The Bystander Challenge. (No Ice Required.)

Recently I was introduced to an interesting TED talk, by Jackson Katz. In his talk (which you can find here) he makes quite a few valid, and interesting points. But, for me, the most interesting thing he talks about is what I’m going to call the Bystander Protocol. Katz says that:

A bystander is defined as anybody who is not a perpetrator or a victim in a given situation, so in other words friends, teammates, colleagues, coworkers, family members, those of us who are not directly involved in a dyad of abuse, but we are embedded in social, family, work, school, and other peer culture relationships with people who might be in that situation.

Katz is specifically speaking about abuse in his talk. I think too often we hear or read “abuse” and understand it to mean physical, sexual, verbal or psychological abuse. While those forms of abuse must be addressed, they are blessedly not the most common forms of abuse. I don’t mean to downplay, in any way, these forms of abuse. Indeed, I think there’s a more pervasive form of abuse that is particularly prevalent in the technology sector. By ignorance or malice (honestly, I don’t care which) I believe we as a society tend to use language –metaphors, words and idioms– that cull our imaginations and those of our listeners and readers. Sexist language is, I believe, especially prevalent in the technology sector.

I’m sure we can all easily find examples of overt sexism in the technology sector. Earlier this year, this happened:

Sadly this slide praises only the physical attributes of the metaphor (looks beautiful) and denigrates the personality and intellectual attributes. Thankfully, within a few short hours there was a prompt and complete apology. But, as one commentator pointed out, the fact that no one thought to talk the speaker out of this metaphor belies the underlying problem: No one caught it ahead of time because we’re not self-aware of the issues enough to catch them.

More than overt sexism in language, I feel like we use gendered pronouns and gendered examples in our talks, blog posts and even example code. I imagine it’s hard to hear “Women in Technology YAY!” from corporations, and read “Your developer can do X if he chooses.” At the very least it’s inconsiderate. Again, I doubt many people regardless of gender intentionally choose to be exclusive with their pronouns and language; but I do think it’s pervasive.

As we approach Dreamforce ’14 I’m reminded of our industry’s history with sexism and struck by the simplicity of Katz’s action point:

What do we do? How do we speak up? How do we challenge our friends? How do we support our friends? But how do we not remain silent in the face of abuse?

(Emphasis mine). I think the answer lies in the Bystander Protocol. As Bystanders, we’re present and able to speak truth to power gently and positively. I believe we, as Dreamforce Attendees, can and should expect our speakers (myself included) to not only avoid overt sexism, but exclusive language in general. I don’t imagine this should work in an aggressive, confrontational manner. When presented with gender-specific speech, or even language that presumes gender norms, we can (and should) politely, calmly ask the speaker to consider other language.

I believe we should pledge to actively participate in conversations as Bystanders; using neither sexist and exclusive language nor permitting such speech to go unchallenged. Let’s actively strive towards a culture of accountability and acceptance by doing something. None of us could hope to change the whole of the tech sector’s misogynistic culture by ourselves. No one can do it alone, but we can’t stand by in silence. As Bystanders at the world’s largest cloud computing conference we have the opportunity and responsibility to do that something by speaking out whenever we find hateful or even careless speech.

In the end, what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I want to challenge you my fellow speakers and attendees to Dreamforce ’14 to Pledge to do just that. Tweet with the hashtag #df14Bystander to take the pledge to speak out when needed, to politely ask questions of leaders and speakers who use exclusive language, to report overt sexist language, and to avoid the use of such speech yourself. Use “developers”, “devs”, “admins”, “we”, or “they” instead of “him” or “her” in your talks. Lets make this the tech conference where Women in Technology isn’t about the latest sexist faux-paux, but how women are presumed equal and capable. Wouldn’t that be a news blurb for @Salesforce to press release?

On Hereos and Suicide

What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.

~ Robin Williams, as Patch Adams, Patch Adams.

Last night I learned Robin Williams died. As of right now, everything indicates he took his own life. A colleague tweeted that, whenever he learns of a Celebrity’s death he admired he stops and asks “So, where do we go from here?” I won’t presume to speak for what Robin Williams would or would not have wanted his death to mean, but I think this is an excellent time to pause, and consider what Robin Williams chose to teach us about the world.

At the beginning of Patch Adams, Williams’ portrayal of a depressed man, turned physician begins with a few words, not from the historical Patch Adams, but from Dante’s epic tale of decent into hell:

In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path.

~Dante Alighieri, Inferno (Canto 1, 1-3)

The movie goes on to show us how Patch found the right path, though arguably not before treking though the underworld. Importantly, and perhaps most poignantly, Williams’ portrayal of Patch teaches us two key lessons.

  1. Though the right path is lost, it can be regained. This has always been hopeful news for me. As a friend of mine once told me, you have to have hope to get up in the morning. Hope, however fleeting, must not be forgotten. The right path can, and will be found. Some may find this ironic given the circumstances of Williams’ death. Williams’ may have taken his own life, but until that fatal decision was enacted there was always hope.
  2. Hope comes in many forms and in the weirdest of places. Humor, as Patch taught us, can be found even in the most hopless of situations. Asking the catatonic man whose arm is forever pointed up where Heaven is makes light of a condition many would find hopless, and in so doing lightens the mood, lifted the spirits and brought hope to the others in his group theapy session. Hope that their condition wasn’t nearly as easy to make fun of.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for… That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Robin Williams, as John Keating, Dead Poets Society.

