Wikipedia:Imagine others complexly

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Is this WikiOgre out to make trouble? Or is he is making bold changes to articles? Maybe he's just tired. The only thing that's true is that you get to decide.

In a speech written for the ALAN Conference, author John Green expanded on the importance of seeing others as complex individuals. Civility issues, misunderstandings, and discomfort on Wikipedia can sometimes arise from a failure to imagine others complexly. These failures come up in all kinds of situations and goes beyond the scope of assuming good faith in other editors and the tone we use to talk about living persons.

Automatic presumptions[edit]

Consider the following situation:

A new editor requests that you help them completely rework their article on Articles for Creation, which is long and needs a lot of clean-up.

One reaction to this would be to ignore them on the basis that they've been given feedback and should be able to figure it out on their own. I mean, why should you do all the work? This person's long-winded article is probably going to be a drain on your time and your effort.

This is a common and automatic way to react. But the thing is, there are all sorts of other ways to think about this situation, if you decide to:

  • Maybe the editor's primary language isn't English and they have a hard time understanding pages on notability.
  • Maybe their article is largely unsourced because they live in an area of the world where web access is restricted.
  • Maybe the person is indefinitely hospitalized and is just starting to learn Wikipedia so they don't have to mindlessly stare at grey-speckled walls all day.

And sure, perhaps none of these situations are likely. But they're also not impossible; it just depends on what you want to consider. Editors don't generally get to know one another on Wikipedia, so we usually don't know exactly what is going on. Here's another example:

An experienced administrator is involved in a heated discussion over content and issues a bad block that clearly violates WP:INVOLVED that (correctly) goes to ANI and much discussion ensues.

Some of us have seen this situation unfold before, and it's incredibly easy to come rushing in on the de-sysopping bandwagon once a bad block has been confirmed. It's easy to allow yourself to start generalizing and start talking about cabals and rogue admins (or even rouge admins). This is also an effective way to make yourself miserable about the project. But if you take the time to pause and really think about what else could be going on, you might find yourself saying, maybe they're not usually like this.

It is also easy to make snap judgments about living persons who have articles in regards to their judgments, behaviors, appearances, perceived values, etc. These topics aren't usually relevant to improving articles, but even when they are, we almost never know the subject on any personal level, and so it becomes somewhat dangerous to presume to know exactly what is going on when, in fact, you do not.

Avoid pedestaling[edit]

Statues most certainly belong on pedestals, but Wikipedians do not.

Praising and admiring good work on Wikipedia is generally encouraged as it promotes a supportive editing environment. But it is certainly possible to take these feelings too far. Editors on Wikipedia are not heroes. In addition to their talents, editors are real people with flaws, personal challenges, and mistakes that they struggle with. It is deeply unfair to place editors on a pedestal as though these qualities do not exist or are unimportant. Thinking of editors this way places unrealistic expectations on editing behavior and paints a false identity that they and others cannot possibly live up to. It completely misrepresents what it means to be human.

For instance, do not overwhelm a specific user with barnstars even if they are a level-headed admin or have a lot of contributions. Try to use them selectively, like when you see exceptional work or when another editor has done something personally helpful for your benefit.

Placing editors on pedestals can also occur when the editor retires, is blocked, or is otherwise reprimanded in controversial situations. There can be a tendency to rush to their defense; in some cases this is certainly merited, but sometimes these situations are characterized so dramatically in favor of the editor that they appear to be an innocent victim, even when they have unambiguously violated editing guidelines (though this is not to say admins have perfect judgment either.) It is important to remember that all editors, including you, have made and will continue to make mistakes in editing and interacting with others (even when we should know better, in which case it's important to apologize, forgive, and move on.)

Is it easy to imagine others complexly?[edit]


See also[edit]