Let’s Re-Claim “Woke”

It’s about respect, not about censorship

I’m going to posit a new working definition of the word Woke.

Woke: Respecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people with dignity.

Hopefully that’s a pretty straightforward definition for most of you. Because if that definition stands, then the opposite is also true.

Anti-Woke: Disrespecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people without dignity.

I think that second definition is more useful. Sure, you can be anti-woke. Sure, you can disrespect marginalized people – but if you are disrespecting marginalized people get the f**k out of the public square and come back when you have calmed down and can behave with dignity and respect again. This doesn’t require the government to step in. It doesn’t require arguments about the first amendment. It requires adults to step in when someone has lost their head and setting them straight. And if you refuse to show marginalized people respect and dignity? Then we all know who you are and what you are about.

But, if you aren’t able to respect or dignify marginalized people… move out of the United States. Because this country is filled with folks who have historically been marginalized, daily life is going to be rough for you. Move away. This country is the land of the free and the home of the brave. If you aren’t brave enough to show people basic respect, you aren’t brave enough to be an American. You are too fragile to be American.

This brings me to a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity in our modern social media platforms. Facebook figured out that posts that elicit anger get more interactions, keeping more people on their platform longer. They didn’t realize that the anger is people’s innate instinct to reign in people who are being assholes. So the more they boosted asshole content, the more people felt the need to reign it in. Why does this matter? Because if you are going to facilitate the public square, you need to actually facilitate it. If someone is showing up and getting everyone to yell at them, it’s time to remove them and take some time to get their head straight. Not encourage their asshole behavior. When you do that, when you let regular people see that no one is going to stop the assholes, then you give the space over to the assholes. Without regulation, bad actors do whatever they want. You have now ceded your public square to the worst of us. Whatever discussions that educate, provoke the intellect, create friendly and loving connections, and stir the soul have now taken a back seat to assholes yelling.

Facebook and Twitter (every other social media platform seems to aspire to be them) have created a public square and signed up to be the facilitators. They seem not to realize, though, that the role of the facilitator is the most important role in the public square. If people can’t trust the facilitator to facilitate fairly and to make sure the public square is a safe place to be, they will leave. Twitter, at this moment, seems to be wrapped up in thinking they have to enforce everyone’s first amendment rights. But Twitter has no obligation to let everyone speak whatever they want on their platform. In fact, the opposite is true. If they allow everyone to say whatever, then the entire place will devolve into bots and assholes yelling at each other. Twitter, if it wants to maintain it’s user base, needs to let it’s users know that they can safely be there. So far, it has failed to do so. The first amendment only applies to the US Government. Twitter is not the government.

If you actually value conversations that help people to change how they view the world, you have to ensure that they are experiencing psychological safety. What is psychological safety?

For those of you who need a url, check out this url: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/what-is-psychological-safety-at-work/

If you are a free speech absolutist, then you aren’t going to stop people from being punished, humiliated, or shouted down for sharing their ideas. Eventually, you are going to cede your entire space to the yellers – because people who want to do other things aren’t going to hang out in your space.

So how do you reign in assholes without making them feel like they are being targeted for their deeply held beliefs? That’s a hard thing to do. It takes a combination of skills and abilities – and even the people who are good at it are continually bumping up against new challenges in that endeavor. But we have no evidence that people who write code for a living are especially skilled in that work.

Of course, all that I’m talking about unfolds over time. We’re seeing the decline of facebook because they have demonstrated their inability to facilitate effectively. Twitter claims that they are doing well… but we’ll see the reality as the months and years play out.

In the meantime, folks, let’s keep showing people dignity and respect.

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