are just like, “Oh, that’s Thursday.”
THURSDAY: Pretty much.
JAMEY: That’s a very powerful superpower, I think.
AUDREY: Yeah. I was expecting Thursday to say that her superpower was plenty for every single contingency because that’s something I really value about her and I think that’s something that we have in common. But also, I would say that one of mine is getting through very difficult conversations and that’s something that I’ve just learned from a lot of personal experience and reflection and having to get through some difficult situations. I just find the kindest way to do that.
SAM: Oh now, I want to ask you for tips on that.
AUDREY: I know. I’m just thinking on that too.
SAM: How do you do it?
AUDREY: There’s a [inaudible] called reflective listening. Even if you go into a really difficult and stressful situation where you really want something and you really need something, you have to do it from that other person’s perspective. You have to really understand what they’re coming to that conversation with. If you don’t know that, you need to ask for that. I try to go into a conversation that I think is going to be very hard by thinking about what I need, what I want from it and what I think I know about that other person and their expectations and then I ask.
If I say, “I really need –” like a common household thing, “– you to do the laundry today,” and the [inaudible] reason has been a very contentious thing. We go into the problem of laundry isn’t getting done and I think I don’t have time to do the laundry, that’s why I’m not getting it done. I don’t actually know why you’re not doing the laundry but I can ask you like, “Do you think it’s my time to do the laundry? Do we agree on this? I don’t even remember.”
You know, I can go in with a lot of questions and intend to just really listen to what the other person tells me. Maybe it turns out that they’re allergic to laundry soap. I have had a household problems that were just really unexpected for me like that. I might find out that actually, you just forgot about it and you need to write it on the calendar or on the wall. There’s just lots of ways that I might misread or misunderstand the situation but it turns out that we have a lot of common ground. Even if we don’t have common ground, I need to say, “The laundry has to get done. One of us has to do it. Somebody has to deal with this so we have to find some way that we can work together on that or we’re not roommates anymore.”
SAM: So you don’t just go on and guns blazing like, “You didn’t do the laundry and you’re a terrible person.”
AUDREY: No. Especially with chores, people do feel like they’re a terrible person. If you reinforce that, nobody gets what they want. Everyone feels bad.
ASTRID: It feels like you are defusing potential bombs by just asking a question, as opposed to assuming why they’re not doing it or if they have a problem or something like that.
AUDREY: Yeah and the less something is happening the way I wanted to, probably the less that I know about what’s going on there. For me, that’s just really a sign that I need to ask questions and be very gentle about it and listen to what I hear and not force my expectations onto the situation.
SAM: That sounds like a very responsible way of communicating.
AUDREY: There might be a theme in our efforts.
JAMEY: Today, we’re doing a very special book club episode of Greater Than Code and we’ve been excited about it for a while. We’re going to talk about ‘The Responsible Communication Style Guide,’ which Sam is just holding up a beautiful paper copy of. I only have the digital copy, unfortunately. That was put out by The Recompiler recently. Thursday was the editor so we have both of you on to talk about it and I’m really excited.
ASTRID: Where did the idea come from to make a book about this?
THURSDAY: I wanted this book for about the last decade. I’ve been a writer of various kinds for years and I have made a lot of mistakes over the many years I’ve been writing. It’s never necessarily an intentional mistake but it’s really hard to necessarily know what you’re doing without a reference guide. It’s hard to keep this much information in your head. Having the actual style guide that I wanted, that’s where this really started for me. I told Audrey about the idea and Audrey has been fantastic to work with.
AUDREY: Thank you. I was really excited when you proposed this to me because I know that working with on The Recompiler, we have a lot of these questions all of the time, even though people do write from their own backgrounds and they really share their perspectives. We still need to be able to talk about each other’s identities and as the book says, be very responsible about that and there was just questions I didn’t know how to answer [inaudible].
I also knew that I hadn’t seen a reference like this anywhere and we did a little bit of research on that. We just realized that there were so many separate reference guides and there isn’t a lot out there that puts it all together. The intersectional perspective is really important to us.
SAM: For our listeners who may not be familiar with the book so far, what’s the short description? Why would they want to read this book?
