Trust me, I know what's best for you, even if I don't know your life or use-case at all.

📅 26 Nov 2021

There has been some conversation on Fosstodon recently about elitism within the linux community.

I took that a step further and suggested that this attitude is rife in the tech community in general. While I can’t speak from a position of depth or breadth of knowledge of the tech community, I can speak from a more general perspective. Due to my life-stage and other communities I am involved with, trust me when I say I get a lot of advice. Am I someone you would traditionally call a screw-up? I’ll let you be the judge.

Recently I have had to apologize several times to a co-worker. They are making some of the same mistakes I made, and when they said how they were coping with it, I couldn’t help but comment.

Some people might suggest that what I did was just looking out for someone, trying to keep them from doing something stupid, from ruining their life. But over the years, I have developed a philosophy that unsolicited advice is not only often deeply offensive, but is often the worst thing you can offer to someone.

I do believe that unsolicited advice can come from a good place. I’m sure your loved ones often give you this type of advice. Mine do - and I often welcome it. I’ve often told a few people close to me that they don’t need to worry about giving me advice because when I really need it, I’m humble enough to ask for it. They still do anyway and I really don’t mind.

But that’s completely different than offering advice to someone you don’t know at all or only know a little. And the line between the people we know and those we think we know gets blurred cause a lot of us are so surface level with people.

Completely unscientifically, I am going to suggest that 50% of the time, unsolicited advice doesn’t come from a good place, but instead is spurred on by an elitist attitude. You might think that’s absurdly high. I would offer some unsolicited advice - bear with me! - monitor not only some online interactions (which are probably a terrible indicator of society at large) in the coming days, but also keep your eyes and ears open in public. Pay attention to what you say and what your friends and family say to you.

By giving this type of advice, we are assuming a heck of a lot about not only an individual but what they are going through and need. Suggesting that we have the answer can sound very condescending and may even push that person deeper into whatever they are struggling with.

I think I have said enough there. So, how does this relate to the linux community and the tech community as a whole?

Obviously, all of what I just said holds true. People want to believe they know what is best for you and you better believe they’ll tell you. Especially when it is as easy as smashing the keyboard for a few seconds and hitting post on stack overflow, reddit, discord, or any number of other public forums.

What’s missing here is we are forgetting that we probably know even less about that person or their use case then if we were to be talking face to face.

There are going to be some out there who inevitably say, “That’s ridiculous. If someone asks me how to copy a file, I can give them the best way. F*ck your philosophy.” But do you know the best way?

No, you don’t, you arrogant little stack overflow moderator. Throw that, “cp example.txt ~/Documents”, and watch them shrink in fear.

“Well, they should know basic, entry-level computer stuff!”

No, you should know their use-case. What if that person is never going to use the terminal again? Does it make any sense to instruct them on how to use the terminal to copy one file? No.

Obviously, this is a ridiculous example, but I think the simplest of examples often illustrate things perfectly.

To try to summarize several recent pieces and thoughts I’ve read on this, the more frequent example is someone needs to install some software one of four ways and doesn’t know which way is best. Well, the best way, as it turns out, again, depends on that persons use case. Because one of those four ways is going to offer exactly what they need and deliver it how they need it. The other three may as well, but you and I don’t know that if we don’t know what they need.

The other frequent example seems to be someone wants to do something really simple, akin to my copying a file example above, and we give them the checklist for a lunar landing. Some may argue that giving them the latter is going to force them to grow their knowledge and be more comfortable around a computer. But do we even know that persons starting point?

For fear of devolving too much into semantics (because as it turns out, that person DID just ask for advice), I’m going to end this treatise.

Suffice it to say that we shouldn’t be running around proclaiming to everyone that we know how stuff works and if they don’t do it our way, they’re morons.

I hope this adds something to the on-going conversation. Cheers.

Day 73: #100DaysToOffload

💬 Looking for comments?

I don't have comments on this site because I don't feel like managing them.

Instead of leaving a comment, feel free to ✉️ contact me instead.