Editor’s note: I’m calling time on this one. Have to publish as-is or it will rot in drafts forever 2 years is enough.
Each year my friends and I go over some personal goals we would like to take on in the coming year. In 2013 I made an explicit goal to “stop being a hater.” I was sure to differentiate between criticism and hate, as I feel that criticism is a totally necessary and healthy part of life. Anyway, here was the way I described it to the group.
Stop being a hater – k so the rest of these are relatively self explanatory, but this one is interesting. As you know, I am a google hater. I am also a coffee script hater. And a hater of emberjs and of Facebook. And of just a lot of things that have redeeming qualities and make a lot of people really happy. Now, criticism is important for growth, but I’m not telling google or ember or Facebook or anyone anything. My observations are not to better anyone but only to tear down. I’ve done a decent job keeping my hate to myself and not spewing filth on the internet but I have a lot of it on the inside and I don’t want that anymore.
Here was my much more judicious declaration on twitter: https://twitter.com/joeldart/status/294636343026409473
At the end of the year, I wrote up my thoughts on my ipod touch and emailed it back to the group. Here is that write up:
Firstly, in general I found this to be a really good idea. It was really shocking how much of a difference it made cutting out all that unnecessary negativity. The snide “well actually…” comments about google no longer spoiling someone’s feelings of excitement, loyalty, or gratitude. Not slipping into road rage bc you just give people the benefit of the doubt. There were just a ton of applications where it made things better.
One area I really started to struggle was around crunchy/hippie stuff. Kathryn has done a ton of research on nutrition and parenting and all that stuff, and occasionally the results align with some unconventional practices used by the more granola amongst us. What I found myself doing was not engaging the decisions in a critique (note, criticism is still really important and totally allowed) but just blindly and gruffly hating on whatever was being presented. There was no basic respect being offered and that caused a lot of difficulty.
Another noteworthy anecdote I have is what I learned by deliberately applying the don’t be a hater rules to sports. I waffled on this for a long time as I think that rivalries are an important part of sports and bitterly hating the other team is part of the fun. But I finally decided I would only lose one year, so I went for it.
I don’t think I will fully pull this forward, but I did notice that I still greatly enjoyed football even without the bitter hatred of wabash college and the New England patriots. In fact not being a hater about the pats helped me enjoy an ongoing discussion and joke with a friend that normally would have been us trolling and bickering the whole season.
The last and most painful clarity was about the most common targets of my hate: nickleback and qrcodes. Over the course of the year I probably received 12 emails from friends with snarky references to these two. That’s an average of 1 per month about these subjects which is ridiculous. I don’t receive an email per month about volunteering, football, the muppets, church, or anything else. But my interest in snarky criticism leads to always being top of mind for my friends when it comes to hating. Not only is that sad, but it’s ridiculous that I let myself get worked up about these things. So what? Nickleback isn’t good. Why am I still talking about them. We get if – I think qrcodes are abused and are not correctly solving the problem of the need to deep link and encode metadata into the world around us. Getting mad about marketers wasting their time isn’t properly solving the problem. Why shouldn’t I create a better technology instead of complaining about the current one. Once again, criticism isn’t bad, but we shouldn’t be so quick to define ourselves by what we say no to. Knowing our boundaries is important, but it’s easy to spend all your time fortifying the castle walls and neglecting the culture on the inside.
Through the year, I received a lot of encouragement from others, and I even snuck in a subtle reference to this in my jsconf talk: the only two technical references I made in the talk were Douglas Crockford and IE, figures which draw quite a bit of hate. Subtle – far too subtle for anyone in the audience but me – but cathartic.
My favorite outcome of this experiment, though, was the way this led me to open myself up to the good parts of various things. Previously, my approach to basically everything was clouded by my feelings about it. This meant that if there was anything I could learn from it, I would miss it. My (aspirational) approach now is much more optimistic: there is something good that I can find here, and I would like to find it. I’m super bad at this, but I keep practicing and hope to get better.
Finally, this internal distinction of criticism and hate has helped me sort out feelings around “call out culture” and “tone policing” and other approaches to criticism. It’s complicated, but it doesn’t bother me people not being pleasant or calm when they really are angry and critical. Part of this is good-faith that such criticisms exist to make things better. And part of it, honestly, is just not being a hater.