THURSDAY: The short description is that it’s a style guide. It’s a reference book for anybody who’s communicating about identity. There’s two kind of chunks to it. One chunk is basically just a list of terms of how to define them, how to use them, how to make sure that you are not using them incorrectly. Then there are a set of articles that talk about the process of writing inclusively. Some of them are a little more specific. One is about writing inclusive documentation, one is about the concept of people first writing, which comes up in a lot of communities but not all communities used it so it’s got some clarification on which communities use it and how to ask if you’re talking to somebody from one of those communities.
Then you’ve added in a couple of appendices that are just things that we have to look up on a regular basis, anyhow so they might as well be sitting on our desk or in that eBook that’s always open as well. One of the appendices is a list of major holidays and observances. If you’re trying to figure out when to plan a particular thing, you can look it up in the book and check that you aren’t claiming a conference during Yom Kippur, which is a thing that continues to happen that I personally find really frustrating.
ASTRID: Holy Week, too. It’s really weird to have parties on Good Friday.
THURSDAY: It’s not just focused on Jewish and Christian identities but we try to take a really intersectional approach with it. We’ve brought in holidays from a variety of different cultures as well as observances. Right now is National Hispanic Heritage Month, even though it’s not like any of the other months like Black History Month is the month of February. Hispanic Heritage Month is October 15th to November 15th. Keeping that in my head was nontrivial.
AUDREY: One of the things that I really enjoyed about this aspect of inclusiveness on the book is for example, just to stick with some of their religion section stuff, as we finished it up we realized that we didn’t know enough about Islam, that we need it to get somebody who could read it and give us more information. We did more research to realize that we have to make sure we had all the details right. We discussed [inaudible] and how to fit that in there in a way that it really made sense and just how to describe all of these things that, whether or not we had personal experience with, we knew that they were real parts of people’s lives.
THURSDAY: I think that’s a really good opportunity to talk about some of the ways that we put this together. Going into it, we didn’t want to try to be experts in something that we’re clearly not experts in. While we provided the framework, we brought in a ton of experts. We have our different section editors but we also have our sensitivity readers. We have this amazing group of people who helped us make sure that we were offering something that was actually intersectional, that was actually useful from a variety of different perspectives and that really reflected the communities that we were trying to describe in their own words and in ways that they wanted to be described.
JAMEY: I could tell how much labor of love went into that when I was reading it. Obviously, I’m also not an expert on every single thing that was in the book, either so I was kind of trusting all of you. But I feel like I’m kind of an expert in the transgender community and how we like to say things and what kind of phrasing we like to use and what kind of language we like to use so reading those actions and seeing how right everything was, it made me feel like I had a lot of faith in the other sections to the ones that I didn’t know about. It gave me a lot of confidence that even the pieces that I didn’t know and that I was learning, that I was learning the right things.
ASTRID: How did you go about asking people these questions to make sure that your content was correct, like the people who would be more aware of things that you were less aware? What was the way that you went about asking those questions?
THURSDAY: I think one of the reasons we decided to do a Kickstarter is because I didn’t want to ask those questions without being able to pay people for their time. That’s really important to me that a lot of the people that we asked to work on this project are subject matter experts and that means that they’re activists, they’re freelancers, they’re writers and creators or people who might not have the time who work on a project like this for free. Being able to say, “Not only do I love your work but I have cash money that I could pay you for additional work,” wasn’t really important. I don’t think that this is the work the people should be asked to do for free, especially since there are some resources out there, though not quite the resource that we wanted to build. Being able to attach money was definitely the first step.
The second step was we both had a list of people that we thought would be good for this project but we did open call for articles. We want to reach out beyond our networks a little bit. I think that actually doing the Kickstarter helps with that a little bit too because it put the project in front of people and then people were like, “This is the thing that is looking for help, that we can contribute to.” I think that’s how it kind of started off. I had a list going in of some of the editors that I really wanted to recruit, people who had already written about this in a really great way and then being able to ask our community through things like sensitivity reading was also really crucial. Being able to ask people who had a really wide variety of backgrounds was really important.
AUDREY: The thing that I would add to that too is that there were times when we just needed to check a couple of details. I tried to be really specific about what I was asking people to do that it’s not like, “Read this whole chapter and tell me what you think.” I tried to ask really specific questions like, “We’ve got this definition in here. Does that match how you think of this thing? Does that match what you know about it? Are we missing something that we need to make sure to include?”
SAM: I’m so glad that you were able to pay people for their work on this. I know it’s so common that people get asked to perform unpaid emotional labor and it’s really encouraging to hear that you are not contributing to that.
