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This is why people leave your company — Quartz

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When Carly Guthrie was running HR for Per Se, one of the hottest restaurants in New York, the general manager gave her a piece of advice: “You know, Carly,” he said. “If we’re doing our job as leaders, a performance review should only be two columns: Column A is what you do great and Column B is what you do not-so-great. Now, here’s how we move things from Column B to Column A.”

This approach stuck with Guthrie as she left the restaurant world to head up people operations for tech companies. It shocked her that these types of candid conversations were hardly ever happening, and people left as a result. “There’s a mercenary mentality in tech right now—an idea that there’s always going to be something hotter, faster, more groundbreaking,” she says. “And yet, there’s very little internal discussion about how to keep people.”

Guthrie has been watching employees take and leave jobs for over 15 years. Turns out, the reasons people love and hate their work are largely the same across sectors.

In this exclusive interview, Guthrie shares what she’s learned about why people quit, and what startups can do after an employee’s first day to make sure they stay happy, engaged in their work, and committed to your company (and to deleting every email they are most certainly receiving from recruiters).

This is why you lose people

1. You don’t respect their time

In Guthrie’s experience, employees will follow up with recruiters and other job offers if they’re even slightly angry, bored or dissatisfied. “Usually the hours are wearing on them or their spouse is on their case because they’re never home,” she says. “A really good CEO thinks about the bigger picture and realizes people have lives outside of work. That’s the number one way to prevent people from feeling like they might want to be somewhere else.”

But it’s easier than you think to be thoughtless. For example, Guthrie has seen countless companies throw weekly happy hours that start at 4:30pm every Friday. The result: People feel like they have to stay until 6pm to be a good co-worker, then they get a slow jump on traffic, they get home later and they’re tired, when they really want to just go do their own thing. “Just moving the happy hour to Thursday would show a tremendous amount of awareness and make people feel that much better about the company and leadership,” she says.

On the flipside, there are many companies that like to emphasize their rigorous hours by hosting early-bird staff meetings on Monday mornings. Guthrie has seen these get as early as 7:30am. “No one wants a Monday meeting at 7:30am. No one. This forces people with kids to juggle like crazy to get them to school on time. And even if you don’t have kids, you want to get the most out of your weekend. You don’t want to go to bed early every Sunday.” Even if you don’t mean it, this kind of practice communicates that you don’t really care about employees as people.

“From 5pm on Friday to 9am on Monday should be people’s own time, not the company’s.” “From 5pm on Friday to 9am on Monday should be people’s own time, not the company’s.” 

It should be people’s choice to work on the weekends or not. When you provide this level of freedom, it makes it that much more reasonable to say, “I’m going to ask the sun and stars from you the rest of the time.” If you’re worried that your startup needs to move faster than that, consider the following:

  1. People who love their job and the company will work all the time anyway. If you’ve hired good fits, you’ll see this happen.
  2. People do better work when they have lives of their own. “That’s not always a popular opinion, but I’ve seen how true it is over and over again,” says Guthrie. “It’s not just people with kids or spouses. Everybody has a community outside of the office. So few employers respect that—if you make it a point to, that will bind your employees closer to you.”

Some companies are beginning to take these best practices a step further and mandate one or two weeks of vacation time without access to company email or tools. That’s right, literally turn their email off for the duration of their vacation.

“It’s not punitive, it’s for good employees. You can remove the worry from spending time with your family or traveling abroad.” But what if something goes awry? “We’re all adults, we can problem solve,” says Guthrie. While this strategy might not work at the earliest stage, if you’re large enough, it shows a deep respect for an employee’s time. For most employees, “Time is more important than things.”

2. Employees usually don’t leave because of their boss

There’s a persistent trope in the HR world that the main reason people leave is because they don’t get along with their manager. Despite its prevalence in the corporate zeitgeist, “That’s actually pretty rare,” says Guthrie. Generally, almost everyone gets a sense of mismatched chemistry during the hiring process. If someone leaves because of their boss, that’s a failure in the company’s hiring process—an employee didn’t get enough exposure to their boss during the process, or alternatively, if there’s a history of subordinates leaving, their boss was the bad hire in the first place.

There is, however, one big reason employees may leave on account of their manager: Loss of confidence—in them or the company. “Let’s say you’ve had a couple of pivots and you just don’t believe in the company or concept anymore. You lose confidence in the marketability or leadership,” says Guthrie. A company’s leadership needs to be aware of these potential undercurrents in their organization, and should deal with them head on. Otherwise, your best and brightest will be on the lookout for opportunities to jump ship.

3. If you’re making a counter-offer, you’ve probably already lost

Often, to prevent brain drain, a startup will make a counteroffer to someone who says they might depart. But at that point, the battle for that employee is pretty much over anyway. “When you tell an employer you’re leaving, you’re saying, ‘I’m unhappy. You may be able to buy me for another six months, but mostly, it’s the end of the chapter,’” says Guthrie.

“If you’re happy, you’re not even looking at other jobs.” “If you’re happy, you’re not even looking at other jobs.” 

Employers often forget that looking for a job is an exhausting process, and people only consider that route if they’re truly not content where they are. “If you’re really happy at work, you’re not interested in going down that road. You want to go home. You want to have dinner with your friends. You don’t want to figure out how to arrange your work schedule to take an interview. Nobody wants that if they’re already satisfied.”

This is how you keep people

Recognizing and protecting against employee departures is only one piece of the puzzle. The best retention strategy involves more than protecting against employee disaffection. You have to be proactive about cultivating happiness and good will. Below, Guthrie speaks to the strategies startups can employ, beyond the coarser (albeit necessary) foundations of money and equity.