This morning, I heard a demagouge run their mouth on Williams’ apparent suicide, characiterizing it as a deeply selfish act to be condemned. I heard another person say he lost the fight to Depression. I find it hard to be charitable to either of these statements. Depression isn’t a battle to be won or lost, but a disease to be treated. A really shitty disease we’re all susceptible to. One we’ve all faced to some degree or another. Additionally, to call this a deeply selfish act is, in my opinion to wash ones hands from the responsibilities we have to our friends and family with this disease. Williams is often quoted as saying:

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.

~Robin Williams

I am not saying that those around him made him feel alone. Far be it from me to presume such a thing. I am, however, saying that when we find friends and family struggling with Depression, we –unconciously– treat them in ways that often feel isolating, and judgemental. Ever told someone to “just cheer up?” Ever been told to “Just cheer up?” Intentions don’t match up with what’s heard. We mean well, but we end up marginalizing or deligitimizing their struggles, or worse, leaving them feeling like they’re not understood. Alone.

I’m writing this down, not just out of regret and loss for a man who has influenced my life in a mryiad of subtle ways, but also because Depression is one of those things where the casualties are more than just friends and family to suicide, but also our hearts and souls. No one wants to get the call that someone we love has committed suicide. No one wants to relentlessly interrogate every phrase and action of every interaction they had with that loved one.

If you’re reading this, there’s a strong chance you work in the high-tech industry. There’s a good chance you’ve known coworkers or friend with depression. There are simple things we can do to help. To show hope, to refuse their urge to isolate, and our urge to allow it. To walk with them through hell and back. I’m not therapist, and I don’t want anyone to confuse this advice as “professional advice” but here’s what I think we can do, for each other to help:

  1. Stop. We lead busy lives, often artifically busy lives. One of the most powerful things we can do for anyone is just stop, and spend time with them. Coffee. Dinner. A walk after lunch. Time well spent. As friends we have many responsibilities, but chief amongst them is always to provide truth and prospective to our friends.
  2. Listen. Listen to understand, but more importantly, to show understanding. This isn’t listening while driving, or listening while writing an email. I mean actively listening. Ask questions. Some struggle not make sense? Ask a clarifying question.
  3. Validate. This isn’t to say you should tell them they’re 100% right in feeling a given way about a given situation. What I mean here, is remind them that their struggles aren’t unique to them. Are they having relationship probles? “You know X, that was really shitty of Y”.
  4. Question. Help question assumptions. Here in lies the hope. So much of our lives is spent communicating; how much of that communication seeks to fix miscommunication? Often the assumptions we make about the world arround us are founded on miscommunication. Having friends who question those assumptions helps us find hope in what otherwise might seem a hopeless situation.
  5. Encourage them to seek professional help. Don’t stigmatize it, and don’t let others stigmatize it either. Never forget, that if you feel your friend is in danger, that the better part of vallor, the better part of humanity is to risk a friendship by reporting them to professionals, than to risk a friend.
  6. Write this number down on a card, and put it in your wallet for emergencies: National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.

~ Robin Williams, as Patch Adams in Patch Adams.

Does your company value you enough to send you to Dreamforce?

Look. Hear’s the deal. If your company won’t send you to Dreamforce, it’s time to give serious thought to finding one who will. Dreamforce happens just once a year, and it’s four days packed full of information. More than sessions, mini-hacks and several hundred pounds of new books, Dreamforce is your chance to cross pollinate ideas with other devlopers and admins. The single greatest reason you need to attend Dreamforce isn’t to see Reid loose his voice in the iOT lab, but rather to see new and innovative ideas and solutions to problems. Problems you may be struggling with, problems you don’t yet even have — but will. Simply put, Dreamforce is the only event in the world where 100k people get together to cross polinate ideas. You and I won’t be the smartest, most experienced people at Dreamforce this year, but we’re not the least experienced people their either. We go to learn, and to teach equally. So if your company won’t send you to Dreamforce, find one that will, and make sure that if Dreamforce 14 isn’t in the cards, Dreamforce 15 is.

#Thats fine Kevin, but how do I do that?
The very best part of Salesforce is the rich community that’s grown up arround it. Better still, these are the people who know who’s hiring, who know whether or not Dreamforce is a regular thing. [Find your usergroup](https://success.salesforce.com/userGroups), [ask on the Dev community](https://developer.salesforce.com/forums/?feedtype=RECENT&dc=Jobs_Board&criteria=UNANSWERED&#!/feedtype=RECENT&criteria=UNANSWERED), get the UG leaders to have a “we’re hiring” sheet, or weekly post the “who’s hiring” to the success community for your UG. The community knows the power of Dreamforce, and they can help you find a company that will value *you* enough to send you. Because the truth is, if your company won’t send you to Dreamforce, they undervalue you, and the work you do. Ask a UG leader, look on the success community, find a better opportunity. Never have we Salesforce Admins and Developers been more in demand than now. [We are the kingmakers](http://thenewkingmakers.com/) of business, helping realize process, facilitate communication and increasing ROI. Dreamforce only hones those skills as we jostle, litterally, from one place to another learning and teaching each other.