THURSDAY: We live under capitalism but we do not have to make it worst.
AUDREY: I would say that it makes a project like this book easier and harder. It’s easier that we paid people. We could really show that we respected them in their time. It’s harder because we had to raise $20,000. It’s not like I resent that in the slightest but it still work to get out there and raise money for a project like this, knowing that we’re not going to be automatically on the top of anybody’s list. We’re going to have to really make a good argument for why this book matters.
ASTRID: Who is the audience that you hope will read this book and use it the most?
AUDREY: For me, it’s people who write those sign up pages for different services. I think that there’s so many ways that we ask for user information on just basic web apps that really don’t work for a lot of identities and really aren’t very respectful. Having been a developer in some conversations, where I was really trying to advocate for what seemed to be like a good practice and maybe, I didn’t have all the perspectives to reference. I just really like that there’s a reference that maybe people can be using in their work to say, “Actually, we should do gender this way.” Or, “We should ask for names this way,” instead of just going with what works for the five people who are directly on the project.
JAMEY: That was my favorite article in the book also and I was going to mention that. I think that we don’t even think about what information we’re asking from users a lot of the time. We just go like, “What do you need?” because what normally gets asked: your name, your email, your gender, the location. I feel like there’s no thought put into like, “Do we need to know these things? Are we going to use these things for something useful? Are we going to use these things for something that people actively don’t want us to use these things for?”
It makes people very skeptical, I think about signing up for some services. I know that at this point of the service, ask for my gender and there’s two options like, I’m just not for user service. I just don’t need, almost always unless it’s something like medical that I actually do need. I lived my whole life without your service and I will continue living in without it.
THURSDAY: That article actually came about because of a specific request from one of our writers. Dash Buck wrote the article on interviewing people about their identity if they’ve transitioned their names, their pronouns and all of that. But as Dash and I were going through that article, we noticed that there were some specific things that we needed to address in terms of form so we added onto the book to make sure that we cover that. But that’s honestly, we won’t have done that if we hadn’t gone to this subject matter experts, if we hadn’t been able to bring in these people with different perspectives. I’m just so amazed by the people that we’ve gotten to work with. That might be why I keep referring to them.
JAMEY: That brings me to another question, actually to what you just said. How much of this final product of this book was about what you expected to write at the beginning and how much of that evolved over the course of working on it?
THURSDAY: I’d say that the framework is pretty much what we imagined, with our sections about identity, our articles, our appendices. We definitely started out with just the five sections and added another sectional section partway through as we realized it was going to be a better organization schema. But the specific items, the specific articles, the specific language that are in the book, I tried to go into it without a lot of expectations because I really wanted to make sure that it was our subject matter experts who were setting the guidelines for their section, because they know the sections better than the I do.
AUDREY: I agree. I thought our framework work really well but there were a lot of details that I just wouldn’t thought about until people started to write some piece of it. Then sometimes, that also made it easier to say, “If we have this, then we have to have that,” realizing that different topics went together and that if we could explain one piece of the issue, then we need to make sure that the rest of it was in there too.
THURSDAY: Similarly, there are a couple of things that I expected to have in the book that because of the scope, we decided to pull. For instance, we have a religion section but we didn’t get into an in-depth discussion of how’s [inaudible] which is definitely important information but because of the scope of this book, it didn’t fit. We think of this as a living project. We are planning to do a supplement that will cover those topics but we did have to adjust as we were doing this.
SAM: Sort of interesting things that happened to me as I read this book was, you have the section about people first language, which is the idea that instead of saying a handicapped person, you would say a person with a disability and handicapped is problematic for other reasons that you can get into if you read the book. But what I found really interesting was that I’d run across the idea of people first language and I thought, “That seems like a good general rule,” and I hadn’t really thought about it much beyond that.
Then you have this article that talks about all of the reasons that people first language might not work and all the communities that don’t necessarily use it or appreciate it. I had this really fun experience of watching myself encounter this cognitive dissonance of like, “I thought this was a useful and good thing,” so that was really fun. Then that reminded me of this article by Kronda Adair. She calls it the ‘Five Stages of Unlearning Racism,’ where at stage two she says, the opposite of racism is color blindness. The parallel to me there is that I wanted to use people first language for everything because it was a simple rule that I could understand.