1. Build a community with purpose

First and foremost, you have to create a community where people want to spend a great deal of their time. “I’ve seen environments where people are so engaged in the product and with one another that they really do feel like they’re part of something bigger and important,” she says.

“Your goal should be to make people feel like, ‘We’re all in this together and have a huge opportunity as a team.’” “Your goal should be to make people feel like, ‘We’re all in this together and have a huge opportunity as a team.’” 

As head of HR and Operations at student network ReadyForce, Guthrie saw a team become incredibly bonded—to the extent that many are still good friends even though some eventually moved to new companies. This type of community enhances talent and collaboration and makes it very difficult to leave.

So how did ReadyForce do it?

The same three people would interview everyone for a particular role so that they were comparing apples to apples. Then they would convene and show thumbs up or thumbs down. If there was disagreement, they’d talk about why and foster healthy debate about candidates. “This really forced everyone to form an opinion and be thoughtful about every person they met. Would they go to bat for the person? Why? What would it be like to actually work with them?” As a result, candidates were only selected if everyone was extremely excited about them joining.

One big difference is that the company didn’t approach recruiting from a purely skills-based perspective. “Honestly, we placed a high price on ‘hilarious’ and hired wonderful people, I think partially because we were willing to work with people who were awesome culture fits even if they had a steep learning curve ahead of them.”

Conversely, that meant filtering out people who may have been exceptionally skilled but not culture matches. Put bluntly, Guthrie suggests you ignore the “brilliant jerks.” Your company culture cannot be created by top-down edict—it’s always going to be a reflection of the collected personalities. Every single person you hire will make a difference. Also important to note: Brilliant jerks are harder to remove because it’s nearly impossible to justify their dismissal if they’re delivering good work. But they have a pernicious effect on culture that far outlasts their physical presence at the company.

On top of running a very detailed, comprehensive onboarding process, ReadyForce also adopted a unique attitude toward group activities. “At so many companies, you see this ‘mandatory fun’ thing happening whether anyone wanted to do it or not. At ReadyForce, I think a lot of our experiences were special because they were organic—they came out of people’s personal interests. And the leadership provided the resources and room to do more creative things based upon those interests.”

2. Balance the importance of community against personal freedom

A popular retention strategy companies use to keep employees happy is flexible scheduling, particularly by letting employees—and especially engineers—work from home. But how can you reconcile “WFH” with the need to cultivate a sense of community and unified culture?

“There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to working from home. It really depends on your culture.”
 “There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to working from home. It really depends on your culture.” 
While there’s rarely an easy answer, Guthrie offers two tips for companies looking to strike the right tone:

  1. Make sure managers trust their employees. It’s human nature to think, “I don’t see this person in the office, so I subconsciously assume they don’t work as hard.” Managers need to communicate clearly to employees (and themselves) that they are results-oriented, while employees need to trust that it’s important and justified when managers ask for them to be in the office. It’s all about both sides respecting each other’s time and abilities—and, perhaps most importantly, communicating this mutual respect.
  2. If you offer “WFH” options for engineers, you should offer it to everyone. Employees often get resentful if a remote work policy is perceived to be unfair. “Can salespeople make calls from home too? Unfair treatment is what gets employees hung up,” says Guthrie. It’s best to craft a policy that preserves serendipitous camaraderie in the office while offering the opportunity for all employees to reap the recharging benefits of occasional remote work.

3. Structure a mentorship program that people actually want

Providing a good mentor, and making that relationship natural and easy, goes a long way toward keeping people in a role. It shows the employee that the company is invested in their personal growth, and that there’s someone (other than their manager) looking out for their best interests. But you can’t force it. Like mandatory fun, pairing people with mentors arbitrarily rarely works.

“You definitely don’t want to just introduce your new hire to someone random and say, ‘Here’s your buddy,’ but that happens all the time,” Guthrie says. “It’s unclear what that even means or what you should do. Instead, look for skills that are outside of the new person’s wheelhouse that you know they want to learn. Find someone who has those skills to pair them with and explain the connection.”
“Mentorship needs to be more organic than we’ve typically forced it to be.”
 “Mentorship needs to be more organic than we’ve typically forced it to be.” 

“Think about people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to work or interact with each other otherwise. Would it benefit them to know each other from a learning perspective? Maybe pair them together. Ask every new employee, ‘What do you want to achieve in this job? What other skills do you want to learn or sharpen, and how can we help you do that?’”

Just asking this question can convince someone they made the right choice by joining your company. The critical thing is to follow through. If a marketing hire says they want to learn Ruby, or an engineer says they want to learn presentation skills, don’t let it drop. Record it somewhere, and then make the best introductions you can. Don’t stop there either. Go the extra mile to suggest how these people might work together to make learning possible. Perhaps advise that they meet a certain number of times a month for a time-bounded period. That makes it sound low-lift, and if they do become close and everything is working well, they can decide to continue the relationship. Keep in touch with the mentor on the progress the employee is making, and then give them a chance to show off their new skills where you can.

Mentorship can also become a useful vector for shortening feedback cycles outside of typical manager-to-employee relationships, which will help you spot potential retention issues earlier. During her time with the Mina and Thomas Keller restaurant groups, Guthrie says she grew to appreciate just how much instant feedback flowed between senior and junior chefs. “In restaurants, there’s just this instant loop. Items don’t make it to the pass at the same time? Not set up for service? You’re going to hear about it right then and there.”

“Good mentors have a very clear sense of what you’re supposed to be accomplishing and won’t wait to give you feedback.”

 “Good mentors have a very clear sense of what you’re supposed to be accomplishing and won’t wait to give you feedback.” 

