There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the appalling gender inequality, and discrimination, in the technology world. As a privileged white american male, I am, of course one of the beneficiaries of that inequality, as well as being part of the problem. I’m very much aware of this, and am, most of the time utterly at a loss as to what I can do about it.
The thing that I find to do most frequently is to stand up and speak out against injustice when I see it. The term for this is usually ally.
However, as an ally, something that one tends to hear frequently is “do you think nobody has tried that before?!” The point here being that the thing that I’m doing hasn’t solved the problem yet, and am I so arrogant that I think I’m going to solve the problem myself overnight by trying what others have already done.
When I hear this, there’s two things that come to mind.
One is an image of being in a boat that is full of water, and having only a leaky bucket in my hands, I start bailing. Other people in the boat stare incredulously, and say, “do you think that nobody has tried that before?!” I have a choice here – I can yell at them for being obtuse. I can give up, quit bailing, and abandon ship. Or I can quietly keep bailing, in the full knowledge that I can’t fix everything, but I can help just a little. And keep bailing as long as I’m able, even if it doesn’t seem to be helping a whole lot. Because it’s not about me.
The other is my parents, who taught me to do the right thing, even if nobody notices, even if nobody cares, even if people tell me it’s a waste of time, or call me a fool for doing it – still do the right thing. Or, as Kent Kieth wrote (often wrongly attributed to Mother Teresa, according to motherteresa.org)
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, People may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, They may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
The important corollary here is that if you do good, be sure you are clear, in your own mind, why you’re doing it. If you’re doing it so that people will notice you and thing well of you, you probably shouldn’t bother, because they won’t.