Pretending to be colorblind means you end up treating everybody the same and just as I had been trying to unlearn that and to be able to treat people differently based on how they wanted to be approached, I realized that I also needed to adjust the way I thought about my language. That was really interesting. Thank you for that.
AUDREY: It gets into some very interesting topics of identity. Are we just a person with gender or are we a gendered person? Maybe it relate to a different parts of your life. I inherit this first through autism advocacy. It’s a very different thing to say that you’re a person with autism versus an autistic person. It really speaks to your experience, whether it’s just an innate part of your experience or it’s the changeable part of your experience. There are just a lot of different ways that somebody may choose to bring that.
SAM: Yeah, I like the discussion in the book around deaf culture as well because my mom was an interpreter when I was a kid so I know just a tiny bit about deaf culture so I was able to use that knowledge that I had as a hook into being able to extrapolate into different populations. It was really neat, too.
JAMEY: I think what you’re saying is very personal decision, like the idea of how someone wants to be referred to. It’s hard to make a generalization about it because it’s so personal to everyone but if you come into the situation informed about the different ways that different people might prefer, then I feel like you have a better groundwork to ask someone and understand where they’re coming from and then be able to follow up and refer to them in a way that they’ve just told you they feel more comfortable with, if that makes sense.
AUDREY: And it goes back to what I was saying at the beginning about asking questions and listening. This is so much better communication. It’s just learning what questions you can or should ask and learning to really listen to the answer, not to bias it or influence it.
JAMEY: I love that ‘learning which questions you should ask.’ That’s exactly it.
THURSDAY: Yeah, I think the only hard and fast rule we learned through this process is that you have to ask people questions and you have to listen to their answers and take them as valid, which I would love if they will just do X, Y and Z and you will always write correctly about people but people are these interesting people that keep evolving and even asking somebody today is not enough and asking people consistently and over the course of your interactions with them and double-checking. The only hard and fast rule we’ve got is talk to people and listen to what they say.
JAMEY: What if you get it wrong?
THURSDAY: Oh, I’ve gotten it so wrong.
AUDREY: We didn’t put a check about apologies. Maybe apologies will be on these supplements.
THURSDAY: Yeah. First off, I apologize and acknowledge that you’ve done something wrong because that’s something that people do need to see to understand what’s going on. Not just the person who you’ve inaccurately described. Everybody else needs to get the updated information as well, which it doesn’t feel great but it’s a necessary step sometimes to make a public apology. But an apology is never enough. You have to actually learn from that situation and improve.
Going back to Kronda Adair for a moment, she gave me basically the best instructions I have ever had on how to live my life —
SAM: It’s like, “Try to do good, fuck it up, apologize, do better,” something like that?
THURSDAY: Yeah, that’s it. The doing better part is very, very important to make sure the people get it right. Kronda has it, as her pinch tweet: Step one is trying to do good, step two is fuck it up, step three is apologize, set four is try to not make the same mistake again, and yeah, that’s how I try to approach every time I screw up because once again, people are people so I expect to screw up again in my life. I just try not to make the same mistakes again.
AUDREY: And if you do mess up, you apologize and you keep squashing people in that way, nobody will trust you anymore. I’ve seen people do that and I don’t think they understand just how little trust people have in them afterwards and not just about that topic but about anything they say. If you can’t trust that somebody actually is listening to you and doing what they say they’re going to, how do you trust anything else they tell about what’s going on, what they’re doing, what they think of you.
JAMEY: Thursday, I like what you said about acknowledging that you messed up because I feel like when you’re apologizing, people assume that there is this implication that you’re admitting that you mess up but there’s this like, “Sorry, I did something bad. Sorry that I messed up,” versus, “I’m sorry that you were offended by what I said,” which isn’t a real apology.
THURSDAY: I hate getting those apologies and I worked very hard never to give them. Being told that somebody is, “Sorry, that I’m offended,” just makes me more offended.
SAM: Right. It’s like, “I’m sorry there’s something wrong with you,” is how that comes across.
THURSDAY: Exactly and if somebody is apologizing, if somebody it’s making the effort to apologize, they know that they did something wrong, whether or not they’re admitting it. Let’s just admit it. Let’s treat people like humans and move on to the next thing that we’re going to screw up and apologize for.
