Üllar Seerme

Jumping Chesterton's fence

May 18, 2020

Being pedantic comes with its own risks and rewards: on one hand you risk coming across as someone who desperately wants things their way and on the other hand there is both a subjective and a possibly objective reward to bringing attention to otherwise neglected areas. Subjective and possibly objective rewards separately because something à la pedànt is always a reward for the pedànt, but others can just be so blind to the objective win…

There are moments where I catch myself being overly pedantic about many things and in times such as those I am not taking into consideration the Chesterton’s fence of it all. Though the term is being used to describe the physical I have come to also think of it as a way to help myself think more emphatically. For some people this may already be something they do automatically, but I’m not one of those, so I need mental models that are applicable for many different scenarios.

When working with someone who does not share the same beliefs about best practices that we do—be it for documenting, writing clean code, using version control, etc.—then it’s easy to believe that they are wilfully ignorant to the true way how to (software) engineer. One could invoke Hanlon’s razor as well, but then we are assuming that the person is less intelligent, which just doesn’t feel right (though it may be right). A better way, I think, would be to consider the aforementioned fence:

Reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood

Which in the context of thinking with greater empathy means that though that colleague may be displaying an outrageous case of the ‘dumbs’ when they don’t want to slow down to write things down, they are actually not acting in malice nor stupidity (as Hanlon would suggest), but in earnestness in just trying to get the damn thing to work! This does not mean that we just accept their motives at face value though, we still should consider any necessary reforms that we have reason to believe should take place. It’s just that our default stance no longer comes from a place of negativity, but rather from a genuine desire to understand.

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