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Education In America Authors: Darrah Deal, Student Lance, David Miller, David Miller, Chris Pentago

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My new mission

Ever had this experience?

You think you know someone, you have them typecast as this type or that, and boom out of nowhere they do or say something that makes you wonder.

What do you do then?

There's no right answer to this question, but I think the answer reveals something about the person who answers it. Are you curious, forgiving, flexible, creative, imaginative, sympathetic? Actually I guess there is a right answer. smile

Yesterday I wrote on Twitter something pretty heavy, but I had just gotten off the phone with a very loving friend, and decided to confront something head-on that's been lurking in the shadows. I keep hoping it'll go away, but it never does.

There's this idea out there that I'm rude and angry and do things to deliberately hurt people. Nothing, I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.

This is what I mean by confronting it head-on.

In order to be a successful communicator, which I am -- you have to have a high degree of empathy. You have to be able to jump out of your own body and into the body of the reader, and imagine what it's like to read the words. The writer already knows what he or she is trying to communicate. The only way to judge writing, and thereby improve it, is to learn from people who are confused by it, who draw the wrong conclusion. You don't assume that they failed, quite the opposite, you try to learn how you failed. And then you incorporate that learning into your process.

The same is true for software design, for getting adoption for ideas like blogging and podcasting, and developer relations -- pushing for RSS, OPML, XML-RPC and SOAP. It's all about communication (at its most mundane) and about empathy. Without empathy, none of this could happen.

Now for their own reasons, there have always been people who try to stand in the way. You can't get something new done without that happening. This is a lesson I never wanted to learn, but I've had to. It started pretty early in my career, but not at the beginning. When I was a grad student, working on my first outliner, everyone at UW was very supportive. They didn't necessarily understand what I was doing (one prof introduced me as the guy who does great error messages) but they thought it was good that I was trying to create new stuff.

The roadblocks first showed up when I shipped my first commercial product. And the second, and so on. In the market, people are always trying to make you stumble. It's called competition. I don't do it much anymore, but I used to do it, a lot. I didn't care if my competitors didn't like me. That's part of the whole thing.

But at UserLand I stopped being so competitive, I think that's part of the problem UserLand had, and why it failed. I was more into the open source philosophy like Rodney King, why can't we all just get along. People thought I was a hypocrite, even though I wasn't competing, I guess people thought I was. Maybe that's the only model they have for human behavior.

So yes, I am one of the most hated people on the Internet, but I honestly don't believe what people hate is me, I believe they hate what people have told them to hate.

And I'm beginning a campaign, a relentless one, to reverse that.

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