AUDREY: This is something that I end up covering in code conduct training a lot that you need to understand that you cause harm. Even if it’s fairly a minor thing, well, it might be a minor harm but you still cause harm. If you can’t acknowledge that, then you’re not really apologizing. I think sometimes it’s okay to not understand that harm, to not really be able to just personally mirror what’s going on there. You can still say, “I can see that I’ve harmed you. I can see that I’ve hurt you and I don’t want to do that so I’m very sorry. I’m going to try to be aware then and not do that again.”
SAM: Yeah and on the topic of apologies, I feel like this is turning into the ‘Kronda Adair’s so awesome show,’ but a while back, she shared this thing called ‘The Four Part Apology,’ which is this template for apologizing and I think a really impactful and a helpful way. The template goes, Part 1 is, “I’m sorry for –” where you’ve deemed the behavior. Part 2 is, “This is wrong because –” where you acknowledge the nature of the harm that was caused. Part 3 is, “In the future, I will –” where you talk about what you’re going to do to change and Part 4 is, “Will you forgive me?” I’m not sure quite how I feel about Part 4. You can always hope for forgiveness but Parts 1 through 3 are spot on. I found this really useful in my own life.
ASTRID: I like the, “Will you forgive me?” because I think it’s good to hear that someone to actually asking, as opposed to trying to tell you how you should be responding to them in that’s circumstance.
SAM: Yeah. I guess maybe part of my discomfort with that is not growing up in a framework of forgiveness, which I think people who grew up in a culture of faith may have more tools to deal with.
JAMEY: I think that’s a good question as long as you realize the answer might be, “No, I don’t forgive you.”
ASTRID: Yeah, and maybe no.
AUDREY: And, “Maybe, not right now and I don’t know when. Don’t ask me.” It’s interesting because it does open up a way for richer communication. You’re suggesting that it might be possible but I agree that it can feel really force and be like, “Will you, so that we can just move on from this?” Maybe I’m not ready to move on.
THURSDAY: I’m also super cool with this being the crud of fan episode, just FYI. If that can be the name of it even, I would up for it.
SAM: Subtitle: ‘Also, Kronda Adair is great.’
AUDREY: You’ll put it on t-shirt. I was going to say, I feel like we should talk about shame too, as a part of this. I think shame, for not being able to do right things, sometimes it keeps us from trying to do better, especially with really complicated aspects of identity because we can tell that it’s a very personal thing. I think sometimes, in theory in shame, shame is this external thing that’s put on us, can keep people from actually just stepping up and doing the work.
Just is it, is kind of vulnerable. It is hard to know that you might make mistakes, that you might hurt people by trying to communicate with them. I don’t think that it’s got an easy answer and easy way to deal with that. They get something to be really aware of that that’s part of our culture and our way of thinking about this and what we might feel coming into it.
JAMEY: I think your whole book is an answer to that in a way because, I think it’s related to shame this fear of trying is like a fear of failing. If you have more resources to be like, “I read this,” and I feel like, “I have a background and I know where I’m coming from,” that can empower people to be able to try. I think that the fear is related to not even knowing where to start. I think this book is a really, really good place to start. Thank you for making it.
AUDREY: Thank you.
THURSDAY: I would also continue with that thought. I come from a journalism background and harm is not something we necessarily talk about in journalism classes when we’re in the newsroom, when we’re working on a project. In my background, there were certain things that were considered unacceptable because they would open the paper you work at to libel laws. We got lots of training about libel laws but we didn’t get a lot of training about interviewing beyond how to get the right information that the paper needed.
We did get a lot of training on how to talk to people, how to understand the context of their experiences. We got some basic guidance on, “Don’t say this because this is a problem,” but we didn’t get any explanation of what to use instead. For instance, there were a lot of things that we get from AP style that say, “You’re going to talk about race in this way,” to which I am from Oklahoma. I interned at the Tulsa World, which is a very interesting paper but there are some people who have been on staff there since 19-I don’t know-08 or something and telling them, “No, the AP style says we’re talking about race in this way,” immediately leaves into discussion of, “Oh, you just want me to be politically correct. I’m going to write the way I write and editor can deal with it later if it’s really a problem,” which was unkind to the editor in question because the editor in question was a young woman who didn’t want to deal with that crap anyhow.
There are improvements since when I went through journalism school but it’s not necessarily something that a lot of newsrooms are focusing on even today. Everybody grabs their copy of the AP style guide and says, “That’s good enough,” and the AP style guide comes from a very set perspective and we come from a different set perspective.
