Zealotry seems to always sneak up on me. I see it in my coworkers, myself, and of course in comments online. Recognizing it in myself is challenging, but I'm slowly building up some tools to help me out. This post is about one such tool.
Here's a definition of zealotry from somewhere online: "fanatical and uncompromising pursuit of religious, political, or other ideals; fanaticism."
Since I've got a turtle image thing going, I thought I should also give my "definition" of a turtle zealot:
In my day-to-day I see zealotry manifest in people when they look at a single thing-to-optimize and give it unfair weight. Here's some examples from the software engineering world:
- premature optimization can be motivated by putting undue weight on speed
- useful things like project estimates can be thrown out because developers can be too focused on the inevitable inaccuracy of them
- code reviews can be unnecessarily frustrating when someone is too focused on maintainability (or some other -ity)
These are perhaps obvious examples when laid out this way, but when someone is debating/arguing/foam-sword-fighting me over something, I can have a really tough time actually recognizing my zealotry. This is because when I'm the one exhibiting zealotry I'm more likely to think that other people are the ones being unreasonable.
There's a general rule of mine that often saves me in this situation: if I can't intimately empathize with a point someone is making, I'm clearly lacking information. Everyone's brain works surprisingly similarly, and I should be capable of understanding why someone is doing something.
So in this "someone is probably being a zealot and I don't know whether it's me" situation, I end up asking "could you help me understand?" And then I'll keep trying to understand until I feel confident I could argue on behalf of the person if needed. I also wait until I'm not angry or frustrated anymore, because those emotions cloud my judgment like toxic fumes. Afterwards I usually understand where the zealotry is, and moving forward is always much easier.
It's worth mentioning that this is the ideal case. The thing I try to do. I'm not sure how often I'm successful, but I'm hoping more and more often as the years pass by.
This isn't just useful in my professional life either. Do I not understand why those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement are doing what they're doing? Do I not understand why anyone voted for Trump? Do I not understand why pronouns are very important for many people?
Alright, here's another turtle image to break the suddenly heavy mood: