Recently and frequently in my travels as a consultant, I’ve met all kinds of very opinionated people. The most recent debate I’ve discovered is one about Martin Fowler’s concept of Continuous Integration and how it is against the use of Feature Branches in reference to best practices with version control systems on software development teams. Now, I used the word “discovered” because I’m often finding myself taking the role of the observer, but not because I don’t have my own opinion about the topic. I do, in fact, identify completely with one particular side of the debate, and I do what I can to try to persuade others to understand and take on my own opinion. After all, I’m passionate about my work, and I want to try to make the development situation the best possible using whatever knowledge I have.
Everyone is motivated to argue for the same reasons, but the opinion comes from different places. All of the people I encounter have opinions based on their personal experience. Some people draw their opinions from literature. Some people believe what they were told. Many people consider themselves to have an expert understanding of a topic, and that people should listen to them. Lots of people know less than they think. Many people are biased because of a one-sided experience. Some people actually do have a complete understanding. The interesting thing though… is that none of that matters.
It doesn’t matter that you read a book by a reputable person to form your ideas. It doesn’t matter that it’s been your experience that something is true. It doesn’t matter if the majority of people agree with you. At least, it shouldn’t matter. A consultant, for example, is supposed to be “a professional who provides expert advice”. Unfortunately for me, the title hasn’t given me much in the way of debating power. However, what matters is your ability to convey an idea and back it up with evidence and logic. To win people over, you MUST be armed with tact, and you must be armed with an understanding of logical fallacies. You must be able to demonstrate how your way is better than an alternative, and explain how your idea is relevant to the current situation.
The sad thing is that a lot of people know this, and will win arguments to do bad things because they are more skilled at debate. People will also rationalize what they believe, even if what they believe is false. Some stances are circumstantial, yet people will endlessly debate on principal. Some people believe in absolute truths, others believe there is always a context in which something is true. Regardless, people are either seekers of truth or they have an agenda – or perhaps their agenda is truth. With all these factors though, there will always be people taking sides, and the sides will be irreconcilable. Or, they will be irreconcilable until popular opinion slowly sways the opinions of billions of people to finally cause change. Maybe this is what people are hoping for eventually.
This applies across all topics… religion, technology, science, politics, fashion, morality… Google vs. Apple, whether Flash is awful, what I’m allowed to wear to work… and as we get older I feel that these debates become more relevant and real to us. We’re struck by the gravity of these ideas because they affect our daily lives. Big questions are always being asked, and guns are blazing from all sides. I welcome that it is happening, because I know that we should collectively try to seek the truth and what is right.
But when I call myself an observer, this is what I mean… I think there’s a huge part of me that sort of floats above it all and watches the debate from afar. This is a part of me doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who is correct or who wins the seemingly eternal debate. I have no stake in it, and it feels like an obstacle instead of something important. It’s a distraction. There’s a certain amount of hopelessness in wanting to join the fight because it’s so difficult to be impactful enough to change public opinion. Don’t get me wrong, there are powerful people that are able to intentionally and quickly win over the minds of millions regardless of truth (Steve Jobs), and I greatly aspire to have that kind of influence, but there are some fights that I care to win, and others I just don’t.
If you don’t know Neil deGrasse Tyson, you should introduce yourself to him via YouTube. Anyway, I feel like he perfectly summed up how I feel about a lot of debates in this video. “I don’t have the time, the interest, the energy – to do any of that…” So if there’s one point to be made out of all of this… the only thing I really want to say… is that most of these discussions sound like noise to me, and it’s all incredibly exhausting.
I have my path I wish to take, and I wish I could somehow be free from some of the complexity.