[Python-ideas] A plea for people to please remember to assume good faith

Steven D'Aprano steve at pearwood.info
Thu May 16 02:50:15 EDT 2019

In another thread, a couple of days ago, there were a few 
ill-tempered[1] accusations thrown around about "rudeness" and 

Please remember that email is notorious for communicating tone of voice 
very badly. Especially if people overcompensate by trying hard to be 
extra polite, which makes the tone come across as formal and 

Face to face: "Dude, you need to read the docs." (Yes, I do!)

Email: "You need to read the docs." (Really?)

Hyper-polite email: "Perhaps you should consider reading the docs."
(Oh, I do, do I? What makes you so sure of that you patronizing git?)

I know I have a bad habit of over-compensating. Sorry.

It is hard to get tone right without slipping too far one way or the 
other, and phrases which sound "just right" in your head, and the first 
five times you re-read the email before hitting Send, can sound harsher 
than intended an hour later.

And remember that the writer's attitude is an internal mental state, and 
judging it from email is not even close to easy or accurate. I mean, 
sure, you can probably guess the attitude of the author of abusive 

"Dear Bob, you're a poopy-head filled with poop and your head is 
poop, you poop."

but generally it isn't safe to try to guess the writer's attitude. It is 
especially not welcoming, considerate, friendly etc etc etc to assume 
bad faith based on a medium as infamous for leading to over-reactions 
and misunderstandings as email.

So please:

- try to assume the author of emails is writing in good faith

- especially if the email is trying to express a friendly tone 
  with smileys or winks to soften the tone (give them credit
  for the attempt even if you think it wasn't enough)

- but even without them, it may not always be wise to assume that
  just because a sentence comes across as cold or harsh that it
  was intended that way

- assume small slights are inadvertent or accidental, not attacks

- in mild or borderline cases, don't assume that your judgement 
  of tone is accurate

- even if it is, try not to escalate the situation

- try to respond to what they say rather than how they say it

- and don't make the mistake of thinking that others aren't judging
  your tone exactly the same way you are judging theirs. They might
  be just too polite to call you out on it.

Even if we *correctly* judge something was intended as a rebuke or 
snark, so what? Does it matter? We shouldn't be so hyper-sensitive that 
any and every "insult" requires retaliation.

Remember the Englightenment values of *dignity culture* where 
small slights are beneath our dignity to respond:

"Dignity does not depend upon reputation but exists as unalienable 
rights that do not depend on what other people think of one's bravery. 
Having a thick skin and shrugging off slights become virtues because 
they help maintain social peace."


And for the record, I completely acknowledge that I do not always live 
up to these ideals.

[1] And here I am, judging tone and attitude from emails. I know.


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