On Uncomfortable Topics: Rules and Sexual Harassment

I realized I’ve never written these down, so… here are the rules I try to follow, and that I’ve given my kids in some form or another over the years. I haven’t always followed them, because I honestly didn’t know they were a problem, and needed to be rules. Some of them are a lot easier to follow because I’m married. Some of them still require work, because I’ll hopefully never be done getting better.

There are a lot of reasons we need to stamp out sexual harassment. The first being that women are human beings and deserve to be allowed to not be threatened, abused, molested or coerced… ever, anywhere. I’d hope that would go without saying, but, it apparently needs to be said… a lot.

If we make our communities, workplaces, families, churches, etc, places where people feel threatened, uncomfortable or violated, then they’re not going to be productive. We’re missing out on their ideas, their contributions, their genius, because some of us can’t control our urges. The benefits of creating inclusive, diverse and welcoming places is that we get to benefit from everyone’s contributions. If we’re doing something that decreases someone’s ability to participate, then we should stop. That sounds stupid when we’re talking about sexual harassment, but if you can’t be convinced to treat women as equal humans, then maybe a productivity argument is what you need?

So, I said there were rules. Here they are. This list isn’t complete, but it’s a start:

  1. Don’t touch people unless you ask them first, AND THEY SAY YES. If someone is asleep, they can’t say yes. If someone is passed out, they can’t say yes.
  2. You never have to hug or touch anyone you don’t want to. If you’re a man, don’t initiate a hug unless you’ve been hugged by that person before.
  3. Do not, or attempt to, date people you have power or influence over. If you’re in management, don’t ever attempt to date anyone at work.
  4. Don’t stare. You can conquer “the male gaze”. It makes people really uncomfortable, is objectifying, and is just a bad habit – so break it.
  5. Don’t talk about, or comment on, other peoples’ bodies.
  6. Be kind. Be gentle. Be someone people can feel comfortable and safe around.

I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever harassed anyone, but I’m sure I’ve made people uncomfortable, and I’m sorry. Hopefully, I’m better now than I was, and I’ll be better tomorrow than I am today.

I appreciate the women who do speak up, and especially the women over the years who were brave enough to tell me their harassment stories, and take the time to educate me, and point me in the right direction.

This isn’t fun to talk about, but we have to stop forcing women to run the gauntlet of abuse it takes to report harassment and abuse. Men, this is OUR problem to solve, because we’re the perpetrators. If you work with harassers, pull them aside, talk to them. Report them. We have to police ourselves, and be better.

Coding is a Social Activity

You’ve probably heard about that manifesto that some techbro at Google wrote. This is the response I wish I would have written.

A couple things to highlight and emphasize:

  • Writing software is about understanding problems, and to understand problems, you have to not only know how to solve them with code, but know the root cause of the problem. That requires building empathy. Without it, you’ll never be great.

  • There’s no such thing as “male” or “female” skills. They’re just skills. That people put them in buckets says more about the broken rigid gender roles in our society than the quality or value of those skills. Empathy is much harder to develop than learning how to code.

  • The dude should have talked to some non-bro humans before publishing that crap. They would have, hopefully, gently slapped him around intellectually and convinced him not to be stupid in such a public way.

  • Guys, every single woman you know who’s ever had a job or worked in any situation where men are present has dealt with things you can’t even imagine. Not most. ALL of them. If they haven’t told you about any of them, you probably have a lot of work to do on empathy, because they don’t think you can handle it, or you’re kind of a jerk.

This isn’t totally related, but it’s related enough and I wanted to write about it, so here it goes.

Sara Soueidan tweeted yesterday about other peoples’ productivity tweets, and it got me thinking about how I keep myself motivated and keep myself from feeling too down about feeling stuck. I replied with a couple of things, and I thought I’d share them, because especially early on in my career, they were extremely helpful in keeping me going when I didn’t really have a way to measure my progress.

  • Document your progress, because it’s easy to forget. I’ve kept a work journal in various forms for the last 15 years or so, just a little record of problems I’ve solved, things I’ve worked on, etc.. Why? Because progress is easy to forget and time erases our victories. It’s easy to feel like we’re not getting anywhere when we’re only looking at the last week or so.

  • Whenever I feel down or stuck, I go back 6 months to a year and just randomly pick a day from the journal to remind myself what I was working on. It’s almost always a pretty immediate reminder of how far I’ve come. If I still feel down or stuck, I just go farther back.

In agile development, my favorite part is always the retrospective. It’s a meeting you have every 2-4 weeks where the entire team answers the following questions:

  • What went well?

  • What didn’t go well?

  • What are we going to do differently next time?

Answering those questions is a way to celebrate successes, build accountability by honestly and constructively figure out what didn’t go well and why, and then come up with a couple things to work on for the next time.

That same set of questions works really well for personal stuff too, so I have personal retrospectives all the time after stressful experiences or times I reacted to something in a way I shouldn’t have or, for me especially, when I overreacted to something.

I don’t have personal retrospectives to beat myself up. They’re not pity parties or self-destructive. They’re hopefully the same as a good team retrospective – they exist only to make sure everyone knows the part they play in the team’s success, and so everyone improves.

