I’m going to start off with a story, which, I promise, is relevant. I am a proponent of marriage equality. I can be flippant about it and note that I feel that everyone should get to experience the pain of marriage, but that’s not fair to my wife, who is one of the greatest people I know. I actually have my reasons for being in favor, which I will get to shortly. But first the story.
A few years ago an organization that goes by the name of The National Organization for Marriage launched a campaign against marriage equality that they called “Two Million for Marriage.” Their goal was to get two million people to march in Washington and declare their support for marriage being reserved as a one-man-one-woman institution. They branded this campaign, “2M4M.”
The problem was, of course, that they failed to get the obvious domain name for this campaign, 2m4m.org. Being in the domain name business, it was the first thing I checked, and I got it first, before they realized their error. The next move was obvious: I created, in about 48 hours, a fully formed campaign web site for my own campaign, 2M4M: Two Men For Marriage. Yeah, that was me.
It was a spoof site, to be sure, but also made the point for marriage equality. I was pretty proud of the site and was thrilled when it went viral. Did it change anyone’s mind? Of course not. But it was just one milestone in a larger movement, and I’m glad I got to play my part.
Which brings me to the issue of women in computing and the current situation around this issue. Just as my close personal friend Ferris once said about Europeans, why should I care about this issue? I’m not a woman.
The reason I care is the same reason I care about marriage equality, even though I’ll never really need the rights that the equality movement is securing: I’m selfish.
Researchers Lara Aknin, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton concluded, "Happiness runs in a circular motion". In their research, they found that by spending a financial windfall on someone else, participants in their study felt happier, and when they felt happier, they were more inclined to spend money on others. This applies to all aspects of life, be it giving money or giving help. Ultimately, people “do the right thing” because it makes them feel good to be doing the right thing. This is subjective, of course – not everyone agrees on what the “right thing” is. Like Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.
In the same way that being generous can be seen as selfish because it makes the giver feel good, doing the right thing, socially, can be seen as selfish because it can also promote the needs and desires of the person helping. The fact that “doing the right thing” makes one feel good is simply a bonus, if you will. In this way, I (and others) would argue that selfishness is a good thing.
This, in and of itself, might be enough. But wait, there’s more.
Call me naïve and perhaps call me simplistic, but, at least for me, it all boils down to one, simple truth: everyone deserves to be able to play by the same rules. We can debate what those rules are, and we can even tweak them now and again to make things better, but once we decide to play, everyone should be playing the same game. I realize there are a myriad of other issues, and I’m not dismissing any of them. But without the acknowledgement that there should be a fundamental base of fairness, we’re building on a very shaky foundation.
So how does being selfish play into the issues of social fairness? Simple: taken as a whole, it applies to me as well. There are areas in which I could make an argument that the issue affects me, personally - aspects of life where those entrenched in power are actively working to maintain that position and prevent participation. Some are trivial. Some are very serious. To be fair, most don’t rise to the level of the issue at hand, and I am genuinely grateful for the luck I’ve had in life. But some do apply to me, and even those few are enough to demonstrate the point.
The position, then, is that if I want any credibility when I call out things that I find unjust to me, personally, I’d best be prepared to call out those things that are just as unjust, even if they don’t apply to me directly. If I’m going to be selfish, I’m going to be consistent about it.
No, of course not. As I said, there are reasons for days why the issue is as important as it is complex. My engagement barely scratches the surface. But in the realm of selfishness, I could make the argument that a diverse workplace is a good one for me, and that it’s to my direct benefit to live in a world where this problem doesn’t exist. I, and my company benefit from all viewpoints and skill sets. I want to hire lots of talent and not have to worry about silly things that, at least to me, should not matter. I’m selfish in that I want my life to be easier in this respect. I’d like to work with people based on their skills and talents. Plus, let’s be honest, I can be a pretty myopic guy sometimes. One thing I’ve learned is to always run my stupid ideas past my wife, who gives me viewpoints and insights I simply never would consider on my own. It’s naïve to think that the fact that she’s a woman doesn’t play into this. She has angles that I, as a man, would never have (and the opposite is also true). It’s an advantage to me to have this resource. I’ll take that advantage any day of the week.
I debated for a while before writing this. Is this position just too simplistic? Is anyone going to think I’m trivializing the issue by trying to boil it down? Worse, am I setting myself up for someone to say, “So, Chris, you only care about the rights of others because if you don’t, you don’t get yours?” While none of those are true (indeed, my point is somewhat the opposite of the last possible response), they’re valid presumptions. So I dance around the electric third rail, but I felt that my position was worthy of calling out. If this is somehow misinterpreted, the fault is mine for not being as clear as I could be.
Unfortunately, I have no great ideas on how to solve the current problem, but I’m thinking about it. I’m listening and learning. And if I have ideas, I’m throwing them out there. Often, they get laughed-at, but I’ll keep it up and see if maybe I get lucky at some point. It happens now and again, like finding the missed domain name registration that lets me strike a point in favor of doing the right thing. Seriously, that felt really good. At the end of the day, it’s a basic way of saying, “this should be obvious, now let’s work on the problem.”
Because if it’s not right for you, then it’s not right for me. And I’d like it right for me.