Startups could benefit from using mentorship as an opportunity to shorten their own feedback cycles, without making people nervous about their performance. Especially when there is no formal reporting structure involved, employees are also far more likely to be candid with their mentors and share if they’re looking for other opportunities.

4. Bringing in good HR early can make a decisive difference

“It’s a bummer that people think HR is all about rule thumping—it’s got a bad rap,” says Guthrie. “That’s why it’s even more important to have an HR person or representative who is relatable and trustworthy. People should feel like they can ask anything, even the really dumb questions. And you, as a founder or manager, should feel like you can trust them with the deepest, darkest secrets of the organization.”

“Who do you want in your bunker with you? That should be your HR person.” “Who do you want in your bunker with you? That should be your HR person.” 

“For all these reasons, you need to choose someone you like. HR is not about algorithms. There’s a whole lot of humanity involved, and that gets messy. You need empathy on your team. You need someone who can say, ‘I might not agree with your choices, but I will put myself in your shoes and try to understand where things went off the rails.’”

These are all great qualities, but the single most important trait a good HR person can have is the ability to effectively train managers to handle similar questions and issues, Guthrie says.

“The hallmark of a healthy culture is that people feel comfortable bringing up problems with and offering feedback to their leaders and vice versa,” she says. “There’s this joke that HR reps are like paid assassins, because if you walk into a room and an HR person is there, nothing good is about to happen. If this is the mood at your company, it’s management’s fault. They haven’t communicated clearly.”

The need to train management and provide a sounding board is a strong argument for bringing HR (or someone who fulfills these duties) into your company earlier than later.

“When your company is your baby, you’ve already lost perspective.”

 “When your company is your baby, you’ve already lost perspective.” 

The thing is, that’s okay, Guthrie says. “Hire or contract someone who has the ability to tell you hard things you don’t necessarily want to hear—someone you can trust to give you a good reality check when you need it.” Many times, HR is a good choice to serve this purpose given the confidentiality and bird’s-eye view of the business.

Sometimes, especially if you’re running an early-stage company with limited funds, contracting can be the best way to go because that person exists outside the company and has no skin in the game. “When that’s the case, this person is really there just to help you. Then, when you get to 40 people, you’ve already figured out what your relationship with People Operations should look like. Being a founder can get extremely lonely. I think it’s easy to forget that. But bringing in someone who sees the things you don’t, and who puts your people front and center can make it a little less lonely.”

The seven rules of talent retention

There are a number of ways to keep your best people, but no silver bullet. As you think through your own retention strategy, remember the following:

  1. Recognize that employees have lives outside of work—cultivate a deep respect for employees’ time.
  2. When employees leave because of their boss, it rarely comes from personality mismatches; it stems from a lack of confidence.
  3. Counteroffers are (an expensive) band-aid; they won’t fix an employee’s fundamental unhappiness.
  4. Building a genuine sense of community is crucial to employee retention. Make sure your hiring process incorporates and heavily weighs cultural fit.
  5. Hashing out a concrete “work from home” policy can improve employee happiness/retention, but it’s largely dependent on your organization’s needs. Make sure you’re being fair across the board.
  6. Good mentorship happens organically, and should be directed by employee interests and growth. It also creates another opportunity for a natural, short feedback loop you can definitely use.
  7. It’s never too early to invest in good HR, whether it’s processes or people. This can absolutely include HR contractors. An outside perspective can be invaluable for founders who need big-picture reality checks.

This post originally appeared at First Round Review. We welcome your comments at

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Don’t Yolo Hard Conversations


On the list of leadership merit badges, “Successfully deliver hard news” is one the hardest badges to acquire. It’s not just that you have news, it’s hard news. It’s an honest something the human sitting across from you does not want to hear. Not only do you need to deliver it, but you need to successfully deliver it.

There are endless ways to screw this up. This is why it’s a merit badge. Once you learn how to successfully deliver hard news, you will never forget. The experience is hard-earned.

Bad news, I’m not going to give you a complete strategy, these are simple tips. Starting with:

  • Write down what you are going to say. Don’t yolo hard conversations.
  • Share that writing with another neutral human who you know will give you critical feedback. They will find flaws and optimizations that you have not seen.
  • Sleep on the conversation that you’ve written down and vetted with the neutral humans. Your background processing skills are strong.

The final tip is the most important. You can fail to write down your thoughts, you can not share your thoughts with a neutral human, and you can fully yolo the delivery, but the final bullet you skipped is my simple tip: let them sleep on it.

The moment that a human being hears hard news they stop listening. It’s a normal and healthy fight or flight instinct. Right or wrong, the human on the receiving end of this news feels attacked and when you’re attacked you run because who wants to be attacked?

They hear you, they are recording the conversation, but they are not listening because their mind is telling them to run for it. Their first reaction, the first words tell you, are not how they feel. They need to let their guard down, and that only comes with time.

Successfully delivering hard news means honestly and compassionately delivering the news. It’s quietly listening to their reaction, hearing each word, but understanding what they feel won’t be known until they’ve taking their time to hear you.

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The New Manager Death Spiral


The starting gun fires and when the starting gun fires, you run. You’re a new manager, and while the sound of gun firing is startling, you run because this is finally your chance. You’ve been promoted to the role of manager, you want this gig, and this is your chance to shine, so you run.

I will now explain how your good intentions and well-trained instincts are going to erode your credibility, stunt the growth of your team, and re-enforce the theory that most managers are power hungry jerks working with all the authority and making judgment calls with woefully incomplete data.

It’s called the New Manager Death Spiral and, unfortunately, I can effectively write about it because I’ve performed parts of it. Over and over.


This is a synthesized version of the New Manager Death Spiral. It combines every single leadership mistake you can make spun into a beautiful, cascading, horrific mess. It is unlikely that you’ll perform the Death Spiral this completely, but I guarantee that you’ll perform parts of it.

It begins with a thought, “I can do it all. I’m The Boss.”

As a new manager, you want to prove yourself, so you sign-up for all the things, you work late, and you do your very best to kick ass and make a good first impression. This is the approach that worked well for you as an individual, so, of course, it’ll work when leading a team. This is where the Spiral begins because the initial thought is actually, “I can do it all myself. I’m the Boss.”

You are used to having complete visibility and total ownership of your work because that is how it worked in your former individual contributor work life. You are instinctually reluctant to delegate your work because it represents an unfamiliar loss of power. Compounding your poor judgment is your belief that you are the best person to do this because you’ve done it before as an individual.

The problem is your enthusiastic effort to prove yourself. You signed up for far too much work than you possibly do yourself, which leads to your first failure mode: the quality of your work drops because you lack the time to correctly complete it. Missed deadlines, dropped commitments, and half-completed work passed off as the final product are just a couple of awkward situations you discover.

The Spiral starts to pick up speed now because you can see the glimmer of your failure in their eyes. You update your mantra with an affirmation, “I can do it all myself. I’m in control because I am the Boss.”

With the first admission of the reality of the situation, you begin to half-delegate the smaller less important projects. Half-delegation is the act of giving them the work, but not full control nor context. They don’t need it, right? You’re the Boss. You’ll tell them when they need to know.

Like you, they start to fail either because they feel they don’t have the authority to change the course of the project or their lack of understanding of the fun context around the project had them pointed in the wrong direction from day one. They bring this to your attention.

First, They Tell You

This is where the Spiral gets painful. Remember – every possible wrong decision stitched together.

The team on the failing project says, “We didn’t understand that this portion of the project was more important, so we started over here which, in hindsight, was clearly the wrong place to start.”

You’re internally frustrated. You think, but do not say, “It’s obviously the wrong place to start. If I were running this project, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” You’re right, but you’re also so wrong. You’re right that if you were hands on running this project, your prior experience would’ve improved execution. You’re wrong because a strategy of not building trust through successful delegation is one the greatest accelerants to the New Manager Death Spiral.

However, you can not appear weak. Remember the line, “I can do it all myself. I’m in control because I am the Boss.” Changing strategy is an admission failure, failure is a weakness, and you are the Boss. You give the barest of corrective advice and tell them “Go figure it out… or else.”

Your team leaves this interaction with the following impression: they are failing, and you’re mad, inflexible and unwilling to listen to their opinions. This is the point of the of the Spiral where they stop talking to you and start talking to each other.

Then, They Tell Each Other

Since you aren’t listening, this team starts talking to each other and other teams. They are trying to self-correct and perhaps they might, but this is the Death Spiral, so they don’t. They fail. This is unfortunate because they had all the data to be successful and just needed a leadership nudge, but since it was clear you didn’t want to hear it they didn’t share, and the project failed.

Everyone is demoralized, everyone feels like they failed, but since no one is truly communicating all sorts of opinion starts to become facts. You tell yourself the story that you might not have the right people on the team and perhaps if shuffling people around you’ll get a better outcome. They think they failed because you didn’t get them context because you were busy withholding information, being proud, and not listening.

They continue to judge, and they create their versions of the truth and you and your leadership style. Again, there’s far more of them than you, which means that their version of the truth spread at a faster rate than yours. Eventually, a piece of that twisted truth regarding your leadership ability arrives on your plate from someone you listen to and you’re shocked.

That is not me.

Congratulations. Through a deft combination of poor communication, crap judgment, and systematic demoralization of the team, you and your team have not only failed at the task at hand; but you’ve also irreparably harmed your relationship with your team and your credibility.

You’re right, it’s not really who you are. Who you are now is precisely the opposite of a leader.

Management is Not a Promotion

You’re promoted when you are successful in your current job. It is equal parts recognition and reward. In many companies, the expectation is that you’re performing at that higher level for a period before you are promoted, so there is a good chance you are equipped for this gig.

You do not start management equipped for the gig. I’ve said it before, your first role in management is a career restart. Yes, you’ve acquired dealing-with-humans skills from being a part of a team, but the New Manager Death Spiral is deliberately constructed to demonstrate how the very instincts that got you the new role are going to steer you in the wrong direction.

The New Manager Death Spiral is an unrealistic, but deliberate construction. It is unlikely that you performed every single step in the Spiral. It is equally likely that as you read this article that you nodded your head, “Yup. I did that.” Whether you performed one or all of the steps, the lessons are the same, and they are lessons I wish someone would’ve given me as a first-time manager. Here are three:

Let others change your mind. There are more of them than you. The size of their network is collectively larger than yours, so it stands to reason they have more information. Listen to that information and let others change your perspective and your decisions.

Augment your obvious and non-obvious weaknesses by building a diverse team. It’s choosing the path of least resistance to build a team full of humans who agree with you. Ideas don’t get better with agreement. Ideas gather their strength with healthy discord, and that means finding and hiring humans who represent the widest spread of perspective and experience.

Delegate more than is comfortable. The complete delegation of work to someone else on the team is a vote of confidence in their ability, which is one essential way the trust forms within a team. Letting go of doing the work is tricky, but the gig as a manager isn’t doing quality work, it’s building a healthy team that does quality work at scale.

At the heart of each lesson is the same essential leadership binding agent: trust. When you are actively listening, and when their ideas visibly change your decisions, you build trust. When diversity of opinion is valued and creates healthy debate, you create trust. When you truly delegate the work that made you a better builder, they will begin to trust you as a leader.

And that’s who you want to be.

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Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber — Susan J. Fowler

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As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I've gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It's a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go. 

I joined Uber as a site reliability engineer (SRE) back in November 2015, and it was a great time to join as an engineer. They were still wrangling microservices out of their monolithic API, and things were just chaotic enough that there was exciting reliability work to be done. The SRE team was still pretty new when I joined, and I had the rare opportunity to choose whichever team was working on something that I wanted to be part of. 

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on - unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man's first offense, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he "was a high performer" (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn't seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company's best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again. One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn't be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been "given an option". I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn't want to ruin his career over his "first offense"). 

So I left that team, and took quite a few weeks learning about other teams before landing anywhere (I desperately wanted to not have to interact with HR ever again). I ended up joining a brand-new SRE team that gave me a lot of autonomy, and I found ways to be happy and do amazing work. In fact, the work I did on this team turned into the production-readiness process which I wrote about in my bestselling (!!!) book Production-Ready Microservices. 

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being "his first offense", and it certainly wasn't his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his "first offense". The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken. It was such a blatant lie that there was really nothing I could do. There was nothing any of us could do. We all gave up on Uber HR and our managers after that. Eventually he "left" the company. I don't know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him. 

In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political war raging within the ranks of upper management in the infrastructure engineering organization. It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like. I remember countless meetings with my managers and skip-levels where I would sit there, not saying anything, and the manager would be boasting about finding favor with their skip-level and that I should expect them to have their manager's job within a quarter or two. I also remember a very disturbing team meeting in which one of the directors boasted to our team that he had withheld business-critical information from one of the executives so that he could curry favor with one of the other executives (and, he told us with a smile on his face, it worked!).

The ramifications of these political games were significant: projects were abandoned left and right, OKRs were changed multiple times each quarter, nobody knew what our organizational priorities would be one day to the next, and very little ever got done. We all lived under fear that our teams would be dissolved, there would be another re-org, and we'd have to start on yet another new project with an impossible deadline. It was an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos. 

I was lucky enough during all of this to work with some of the most amazing engineers in the Bay Area. We kept our heads down and did good (sometimes great) work despite the chaos. We loved our work, we loved the engineering challenges, we loved making this crazy Uber machine work, and together we found ways to make it through the re-orgs and the changing OKRs and the abandoned projects and the impossible deadlines. We kept each other sane, kept the gigantic Uber ecosystem running, and told ourselves that it would eventually get better.

Things didn't get better, and engineers began transferring to the less chaotic engineering organizations. Once I had finished up my projects and saw that things weren't going to change, I also requested a transfer. I met all of the qualifications for transferring - I had managers who wanted me on their teams, and I had a perfect performance score - so I didn't see how anything could go wrong. And then my transfer was blocked. 

According to my manager, his manager, and the director, my transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems. I pointed out that I had a perfect performance score, and that there had never been any complaints about my performance. I had completed all OKRs on schedule, never missed a deadline even in the insane organizational chaos, and that I had managers waiting for me to join their team. I asked what my performance problem was, and they didn't give me an answer. At first they said I wasn't being technical enough, so I pointed out that they were the ones who had given me my OKRs, and if they wanted to see different work from me then they should give me the kind of work they wanted to see - they then backed down and stopped saying that this was the problem. I kept pushing, until finally I was told that "performance problems aren't always something that has to do with work, but sometimes can be about things outside of work or your personal life." I couldn't decipher that, so I gave up and decided to stay until my next performance review. 

Performance review season came around, and I received a great review with no complaints whatsoever about my performance. I waited a couple of months, and then attempted to transfer again. When I attempted to transfer, I was told that my performance review and score had been changed after the official reviews had been calibrated, and so I was no longer eligible for transfer. When I asked management why my review had been changed after the fact (and why hadn't they let me know that they'd changed it?), they said that I didn't show any signs of an upward career trajectory. I pointed out that I was publishing a book with O'Reilly, speaking at major tech conferences, and doing all of the things that you're supposed to do to have an "upward career trajectory", but they said it didn't matter and I needed to prove myself as an engineer. I was stuck where I was. 

I asked them to change my performance review back. My manager said that the new negative review I was given had no real-world consequences, so I shouldn't worry about it. But I went home and cried that day, because even aside from impacts to my salary and bonuses, it did have real-world consequences - significant consequences that my management chain was very well aware of. I was enrolled in a Stanford CS graduate program, sponsored by Uber, and Uber only sponsored employees who had high performance scores. Under both of my official performance reviews and scores, I qualified for the program, but after this sneaky new negative score I was no longer eligible. 

It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team. 

When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.

Things were beginning to get even more comically absurd with each passing day. Every time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I'd sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going. Things came to a head with one particular email chain from the director of our engineering organization concerning leather jackets that had been ordered for all of the SREs. See, earlier in the year, the organization had promised leather jackets for everyone in organization, and had taken all of our sizes; we all tried them on and found our sizes, and placed our orders. One day, all of the women (there were, I believe, six of us left in the org) received an email saying that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order. I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men. The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets. He said that because there were so many men in the org, they had gotten a significant discount on the men's jackets but not on the women's jackets, and it wouldn't be equal or fair, he argued, to give the women leather jackets that cost a little more than the men's jackets. We were told that if we wanted leather jackets, we women needed to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men's jackets. 

I forwarded this absurd chain of emails to HR, and they requested to meet with me shortly after. I don't know what I expected after all of my earlier encounters with them, but this one was more ridiculous than I could have ever imagined. The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem. I pointed out that everything I had reported came with extensive documentation and I clearly wasn't the instigator (or even a main character) in the majority of them - she countered by saying that there was absolutely no record in HR of any of the incidents I was claiming I had reported (which, of course, was a lie, and I reminded her I had email and chat records to prove it was a lie). She then asked me if women engineers at Uber were friends and talked a lot, and then asked me how often we communicated, what we talked about, what email addresses we used to communicate, which chat rooms we frequented, etc. -  an absurd and insulting request that I refused to comply with. When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn't be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering. Our meeting ended with her berating me about keeping email records of things, and told me it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.

Less than a week after this absurd meeting, my manager scheduled a 1:1 with me, and told me we needed to have a difficult conversation. He told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR. California is an at-will employment state, he said, which means we can fire you if you ever do this again. I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal. I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything. (I was told much later that they didn't do anything because the manager who threatened me "was a high performer").

I had a new job offer in my hands less than a week later. 
On my last day at Uber, I calculated the percentage of women who were still in the org. Out of over 150 engineers in the SRE teams, only 3% were women. 

When I look back at the time I spent at Uber, I'm overcome with thankfulness that I had the opportunity to work with some of the best engineers around. I'm proud of the work I did, I'm proud of the impact that I was able to make on the entire organization, and I'm proud that the work I did and wrote a book about has been adopted by other tech companies all over the world. And when I think about the things I've recounted in the paragraphs above, I feel a lot of sadness, but I can't help but laugh at how ridiculous everything was. Such a strange experience. Such a strange year. 

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2710 days ago
I don't often comment on articles I share, but this is practically a case study in leadership failures (not to mention ethics).
Okemos, Michigan

Why we choose profit

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We’re outspoken about running a profitable company in an industry that so often eschews profits for potential. So why? People ask us why all the time. Why choose profit?

So I thought I’d detail some of the reasons why we designed Basecamp, our company, to be profitable as quickly and consistently as possible. And 17 years into it, we’ve been profitable for 17 years straight. Being profitable is a feature of our company (companies are products too).

To set some context, since we launched the company in 1999, our revenues have grown every year (2016 being our best year yet), and for years we’ve been generating millions in annual profits. We currently have just 51 people at the company (the most people we’ve ever had).

Reasons, in no particular order

A non-comprehensive list, but a complete-enough one:

No one ever went broke taking a profit. Unlike companies that reinvest all or most of the money back into the company every year, we take money (profit) out every year in the form of distributions (we’re an LLC). This means every year we take risk out of the company. Companies that keep reinvesting keep adding risk to their companies. If the shit hits the fan one day, and the company ceases to exist, we’ll have enjoyed the upside as we went, vs. never if all the reinvestment didn’t lead to an outcome which is greater than the annual distributions. And since most companies die smaller than they were at their peak, the chance the unrealized future will be better than the certain now is slim. Basically, we work to enjoy the now we have, not the future we don’t. Fuck deferred living.

Profit buys you time and flexibility. Profit is the ultimate flexibility because it buys you the ultimate luxury: time. As long as you remain profitable, you can go in any direction you want and take as much time as you need. But if you can’t generate enough of your own cash through operations, and you have to go outside to borrow or sell off pieces of your company to generate the cash you need to continue, then the ones you owe are the ones who own your time. If someone else owns your time, you aren’t free. And if you aren’t free, you can’t be flexible. We value flexibility above almost anything else.

Profit is true vertical integration. Cash is an unusually special raw material because you can transform it into anything (cash is basically like a stem cell). And when you make your own, you can use it any way you want, no strings attached. You can take it all home. You can give it all to your employees. You can put it back into the business. You can do stupid shit with it since it’s your shit. But when you have to source raw materials from a very limited number of suppliers (investors), the money comes with all sorts of strings attached. Money with strings attached isn’t really yours, it’s someone else’s property that you’re renting on their terms. We prefer to own.

We don’t care about valuation. If generating revenue can hurt your valuation, making a profit can have an even more deleterious effect. But we couldn’t give a shit. We don’t know what we’re worth and we don’t care. The fewer things you have to worry about that don’t affect your day to day, your customer’s experience, and the actual operating of your business, the more energy you can put into the business itself. We spend zero hours a year on valuation and fake-number nonsense. I’ve seen far too many founders spend countless hours pitching for money, marking up term sheets with lawyers, fixating on cap tables, sweating over other people’s make-or-break decisions, etc. Fuck all that. What an enormous waste of time and energy.

Profit is the ultimate shield against bullshit. When you’re profitable you don’t have to play games, succumb to substitutional metrics, cross your fingers, or grovel for other people’s money, validation, or acceptance. You simply make more money than you spend — and run a fundamentally sound, economics 101 business. When profit’s a requirement, it becomes a lot harder to step in the bullshit.

Profit protects you from your ego. One of the easiest things to do in business is get ahead of yourself. To feel so grand! To be obsessed with growth and potential and “if only…”. To hire too many people, to take on too much rent, to do one too many things, to complicate your business by tying strings around your money. The list goes on. But when you set out to be a profitable company, you watch your costs. You don’t hire that extra person if you can’t afford them. You don’t get into an office space that’s too big for you. You don’t sign a long-term lease that you can’t afford. You don’t sink a pile of money into things just because you can, you consider your spends more carefully. There’s nothing easier than spending other people’s money — and that should concern you. When you’re running on your money, and you want to make sure you have some left at the end of the year, you spend it wisely. You build good, responsible habits this way. Profit creates reasonable borders and boundaries, and that’s a very healthy thing — especially early on.

