When was the last time you were deeply motivated to do something positive because you felt ashamed? Ashamed that you did something naive or downright silly because you didn’t know any better? Embarrassed because more experienced people mocked you instead of quietly helping?

People are not positively motivated by shame.

Sometimes guilt can be helpful, but guilt comes after knowingly doing something wrong.
Sometimes embarrassment can be helpful, because it helps us to be more cautious after an honest mistake.

But, shame? Nope. It’s different than guilt or embarrassment.

Shame, however, is born of ignorance or of not having mastered a concept…that we think we have mastered.

And public shaming smacks of a superiority complex. The shamer is dragging the shamed out into the public square, and everyone loses, because the former is displaying questionable motives while the latter learns just about nothing.

Well, not nothing. They’re probably learning that the community doing the shaming isn’t worth being a part of.

Exhibit A: WordPress

The WordPress community hasn’t always been the best at welcoming new people—in that manner, it’s really not different from any other community that revolves around a codebase. There’s been a concerted effort in the past few years to be inclusive and accessible, though, and I do believe it’s paying off. Friendly WordPressers are being more helpful than ever, and WordCamps are bastions of sharing and learning.

Even outlandish requests in Trac (WordPress core’s ticketing system) are being handled with more grace then ever.

But, in an effort to push WordPress standards to make a better community overall, we have to be mindful of our tendency to shame those who aren’t doing it “right.” Instead, back away from your Twitter account, and take the time to contact someone personally with a helpful attitude.

For instance, here are some unhelpful, shaming public statements:

  • Who does that?!
  • Someone is getting paid to do that?!
  • What a shady business. I feel bad for their customers.
  • It’s sad that people can get talked into that.

Now, here are some helpful alternatives:

  • I know your theme/plugin is successful, so can we talk about your use of best practices?
  • I have a client who’s having trouble switching from your platform to another. How can we fix this?
  • May I send you an email with some suggestions that would make your product more valuable overall?

Shame will not motivate anyone to do better, but constructive, empathetic criticism often will. By affirming that someone’s work already has value and respecting that, you’re in a much better place to offer suggestions. And, by coming from a better place, you’re far more likely to effect the change you want to see in a manner that builds everyone up.

Next time you see something being done wrongly, consider that the folks involved may not know they’re doing so. If it’s remotely possible, then public shaming is actually your least likely path to fixing the problem.

That is what you were aiming to do, right?

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September 19, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Community, Development, WordPress