I read a blog post I hated.
It was written by a guy named Wil Wheaton. Apparently, he’s pretty well-known as a actor (don’t worry – I didn’t know he was an actor when I read his post and it wasn’t my distaste for actors that drove this). In the post to which I object, he linked to another post (that was the source of the request to share his content that was the source of his indignation) that I also read. It’s awesome and inspiring and worth a read. He’s evidently a pretty thoughtful guy and has a lot of good things to say. It’s clear he’s interested in producing excellent content and sharing it with people who can use it to their benefit. Sharing his struggle, his battle with depression, is helpful to many. His vulnerability in doing so is a beautiful thing.
Thank you for that, Wil.
Yet I really hated his post about being asked to share his content without being paid.
It wasn’t so much the central premise I hated as the way it was delivered. It was the attitude. The point of the post was that you don’t have to give away content for free and that you should value yourself and what you create. These things are clear and self-evident. It seemed to go further (though not explicitly) in stating that you have an obligation to be paid for your labor. I disagree with this implication, but it’s something not worthy of writing a further rebuttal.
I didn’t hate the post because of the emphasis on the individual. This is actually something with which I agree and that is very near and dear to my heart. I love this. I like to say that I am very much an advocate for the smallest and most underrepresented minority in the world: the individual.
Yes, if you create something or do something or provide something of value, you should be rewarded for that.
Yes, if you don’t seek reward, it will often not be given to you.
I think all human relationships should be mutually beneficial or they should be severed. If someone asks you for something and you don’t feel the arrangement would give you reciprocal value, telling them no is a perfectly acceptable answer. It is the best answer you can give.
That’s the thing, though. Saying no should be enough. Asked and answered. This business of making someone out to be a villain for having the gall to ask for a favor is harmful. This whole business of ire and an attitude of “how dare you” ask me for something is offensive. People ask for things all the time, and they should be welcome to do so. It’s a request, not an insult. It’s a compliment that someone wants to share your content. That they want to do so without paying you may be adequate reason to say no, but it’s not a reason to give them grief. Someone asked you for something and you said no. This does not make you better than them.
I write posts for John Sonmez’s Simple Programmer site. I like doing it and it gets my writing in front of a different audience in a different place. It gives me a chance to interact with editors and graphic artists and to create a really nice product I wouldn’t take the time to do on my own. It helps me grow. Plain and simply, I like John and I like his team and doing things for him/them is a pleasurable experience for me. John gets my content to share without having to pay me with money. I get adequate compensation in the transaction. It is beneficial to everyone involved. If it stops being beneficial, I’ll stop doing it. This is as it should be.
It’s for me to decide what is adequate payment for my work and for no one else.
Money is not the only form of payment. Exposure certainly can be a valid reason for doing something. I don’t see why that suggestion is so offensive. Sharing content with an audience is an act that helps to establish further relationships. Sharing content for free on your own blog is only slightly different than doing so on someone else’s.
I also ask awesome developers to have conversations with me that I record and share in the form of the Developer On Fire podcast. I do not offer them any money for doing it and I’ve still had great success in getting some of the most amazing developers in the world to talk to me. Many of them have reported having great experiences in being involved with my show. If they had an attitude of superiority and a condescending moralizing over my evil at daring to ask them to talk to me, they’d have missed out on the rewards of sharing their stories on my podcast.
I’m a geek and it is one of the great successes in my recent life to have done something so uncomfortable to me as to start reaching out to people I like and admire and ask them for something. That has not been easy for me.
Of course, I’m not just asking. I’m making an offer for something I think benefits them as well.
There have been several potential guests I have asked for interviews who have declined. I am not going to reveal names – I asked privately because I want honest answers about the desire to participate without any attempt to shame someone for saying no. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated and I don’t want any of my listeners to think less of someone because they turned me down. They are at liberty to say no and have no obligation to speak to me. Those who have told me no have done so graciously and I cannot ask for anything more.
I asked and they said no and that’s the end of the story. I would not like it if they were to go on a rant about how some guy asked them for an interview and “can you imagine” and “the nerve.” I haven’t experienced that directly, but that’s how I felt for the people asking Wil Wheaton if he’d be willing to share his content.
Publicly ranting about merely asking and making someone who would ask for something that may be mutually beneficial out to be an evil fiend is problematic and it’s sad. It’s like ridiculing someone for expressing a romantic interest in you. If you’re not interested, you can decline without making a production out of how incensed you are at the mere suggestion. Come on – it was intended to be something you might even like.
Offering to enter into a relationship with someone is a gift. It’s an act of vulnerability. It is an emotional ordeal to deal with potential rejection – it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to reach out, but it’s tough for humans. When someone does that for you, they deserve your thanks. It’s something to be celebrated. It is a cause for rejoicing, even if you don’t want the offer they bring you.
That people respond to requests as though they were assaults is a big part of the problem. If someone likes you and wants an association with you, is it really helpful to belittle them, especially publicly? This is why “no, thanks” is such a popular formulation. It captures the sentiment of not being interested in going forward with the offer, but understanding that it was offered from a perspective of hoping for mutual benefit.
Being nasty provides no value.
If someone expresses thinking your are worth their while and you respond with ranting, indignation, and/or ridicule, they were wrong in their premise of thinking you’re worth the time.
You don’t have to say yes and I agree that you often shouldn’t, but the act of asking is not something to take as a negative – in fact it’s quite the opposite.