And that’s where the productivity tweets, and the harmfulness of judging yourself by others’ public projection of themselves, come in. Those public projections are meaningless to me. I might be able to learn some new tactics from them or a new thing to try, but trying to copy someone’s success only by observing the outward result is a recipe for disappointment.

Things to remember whenever reading any personal account of success:

  • The author is an unreliable narrator and will almost always downplay other peoples’ contributions to their success or that luck played a much larger role than they mention.

  • They’re not you. You’re not starting from the same place. You don’t have the same resources. You have different talents and skills. Do not judge yourself relative to someone else’s position because you don’t know where they started.

I was the first web developer in my group when I moved to Virginia to work in the “main office” at AOL. I had no one to measure myself against because no one else did what I did (my manager used to say, “I don’t know what you do, but everyone loves it, so… keep it up!”). I was young, and dumb, and ambitious, and… had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to be the best I could be at it.

I’m a big fan of the Golden Rule for teams. I try (and fail) to work so the other people on the team have an easier time of things. I fail at this more often than I succeed, but that’s the goal.

After my first couple of projects, I realized that I also have to practice the Golden Rule on myself. So, now, I really only compete against what I call Past Me, and I try to do my work so Future Me doesn’t think Present Me is a jerk.

This framework has worked out pretty well for work over the last almost-twenty-years. I just recently realized that it’s equally applicable to life outside of work too, and am trying to apply it to my health choices too.

I hope this is helpful to someone. Life is hard. Make it as easy as you can on yourself and others.

#YallDoGood: Shout Out Your Community’s Unsung Heroes

There are people in your community doing great things completely unnoticed, except maybe by you.

So, this weekend, maybe take a minute between the latest outrage and trying to ignore the latest outrage to give your local unsung do-gooder a high five, or buy them coffee, or a big shout out on social media to tell the world how awesome they are, so people can see that there’s good stuff happening.

Let’s call it… #YallDoGood

Cool? Get to it, y’all.

Constantly Late and Begging for Applause

Kind of tired of watching big organizations (political parties, churches, etc, etc, etc) look for a standing ovation when they finally come around on an issue (doesn’t matter what it is, pick your favorite).

No, sorry, you don’t get credit for being a late follower. If you project an air of infallibility and want everyone to believe that you’re on the side of truth and justice and love and all that other good stuff you say you believe – YOU’D HAVE BEEN EARLY TO THE PARTY. You should have helped organize it.

You don’t get to show up at the last minute after people have spent decades fighting your lies and pretend that this is some great thing you’re doing. You’re LATE. You were on the wrong side the whole time and don’t even have the courage to admit it other than a couple of trite press releases written by your lawyers and a couple of donations to charities that helped all the people you hurt.

You get no credit. Screw you.

Welcome to the party, but we were just wrapping up. There might be a couple crackers left. Sorry, but all the dip’s been eaten and we’re out of wine. Feel free to make your own.

Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

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The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

Love and Reading

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

It’s also my favorite thing about the internet – all of the people who thought they were alone and had no way to describe how they felt suddenly found they weren’t alone in the world.

The web’s not perfect, but for all of the bad stuff, there’s this. No matter what we’re going through, there’s someone out there who’s not only lived it, but written it down and shared it with the world, and we can go find it, and maybe a small bit of peace.

Of Safety Pins and Paperclips

I’m conflicted about the whole safety pin thing. It’s an easy gesture and I’m afraid that it will provide comfort only to the people who wear it, not to those actually in need of comfort. I’m afraid that the people who wear it will think their work is done because they put on their safety pin, when it should be just the beginning. I’m skeptical because we’ve made these gestures before and not followed through, not finished the work, and we’ve abandoned those in need because our attention spans are short, and there’s always a shiny new cause to support that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I wanted to find out more about its origins and found an article about the Norwegian version – the paperclip.

Like a safety pin, the paperclip works as a symbol because it binds things together. Like the safety pin in the Netherlands, wearing a paperclip became a crime; there was real risk in wearing one.

The thing that struck me from the story was in the “bonus facts” below. The paperclip was just the beginning. Ordered to teach Naziism in school, 12,000 Norwegian teachers went on strike. Many were sent to prison camps. The Nazis realized having kids out of school hurt more than the teachers not promoting their cause, so they relented.

The clergy was ordered to teach obedience to the “leader and the state”. When every bishop and 90% of the clergy in the country resigned, the Nazis again relented.

More than 1,000 Jews were smuggled into Sweden by the resistance.

The Dutch were no slouches either. They carried out repeated demonstrations and non-violent strikes against the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. No other country had as may strikes and protests as the Dutch – and they faced harsh reprisals from the Nazis each time.

The Dutch had a massive underground press with over 1,100 different titles, some of which are still around and are major papers in the country. They set up underground financing and had a massive social services network that provided financial, medical and other support to the Dutch people.

All of that is to say, they didn’t just wear safety pins and paperclips. They got to work and did what they could, under terrible conditions and at great personal risk.

