User:Ben/Assume the presence of a belly-button

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"If you have a belly-button, you're entitled to make mistakes."
— a traditional saying, variously phrased.

To assume the presence of a belly-button is to allow for the possibility that anyone — you, your friends, your enemies, the people you voted for or against, the cited source with impressive credentials, or the anonymous editor who just made a mess of your carefully written page — might make an innocent mistake, without intending to do anything wrong, without even realizing it after the fact.

The person whose latest text seems to attack you, your character, your skills, your most cherished beliefs, and your mother's cousin's next-door neighbor's pet cat, might conceivably have been trying only to make a serious or even friendly comment, due to a single word omitted or misspelled, or perhaps a joke that fell terribly flat because his smile and ironic tone of voice didn't accompany his words onto the page.

Conversely, your own text, which you know you wrote in earnest good faith, might be horribly misinterpreted by others, who honestly don't see any other way of reading your text. You might even discover to your shock that they're right about what your text actually says, again due to a single word omitted or misspelled — which you thought was correct when you were typing it, because you saw what you'd intended to type. Who could have expected one misplaced "not" to make such a difference?

Wires get crossed. The root cause of a heated argument might turn out to be that two people were thinking of two different contexts, or using the same word with two different legitimate meanings. "'Absolute' is an antonym of 'arbitrary'," insists one, thinking of the laws of physics versus man-made laws. "'Absolute' is a synonym of 'arbitrary'," insists the other, recalling that a tyrant is both absolute and arbitrary. Unless they clarify contexts, these two may argue forever, or just go away mad.

People are fallible, and sometimes get things wrong, despite their best efforts. You do, I do, those other folks do. Nobody's immune.

Cut others the same slack you'd want cut for yourself. Have patience. Forgive.

And consider reading your own text three times through before clicking "Save".

Wikipedia:Assume good faith makes some of these same points:

When you can reasonably assume that a mistake someone made was a well-intentioned attempt to further the goals of the project, correct it without criticizing. When you disagree with someone, remember that they probably believe that they are helping the project. ... Assuming good faith is about intentions, not actions. Well-meaning people make mistakes, and you should correct them when they do. You should not act like their mistake was deliberate. Correct, but don't scold. There will be people on Wikipedia with whom you disagree. Even if they're wrong, that doesn't mean they're trying to wreck the project.

Remember the flip side of the coin: your own well-meaning efforts (or mine) might just as easily go awry... and in the long run, just accepting correction graciously may be the least painful course of action.

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On a personal note... I make a habit of asking everyone who starts working with me:

"If you're ever unhappy about something I've done, or haven't done, or how, or why - please tell me directly. Let me be the first to know; not the second, not the third, not the last. If you tell me right away, maybe I can fix things before they get too bad."

So when someone does approach me with a complaint or correction, I take it as a favor and a gift. They could have let me keep going around with my shirt untucked or otherwise making a fool or pest of myself; they could have complained to other people instead and let me only hear about it later through the grapevine; but they had the courage and courtesy to tell me face-to-face instead. That deserves my respect and my gratitude.

Please think about that a while.

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