AUDREY: I think we were really looking at that leading edge of it. We put in under index, which was something that I just can’t seem to find a lot of places when I was starting to see people use it. I think that AP comes from, not in a political way but a conservative approach. They’re not going to push something in there until they think that’s it’s fairly widely accepted. I also think that there’s just such a big difference between doing something because you know it’s the kindest way to interact with them and doing something because otherwise, they get sued. It puts the blame and the responsibility in completely different directions.
SAM: Yeah, that’s two completely different level.
JAMEY: That’s a good point but I would still, rather someone treat me good because they’re afraid that they’ll get sued than just treat me bad.
AUDREY: For sure. In some tech companies, that maybe all you really can hold on to. That’s just like a low bar. It’s a really low bar to pass.
ASTRID: With the political correctness, I often feel like a lot of the conversation is about what people assume is wildly accepted versus the truth about things. Sometimes, when you’re trying to represent something truthfully, then you’re being labeled as being politically correct because it’s not the same language that’s being used to talk about whatever it is more ubiquitously but it doesn’t necessarily make it more widely accepted. I think that’s something we’ve kind of just assumed because this is how it’s always been so obviously, it’s accepted. But I think that the accepting part is very assuming and I don’t think it always applies.
To try to use an example I would say, if you think that most people in America live in a large city, then when you talk about things related to city life like traffic or housing issues or streets, then you would make differences if you were talking about somebody who lived in a rural area. You would actually say, “They live in a rural area and this is what this area looks like,” because you would assume that most people don’t know what that is so you’re trying to talk about it in a way that you think is describing. Then maybe others might say, “Why are you even talking about like that? Just say the name of the place and whatever.”
But if you don’t actually know the truth about where people live or what their experiences are, then you’re still making assumptions. I think half the political correctness conversation is an assumption about, why do we have to use all these labels. Everybody knows what we’re talking about. It’s just this small group of people that are having a problem so why should we change our behavior for the small group of people. I think it’s probably more true that we don’t know enough about people in general, to even know if it’s a small group of people that if we’re using different terminology, how do you know that’s not widely accepted.
If just because you haven’t been using it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not actually being used. It could be you or your paper or whatever your outlet, whatever your communication place is, that is not using this terminology but that doesn’t make it untrue or not even widely accepted. I feel like in some ways, we can’t even have the ‘is this politically correct?’ conversation until we even know the truth about what is going on.
THURSDAY: That really resonates with me. I would also add that without that truth, without that understanding, without that contexts, nobody is able to communicate effectively anyhow. Without that understanding, without building more of that relationship between who’s doing the talking and who’s doing the listening, whether that’s journalist talking to their audience or even just one-on-one, I think that it’s really easy to forget honestly that other people are not exactly the same and that’s a thing that I hope that we’re working on. I hope that this is a useful tool for.
I would also maybe add that this is kind of a discussion in linguistics in some way as well. This assumption that English as a language doesn’t change and we don’t need new labels to describe new things is completely unaware of the history of language, especially English. English has this reputation as that language that will rifle through all other languages pockets and steal whatever isn’t nailed down, which is why English is often adopted for technical discussion. It’s often adopted for scientific discussions because we have historically had no shame about using new words and new labels and new terminology.
While I think the discussion of political correctness might be motivated by more than just a lack of understanding on how language works because once again, [inaudible]. I think that the way that English is evolving right now, the way that we’re adding new terms, we’re thinking about new concepts is honestly kind of cool and a really interesting evolution of language that’s worth looking at.
AUDREY: It’s also an emotional labor issue, who has to do the work of being aware of other people. Certainly, if you’re on the other side of the political correctness that somebody is expressing it, what it means is that you have to learn how to be overly considerate of white people’s feelings. Overly cautious instead of accepting that you do equal work, that you should be doing equal work here to understand and help people.
JAMEY: I really like what you’re saying about the way language evolves because I think a lot of times when I get into a conversation about language on these topics, it’s because someone’s telling me, “That’s not a real word. That is not grammatically correct. You just made that up,” and I’m like, “I didn’t just make it up. Somebody else made it up but that’s how our words became words.” Somebody made them up at some point. That’s true.