All we owe is our best effort. When you’re profitable and debt free, you don’t owe anyone anything other than your best efforts. And who do we owe that to? Ourselves and our customers. The peace of mind, clarity, and calm that comes with that is immeasurable.

$1 in profit is the ultimate FU money. I typically don’t like the term “fuck you money” — it’s so in-your-face ugly — but I’m going to use it to make a point. Typically when people talk about FU money, they think about millions. Once you have millions you have FU money. Well, actually, all you need is $1 in annual profit. Because once your company is self-sustaining and profitable, and you don’t owe anyone anything (in my book, if you owe money you aren’t truly profitable), then you can say FU to just about anything. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to do when you don’t have to rely on anyone else to be sustainable. You don’t have to dance on anyone else’s stage, or play by anyone else’s rules. FU money isn’t about buying an island, it’s about being an island — your own sustainable entity.

Profits provide insulation. When tastes change, when trends shift, when the markets flutter, funding freezes up. That happens whether your particular business is unaffected or not. And you might well be caught out in the cold and freeze to death. Remember 2008? 2009? The nuclear winters of funding? Those were some of our best years! Profits insulated us from jittery investors, and our customers still kept paying for Basecamp.

Profits are just simpler. We’re still an LLC at Basecamp. The simplest pass-through structure you can have at our size. That means fewer lawyers, fewer accountants, less paperwork, less hoop-jumping. Our books are so silly simple, our operating agreement hasn’t changed in a decade. Keeping your corporate structure this lean means making time for much more interesting things, like building a better product. Having all of the company focused on either making a better product or supporting a better product. There’s no CFO at Basecamp. There’s no accounting department. Our amazing office manager Andrea can handle all that in concert with Ann, our accountant of 17 years.

Profits focus the mind. There are so many things we could do as a company, but far less that really constitute the essence of why we’re here. Profits helps us concentrate on what to do and what not to do. It helps us shed things beyond the scope, it helps us keep the company fit, without accumulated layers of fat from chasing a thousand potential directions at once.

Profits have gotten a bad rep. They’ve gotten maligned together with “creating shareholder value”. Could there be a more uninspiring mission for a business? So it’s no wonder that profits have gotten a bad rep, but it’s unwarranted and disproportionate. Profits should sue for slander!

Having a profitable business doesn’t mean squeezing the lemon for every last bitter drop. It isn’t all or nothing. You can be profitable and generous. Profitable and fair. Profitable and kind. These aren’t opposite ends of some moral spectrum. Quite the contrary.

It’s EASIER to be generous when you’re doing well. It’s EASIER to be fair when there’s enough. It’s easier to be kind when it’s not tipping you over the edge.

Why we choose profit was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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They Have To Be Monsters

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Since I started working on Discourse, I spend a lot of time thinking about how software can encourage and nudge people to be more empathetic online. That's why it's troubling to read articles like this one:

My brother’s 32nd birthday is today. It’s an especially emotional day for his family because he’s not alive for it.

He died of a heroin overdose last February. This year is even harder than the last. I started weeping at midnight and eventually cried myself to sleep. Today’s symptoms include explosions of sporadic sobbing and an insurmountable feeling of emptiness. My mom posted a gut-wrenching comment on my brother’s Facebook page about the unfairness of it all. Her baby should be here, not gone. “Where is the God that is making us all so sad?” she asked.

In response, someone — a stranger/(I assume) another human being — commented with one word: “Junkie.”

The interaction may seem a bit strange and out of context until you realize that this is the Facebook page of a person who was somewhat famous, who produced the excellent show Parks and Recreation. Not that this forgives the behavior in any way, of course, but it does explain why strangers would wander by and make observations.

There is deep truth in the old idea that people are able to say these things because they are looking at a screen full of words, not directly at the face of the person they're about to say a terrible thing to. That one level of abstraction the Internet allows, typing, which is so immensely powerful in so many other contexts …

… has some crippling emotional consequences.

As an exercise in empathy, try to imagine saying some of the terrible things people typed to each other online to a real person sitting directly in front of you. Or don't imagine, and just watch this video.

I challenge you to watch the entirety of that video. I couldn't do it. This is the second time I've tried, and I had to turn it off not even 2 minutes in because I couldn't take it any more.

It's no coincidence that these are comments directed at women. Over the last few years I have come to understand how, as a straight white man, I have the privilege of being immune from most of this kind of treatment. But others are not so fortunate. The Guardian analyzed 70 million comments and found that online abuse is heaped disproportionately on women, people of color, and people of different sexual orientation.

And avalanches happen easily online. Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel. This abuse can move across platforms at great speed – from Twitter, to Facebook, to blogposts – and it can be viewed on multiple devices – the desktop at work, the mobile phone at home. To the person targeted, it can feel like the perpetrator is everywhere: at home, in the office, on the bus, in the street.

I've only had a little taste of this treatment, once. The sense of being "under siege" – a constant barrage of vitriol and judgment pouring your way every day, every hour – was palpable. It was not pleasant. It absolutely affected my state of mind. Someone remarked in the comments that ultimately it did not matter, because as a white man I could walk away from the whole situation any time. And they were right. I began to appreciate what it would feel like when you can't walk away, when this harassment follows you around everywhere you go online, and you never really know when the next incident will occur, or exactly what shape it will take.

Imagine the feeling of being constantly on edge like that, every day. What happens to your state of mind when walking away isn't an option? It gave me great pause.

The Scream by Nathan Sawaya

I admired the way Stephanie Wittels Wachs actually engaged with the person who left that awful comment. This is a man who has two children of his own, and should be no stranger to the kind of pain involved in a child's death. And yet he felt the need to post the word "Junkie" in reply to a mother's anguish over losing her child to drug addiction.

