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Archive for the ‘enemies’ Category

Publishing online, I attract enemies like a rock collects barnacles. Thankfully, I attract more friends, but the ones that astonish me are those who — for whatever reason — take a dislike to me. Some combination of egotism and optimism makes me incapable of understanding how anyone could dislike such an easy-going and outgoing a fellow as I imagine myself. I can’t help prodding at them the way I would a scab, hoping I can comprehend them or maybe that they will have changed their views the next time I look.

They rarely do, though.

A few years ago, I suffered through a trio of semi-professional writers, all of whom seemed determined to establish their reputation by attacking mine. But since then, one has disappeared into obscurity. Another has retreated to his own little niche, where they are the center of a small group of like-minded people and ignored by everyone else. The third, after a blistering attack a year ago, ended up looking so biased and careless in his research that the only reason he didn’t lose respect was that he had none left to lose – not among any worth knowing, anyway.

Currently, nobody like these are disturbing me, but I do have three people who think less of me than I would prefer. The first is a sometime colleague who nursed a grudge over an incident I had forgot about and which they misinterpreted. Whenever we encountered each other, they were barely civil, and sometimes downright rude Finally, I asked them what was wrong. We had an angry phone call one night, which ended with us deciding to ignore each other. It wasn’t an ideal solution, because we have mutual friends, and I continue to think far more of them than they do of me. But at least I can go to conferences without having someone glaring at me.

The second was someone I knew years ago. Our paths recrossed years ago, but, after the initial excitement of renewing the acquaintance, I became discontented with the relationship, and distanced myself. I regretted the action almost immediately, and tried to apologize several times without success. .

Recently, I’ve been tempted to try again, but never have. I was lucky to get a second chance, and can’t expect a third.

The last was a person I never met. However, we interacted for some months on the Internet, and I was starting to think of them as a potential friend – the kind that I might meet at some unspecified point in the future, and maybe go for coffee with, or go for dinner with as part of a larger crowd. But they pushed some of my buttons, and I suspect my reaction pushed some of theirs. They withdrew, and I damned their hypocrisy immediately, and sneered from a distance ever since.

I did try once to suggest that a little creative forgetting was in order. Under the circumstances, I wasn’t surprised to get no response.

One of my problems in these situations is that my affability is learned rather than natural. I come of self-righteous stock, and, when I feel justified, my verbal fury usually destroys any basis for further interaction. If nothing else, my berserkergang is so unexpected that it unsettles the other person.

At the same time, my anger fades as quickly as it flares – maybe because it flares – which means that I am always under-estimating the extent of other people’s anger against me. Long after I’ve dropped a grudge, most people are still clinging to theirs.

It doesn’t help, either, that just because I have some inner child’s longing to be on good terms with everyone doesn’t mean that I have changed my opinion. I may be sorry I expressed it, but that’s usually not good enough for most people.

Under the circumstances, I can’t imagine playing peacemaker again in any of these instances. Being at odds with people irritates me the way that synthetics irritate my skin, but it’s an irritation I can endure. The regret is only occasional, and I’m reluctant to intrude on any of these people again.

All the same, if you think you recognize yourself as one of them, drop a line if you’re inclined. Not hearing from you won’t ruin my life, but I would like to talk at some point.

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When I was a boy, I imagined that one day I might become so skilled as a writer that I would silence all the critics. I was very young, and, of course naive. But I can’t help remembering that dream now that I am a writer and have made some permanent enemies as a result of my modest success.

Even now, I’m close enough to the dreaming boy whom I once was that the word “enemy” sounds melodramatic, even paranoid. Yet what other word can I apply to people who imagine that I am always writing about them, and who spend an inordinate amount of time not only bad-mouthing me, but writing abusive posts and emails to repudiate my opinions? “Critic” or “detractor” might do, but neither word suggests the fury or the personal rancor of these people. So I suppose “enemy” will have to do.

Still, no matter what word I use, the idea of having enemies bemuses me. I seem to be such a poor hater that I have trouble imagining dislike in others. And, to be honest, when I first became aware of the fact, I was taken by surprise. Until about a year ago, I had had a gentle reception as a journalist. Very little of the attacks that other free software journalists have endured had come my way, and never from steady, identifiable sources. So I hardly knew how to react to the situation.

However, over the last six months, I’ve developed a habit of ignoring them. I won’t mention them by name in public, nor respond to their comments. In fact, I very rarely read anything they write, regardless of whether it’s about me or not; with all the intelligent and informative material about free software on the web, why should I waste my time? Most of what I hear about them comes in passing second hand references, or from reading a link on a portal site.

Yet, almost despite myself, I can’t help learning a little about my enemies. For example, I can’t help noticing that none of them seem to be contributors to any free software projects. Moreover, the other people whom they attack (my enemies being very far from discriminating) are among the leaders of the community, and hard workers as well, even if I often don’t share their opinions or think their energies misplaced. So, while I would rather not be among those my enemies focus upon, I suppose their attention is a wry compliment to my articles. After all, if I was completely unsuccessful in expressing myself or providing unusual or thoughtful arguments, then they probably wouldn’t bother with me.

But, even more importantly, when I do come across the writing of my enemies – regardless of whether it’s about me or some other straw man of the day – I’m starting to find that they help define me in a negative way. Just as, in the 1970s being on Richard Nixon’s enemy list was a sign that you were an effective social activist, so being a target of these kinds of people helps me to define the sort of person and writer that I want to be – in essence, everything that is the opposite of them.

For starters, I have no wish for prolonged flame wars. I might toss off an angry reply, or even a second one, but, after that, I can’t sustain the emotion. There are so many more interesting ways to spend my time that I quickly lose interest.

For another, while most of my writing about free software is advocacy journalism in the sense that, by choosing my specialty, I am implying that the subject is worthy of attention, I have no interest in attack journalism (I suppose that comes from getting enough sleep and not being wired on coffee all the time). I can disagree with a person or a corporate policy very well without any need to denounce explicitly. In the end, I would much rather stand for something than against something.

Anyway, if I present the facts accurately enough, I don’t need to condemn – if someone or something is unpleasant, the fact will come through without me belaboring the point.

Even more importantly, while I wince at typos and factual errors, taking them as proof of my own carelessness, I am far more concerned about logical errors. I don’t believe that, just because you find a tenuous connection to Microsoft that you have proved a conspiracy, or that simply because one event follows another that the first caused the second. I try very hard to keep an open mind as I research a story, which is why I usually can’t say the perspective I am taking until shortly before I start to write. I believe that quotes and other evidence needs to be taken in context, not jammed anywhichway into my existing beliefs as if I were some remote descendant of Procrustes. You don’t arrive at the truth by over-simplification or jumping to conclusions; you get there by acknowledging as much of the complexity as you possibly can.

But perhaps the biggest difference between my enemies and me is that I don’t think that my writing is all about me. When I sit down to write, my goal is cover the topic thoroughly, and support any opinions I state so that they are plausible to a fair-minded person. However, I rarely write to justify myself when I’m reporting on free software, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, those who disagree with me often force me into a more nuanced and therefore more accurate view of the subject. In the end, my goal is to send off a finished article with what Balzac called “clean hands and composure” — by which I mean the knowledge that, given my material and time restraints, I have done the best job of expressing my point that I could.

Sometimes, I wish my enemies would find another target and leave me alone. Increasingly, though, I find myself accepting the fact that they are not going away in a hurry, even thinking that they are useful to me. For all the annoyance they provoke, they are examples of the sort of person and writer that I do not wish to be. So long as I act in the exact opposite way that they do, I can continue to be a person with whom I can live.

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