I think it comes down to this dichotomy where it’s either I’m going to be really rigid and strict about the English language or I’m going to respect how other people feel. At the end of the day, if I have to pick one of those, it’s very obvious which one I’m going to choose. I’m not sure why so many people get hung up on that step.
ASTRID: I think maybe one of the reasons is because they’re looking for a rule and they feel like, “If I know this rule and then now, I use it and you’re telling me it’s wrong, now I have to learn a new rule. Then what if somebody else tells me that’s wrong and they have to know a new rule.” I think it’s actually way easier if you allow people to tell you how they want to be treated and you just treat them that way. That can be a universal rule, as opposed to trying to say, “This is what they said. I don’t want to change anymore. I’m tired of having to change a lot,” because that’s the opposition argument, which is, “It’s too much to change. I can’t do this. I can’t keep up with this.”
You just need to pick a box and stay there, which is already insulting to people who don’t feel like they fit in the box. But if they comes from this place of, “I don’t know anything about this and you’re telling me there’s this rule, then when I try to use it and somebody tell me the rules are wrong. I’m tired of rules. You need to do what I know so I don’t have to keep doing this.”
AUDREY: That’s why it’s so refreshing to listen to Thursday and be like, “Isn’t it exciting that we’re changing all these things and it’s evolving and it’s so cool to see,” and I’m like, “Yes, it’s amazing. Thank you.” It is super amazing. I love hearing about different people’s perspectives and experiences. I also have absolutely heard people explicitly say, what Astrid is [inaudible] that, “I already had to learn how to talk about women in the 70s. You already held me so why do I have to learn something else about it now.” It’s very boring to me to just refuse change so drastically.
You change. Somebody is seeing that changes. They are not the same person they were in 1970 but we don’t reflect on our personal change, unless you have a lot of friction with the culture around you. We don’t reflect on that personal change the way that we notice it on others like, “I just had to learn your pronouns five years ago and now they’re different.” I’ve seen people do that very directly. I think part of it is they’re not very self-reflective, either. They’re not really understanding themselves to be into that. They just think everyone else keeps shifting around them, keeps shaking them.
THURSDAY: There’s a small overlap with the same communities that say, “I learned COBOL and I don’t need to learn another language. I’m just going to program in COBOL for the rest of my life.”
AUDREY: I do have a family member who has done that.
THURSDAY: I’m not saying that COBOL doesn’t have its time and place. I’m just saying that maybe there are some alternatives that have happened since COBOL that are at least just good.
JAMEY: Maybe that time and place is in the past. That was me and I take that back.
THURSDAY: Unfortunately, in our banking system —
SAM: The past didn’t go anywhere.
THURSDAY: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of companies that rely on COBOL-based inventory management still. I know several COBOL programmers who just go from company to company, updating their inventory system just enough but it keeps running and keep shipping things and then they’re on to the next questionable inventory system. It might be relevant to say that one of the supplements that we’re talking about doing fairly soon is age because age does have a role, not an all-inclusive role of course but it does have a role in how we talk about some of these things as well.
A lot of people that we talk about, in terms of political correctness, I’ve heard referred to as dinosaurs, which no matter how cool dinosaurs are, it might not always be the right word either so age is definitely a thing worth discussing as well around identity.
AUDREY: I think it’s just a thing that we erased from our technology, there’s this very historical perspective that we often bring to programming about not learning what’s changed and what’s different. That also rolls into how we think about people. We try to get them very static rules and it doesn’t always work.
JAMEY: Speaking of static rules, another thing I really like about the book was the end. There’s a section, a list of words that you shouldn’t use, which was helpful but then after that, there was a section of words that was… I can’t remember how it was worded —
SAM: Use with caution?
JAMEY: Yeah, use with caution. It’s like, “These words could be used correctly if you know what you’re doing with them.” I really like that because in particular, one of the words in that list is queer and that’s totally how I feel about the word queer and I’m all for it. I use it all the time. I think it’s a great word and I don’t like when people tell me not to use it but there are things you have to think about before you make the decision to use that word. I like that the book recognized that in different contexts and different things are acceptable and there’s not necessarily static rules about all these words. I appreciated that.
THURSDAY: Thank you. Our editors definitely were a guiding piece of that because there were several words where we’re like, “We can’t put these on the ‘don’t use list.'” But there are certain people who without proper training, perhaps shouldn’t access these terms. It’s like the adult section of the library, like it’s fine if you’re ready for it.