Isn’t this what empathy is? Putting myself in someone else’s shoes with the knowledge and awareness that I, too, am human and, therefore, susceptible to this tragedy or any number of tragedies along the way?

Most would simply delete the comment, block the user, and walk away. Totally defensible. But she didn't. She takes the time and effort to attempt to understand this person who is abusing her mother, to reach them, to connect, to demonstrate the very empathy this man appears incapable of.

Consider the related story of Lenny Pozner, who lost a child at Sandy Hook, and became the target of groups who believe the event was a hoax, and similarly selflessly devotes much of his time to refuting and countering these bizarre claims.

Tracy’s alleged harassment was hardly the first, Pozner said. There’s a whole network of people who believe the media reported a mass shooting that never happened, he said, that the tragedy was an elaborate hoax designed to increase support for gun control. Pozner said he gets ugly comments often on social media, such as, “Eventually you’ll be tried for your crimes of treason against the people,” “… I won’t be satisfied until the caksets are opened…” and “How much money did you get for faking all of this?”

It's easy to practice empathy when you limit it to people that are easy to empathize with – the downtrodden, the undeserving victims. But it is another matter entirely to empathize with those that hate, harangue, and intentionally make other people's lives miserable. If you can do this, you are a far better person than me. I struggle with it. But my hat is off to you. There's no better way to teach empathy than to practice it, in the most difficult situations.

In individual cases, reaching out and really trying to empathize with people you disagree with or dislike can work, even people who happen to be lifelong members of hate organizations, as in the remarkable story of Megan Phelps-Roper:

As a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, Phelps-Roper believed that AIDS was a curse sent by God. She believed that all manner of other tragedies—war, natural disaster, mass shootings—were warnings from God to a doomed nation, and that it was her duty to spread the news of His righteous judgments. To protest the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in America, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funerals of gay men who died of AIDS and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members held signs with slogans like “GOD HATES FAGS” and “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS,” and the outrage that their efforts attracted had turned the small church, which had fewer than a hundred members, into a global symbol of hatred.

Perhaps one of the greatest failings of the Internet is the breakdown in cost of emotional labor.

First we’ll reframe the problem: the real issue is not Problem Child’s opinions – he can have whatever opinions he wants. The issue is that he’s doing zero emotional labor – he’s not thinking about his audience or his effect on people at all. (Possibly, he’s just really bad at modeling other people’s responses – the outcome is the same whether he lacks the will or lacks the skill.) But to be a good community member, he needs to consider his audience.

True empathy means reaching out and engaging in a loving way with everyone, even those that are hurtful, hateful, or spiteful. But on the Internet, can you do it every day, multiple times a day, across hundreds of people? Is this a reasonable thing to ask of someone? Is it even possible, short of sainthood?

The question remains: why would people post such hateful things in the first place? Why reply "Junkie" to a mother's anguish? Why ask the father of a murdered child to publicly prove his child's death was not a hoax? Why tweet "Thank God for AIDS!"

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to this question, and you're not going to like it.

Busy-Work by Shen,

I don't like it. I don't want it. But I know.

I have laid some heavy stuff on you in this post, and for that, I apologize. I think the weight of what I'm trying to communicate here requires it. I have to warn you that the next article I'm about to link is far heavier than anything I have posted above, maybe the heaviest thing I've ever posted. It's about the legal quandary presented in the tragic cases of children who died because their parents accidentally left them strapped into carseats, and it won a much deserved pulitzer. It is also one of the most harrowing things I have ever read.

Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.

This man left the junkie comment because he is afraid. He is afraid his own children could become drug addicts. He is afraid his children, through no fault of his, through no fault of anyone at all, could die at 30. When presented with real, tangible evidence of the pain and grief a mother feels at the drug related death of her own child, and the reality that it could happen to anyone, it became so overwhelming that it was too much for him to bear.

Those "Sandy Hook Truthers" harass the father of a victim because they are afraid. They are afraid their own children could be viciously gunned down in cold blood any day of the week, bullets tearing their way through the bodies of the teachers standing in front of them, desperately trying to protect them from being murdered. They can't do anything to protect their children from this, and in fact there's nothing any of us can do to protect our children from being murdered at random, at school any day of the week, at the whim of any mentally unstable individual with access to an assault rifle. That's the harsh reality.

When faced with the abyss of pain and grief that parents feel over the loss of their children, due to utter random chance in a world they can't control, they could never control, maybe none of us can ever control, the overwhelming sense of existential dread is simply too much to bear. So they have to be monsters. They must be.

And we will fight these monsters, tooth and nail, raging in our hatred, so we can forget our pain, at least for a while.

After Lyn Balfour’s acquittal, this comment appeared on the Charlottesville News Web site:

“If she had too many things on her mind then she should have kept her legs closed and not had any kids. They should lock her in a car during a hot day and see what happens.”

I imagine the suffering that these parents are already going through, reading these words that another human being typed to them, just typed, and something breaks inside me. I can't process it. But rather than pitting ourselves against each other out of fear, recognize that the monster who posted this terrible thing is me. It's you. It's all of us.

The weight of seeing through the fear and beyond the monster to simply discover yourself is often too terrible for many people to bear. In a world of heavy things, it's the heaviest there is.

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2995 days ago
Great article on human empathy and why we sadly often avoid exhibiting it.
Sydney, Australia
3006 days ago
Probably the most thorough answer to "but why would someone write that?!"
Portland, OR
3006 days ago
Maybe get Discourse to actually work without 50,000 bugs before trying to change the world with it. (The key to empathy? Markdown! Apparently.)
2997 days ago
Feel better?
3006 days ago
Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.
Brno, CZ
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