So, historically, I haven’t compartmentalized my life much. Maybe I should have; certainly, it’s a widely recommended tactic to separate your personal and professional life. It makes sense. People might find stuff distressing. But I am also coming to think that it is a dangerous model of the world.
You can’t divide people like that. Maybe you can, but it’s not healthy. It’s also sort of pointless. Consider the common argument: What happens if a prospective employer reads my blog and finds out I talk about abused kids a lot? Well, I don’t know, but consider this: If they’d be unhappy hiring someone whose “hobby” (I use the term very loosely) is talking to abused people and helping them with recovery, but they don’t find out and hire me anyway, what do you think happens then? I’m still gonna have a kid with PTSD from his abusive bioparents. My circle of friends is still gonna include a bunch of people whose first sexual experiences happened when their ages were in single digits. My world contains horrifying things, and people will sometimes find my world, and by extension me, horrifying.
Those things don’t go away from not being talked about. A lot of people who have been through traumatic events report that the traumatic experience itself has not hurt them as much as being persistently rejected and silenced and told that their experiences are too horrifying for other people to be exposed to. It’s reasonable to want to avoid thinking about these things too much, but that doesn’t make the victims immoral for existing, or for wanting to talk about who they are and what their lives have been like.
Furthermore, when it comes to things that guide how we make choices, failure to think and talk about serious issues endangers us. Bryan Cantrill gave a talk on principles in technology leadership a while back. It’s a good talk, and some of it is sort of scary. It should be sort of scary.
The other big reason I see people give when they recommend not talking about serious or controversial things is that, if you talk about stuff like this a lot, you will sometimes be wrong. Or sometimes get into a complicated and messy situation, where we just don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. And that will make you look bad. But what makes that look bad is mostly that people try so hard to pretend it never happens to them, or avoid saying anything so they can avoid ever being wrong. (This is why I don’t delete posts when I find out I was wrong, I just update them with links to new information. I don’t think anyone benefits from lying about the past.)
I think it’s important to model healthy behaviors, like talking about things and taking positions on issues. One of the healthiest development environments I ever worked in was marked by a strong cultural norm that people would proactively volunteer information about how they might have contributed to problems, rather than waiting for someone to research it and assign blame. This meant that we spent our time fixing problems, rather than fixing blame. It worked really well.
So I think I’m just gonna keep writing about stuff. A lot of the things I wrote about during my experiments with tumblr were a lot heavier than what I’ve usually written about here, but you know what? People are alive and safe today, who wouldn’t be if I hadn’t done that. So I think that’s a good thing.