SAM: Right, like spirit animal was the most recognizable one on the list for me. It was like, I see people misusing that so often, just as an example.
AUDREY: A lot of it is about how your personal identity is reflected. It’s very different to say, “I’m queer,” and to have somebody say, “You damn, queers.” A lot of these words is just because it’s so different if I identify that way, versus somebody tries to shame me for being that way. That often is why those words become so charged.
JAMEY: It’s about reclamation for me. I think reclamation of words is very important. It’s hard because I don’t want to force that on other people, if they don’t want it but I also definitely resent people telling me that I can’t reclaim words. I’m like, “You can watch me.”
AUDREY: Watch you with your ever-changing English language.
THURSDAY: It’s our language. We’ll use it how we need to.
ASTRID: This is the part of our show that we have reflections and we reflects on the conversation that we had on any insights that came up or calls-to-action for the future. I can go first. My reflection is something that you said, Audrey which I wrote down so that I will not mess it up, “The less that something is happening the way I want it to, probably the less that I know,” which I think is a really important thing to move forward thinking about because so often, when something doesn’t go the way you want, especially in interaction, your first reaction is, “What is wrong with them,” which I think is human. I’m not trying to say that that’s you’re automatically a bad person because I know I’ve done that plenty of times.
But I think to think about it in terms of, there’s probably something I don’t know as opposed to there’s something wrong with whoever they are and why they’re behaving this way is really helpful in understanding how you can grow and learn from whatever happened and be able to not have the same mistakes happen again because you just don’t know what’s going on.
SAM: For me, one of the more interesting parts of this conversation was when I tried to make a joke and the factual basis of that joke was completely incorrect, I got to learn something. Yay!
ASTRID: Where’s that apology, Sam.
JAMEY: I also want to reflect on something that Audrey said about people not wanting to learn new things. Basically, the quote was, “People who don’t want to learn new things are boring,” and I totally agree with that but I feel like it’s really important to say that because so often, I internalize that people don’t want to learn new things around me and it’s like, “Maybe I’m this burden for expecting everyone to learn all these new things. Maybe I’m expecting too much of people,” so it’s really great to hear like, “No, it’s not you. It’s just boring, if you don’t want to learn,” which I totally agree. Once you say it, it’s just so obvious to me.
She also talked about not being self-reflective which resonates with me a lot too. I made a post on Twitter one time and it was like, “Me to cisgender people: Nice gender. Did your mom pick it out for you?” And people got really mad about it and they were like, “What’s wrong with being cisgender?” I was like, “Nothing but your mom did pick it out for you, though. Have you ever reflected on why you feel that way?” If you sit down and you reflect really hard on your gender and help makes you feel and you’re like, “I was born male and I love being male.” I’d be like, “Great. I’m so happy for you. That sounds really convenient actually but I’m glad that you thought about it before you made a decision that this is who I am just because somebody told it to me once.” I think about that a lot.
AUDREY: I just want to repeat something Thursday has said early in our conversation, which is that it’s really amazing to pay people for their work. I had to literally write the checks and it felt so good to send all of our editors and our writers a check to say, “This work was meaningful to us. We’re really glad that you did it.”
THURSDAY: Yeah. That was definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this project. It’s probably the first really enjoyable bit of capitalism I’ve had in a while too. I’m just really proud of the work that you were able to do and I’m really proud of the people, the community who were able to contribute to this. It is something that I’m really glad that we couldn’t do well, that we didn’t have to do well. I just want to say that that’s one of the best things about this project for me.
SAM: Before we say goodbye, is there somewhere that people can go to learn more about the book, about The Recompiler, about the two of you that you would like people to know?
THURSDAY: The style guide does have its own website, which is RCStyleGuide.com. We are currently selling the eBook, which is available through RCStyleGuide.com or through RecompilerMag.com. In early 2018, we will be doing another prepping for physical copies of the eBook so keep an eye out for that.
AUDREY: Speaking of paying people, October 24th, we’re doing another Kickstarter for The Recompiler. We’re going into Year 3 of publication and we have a lot of plans for more issues and another book that we’re actually getting ready to announce so I would love it if people just keep an eye out for that.
SAM: Thank you so much for coming on the show. We’ve had a really great conversation and I look forward to more in the future.
AUDREY: Thank you for having us.
ASTRID: Thank you.
SAM: Thanks listeners. We will be back at you next week.
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