I like the idea of the safety pin, because it’s meant to be temporary until you actually repair the damage.

I think donating, and setting up a recurring donation, to national non-profits is a great thing to do. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign and others will be kept really busy for the next four years, as we can expect the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to be gutted like it was during the Bush years or worse (probably worse). But, while you’re donating, please look for a local non-profit to donate money and time to.

I’ll elaborate… This election came as a shock to a lot of us who thought we were farther along as a country than we really are. It was easy to call ourselves progressive and cheer on those doing the work from the sidelines, post to social media about the issue of the day, and feel like we’d done something of value. It turns out, no one was listening, and we didn’t change any minds.

Before anyone still reading this post and starts tutting… I accept the results of the election:

  • Two very unpopular people were the two major parties’ nominees for president.
  • One of them got over two million more votes and lost to a man who (this is a partial list) called immigrants racists, criminals and terrorists, called for the banning of an entire religion from the country, denied knowing anything about David Duke or the KKK, openly mocked a disabled reporter, called for protestors to be beaten, has said (and probably done) terrible things about women, and that almost seventy percent of the country feel is unfit to be President.
  • A lot of people stayed home because they couldn’t decide between two people they didn’t trust.

That result is real, and it’s not going to change. Me being sad about it will not change it. Me being angry will not change it. Me trying to decide who’s to blame for the result will not change it. All I can do is decide what I do about it after accepting that I can’t change it.

For me, this is a wake up call. If I sit on the sidelines now, and assume someone else will do the work, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror or call myself a progressive.

I could shake my tiny fist at the sky and lament what’s happening in Washington, but that won’t change anything. So, I’ll be watching them, but I’m going to act locally. My neighbors will be affected by the policies enacted in the next four years. Many of them are afraid and a lot of them are already being targeted by hate.

I wasn’t doing nothing before, but that no longer feels like enough.

There are already great non-profits in Savannah working on things I care about: poverty, education, technology literacy. There are probably great non-profits working in your community too. I’m trying to resist the urge to start something new – because that’s alway my first instinct. Starting things is exciting because I can design it from scratch, and I don’t have to understand an existing dynamic – but it’s a waste of time. Starting things is expensive, both in time and resources, and we don’t have enough of either. So, I’ll pick something (or a few things) with the biggest overlap in the Venn diagram of things I care about, things I can help with, and what will have the biggest impact.

Because we won’t make this country a better place by having another comment duel on Facebook, favoriting a tweet, posting a pithy meme, or by standing on the sidelines of democracy or of our communities and watching people do the work. The world has enough cheerleaders and more than enough pundits. The world needs more people to roll up their sleeves and serve; there’s a lot to do.

I don’t think I’ll wear a safety pin on my collar… I’m going to learn how to sew.

For Further Learning… Web Development Style

I sent this list out to yesterday’s RailsBridge students as next steps if the introductory class lit a fire and they want to learn more. And then I realized it’s a pretty good list, so I’ll share it here too!

Local Savannah Things

For Further Learning

Yesterday’s class was great. Lots of teachers in the room and lots of people who had no idea that web development was accessible to “normal” people. It was tons of fun and a great way to shake off a pretty terrible week.

Interest and Concern

I’m still processing what happened last night and how I got it so very very wrong (it’s really no consolation that almost everyone else also got it wrong). I was looking for something to cheer me up this morning, and I found this quote from FDR (emphasis mine).

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life… I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. But, it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, propose to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt

I don’t know how to fix any of this or how to help, but I think it starts with conversations: in person and across divides. If we can at least show “interest and concern” for each other in our communities, we can make some progress.

Running Unopposed

Looking at my sample ballot for November, and I’m depressed at how many people are running unopposed. Out of 14 races, 8 incumbents are running without competition. They don’t have to debate. They don’t have to defend their records. That’s now how democracy is supposed to work.

We need to figure out how to get more people involved at the local and state level so people can get the experience to effectively serve at the national level. I’ve done some research and it’s economically impossible for most people to run for local or state office, or serve in even “part time” elected positions because of the time requirements and lack of pay. That means that only those who can afford to serve get the opportunity, which then means our government doesn’t represent all of us.

This is how we get ineffective, unrepresentative, unstatesmanlike, and uncompromising behavior from our elected officials – we don’t hold them to account. We don’t run against them. We don’t do anything but complain on social media or claim a “rigged” system, when we don’t even involve ourselves in it beyond cheering on our favorite team.

How do we “fix” this? We all need to look at how we’re participating in government at all levels, and pay more attention. We need to encourage qualified people to run. We need to make sure that our elected officials know we’re paying attention. We need to respectfully (and with actual facts) call them to account when they’re wrong. We need to state our cases for the issues using persuasive language, and not threats of violence or intimidation.

We get the system we let develop. If you don’t pay attention, it will be built and run by the people that are. Want something else? You gotta work for it. You have to do more than complain. You have to build a coalition of people who agree with you and provide actual solutions.

Voting is literally the least we can do to change things. It’s time we all took a long hard look at how we got here, how we’ve behaved this election, and what we’re going to do about it.