Share what you know

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I don’t know. That’s probably a natural reaction to spending three weeks in a country where I don’t speak the language, but still. The list just starts at Italian and goes on from there. It is not a short list, obviously.

Not knowing is scary. Especially when your whole industry is literally billed as part of the “knowledge economy.” Part what I do every day as a community manager is actually referred to as knowledge management, so how can I just not know so many things?

For me, knowledge has always been deeply connected with independence. If you don’t know something, don’t have the answer, or can’t do something yourself, well, that makes you dependent on someone else for help.

This is obvious, I know. That’s basically the underlying tenet of human society, right? We need each other.

Sometimes though, that’s still weirdly hard to accept.

Back in January, I wrote about how we’ve got to support our colleagues to push the web forward. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking on that story of Chris Hadfield and his colleague who wanted to learn how to pilot the Soyuz. Earlier this year, I had focused on how remarkable it was that Hadfield said, “Sure, let me teach you,” even though it meant more work and longer hours for himself.

These days, I’m almost more impressed with his colleague, Tom Mashburn, because he asked for help.

Most of us, in theory, like sharing what we know. It’s easy to picture ourselves as Hadfield in that story, right? Magnanimously putting in the time to help our colleagues learn new skills? Sure thing.

Talking about what we don’t know is harder, though. And often, asking for help is the hardest thing of all.

It’s easy to feel like not knowing is failing. For probably the entirety of your education, that was literally the truth. But now? As Kristina Halvorson reminded us earlier this year, “when it comes to the great wide world of digital, we are all making it up as we go.”

It’s easy to get isolated in our not-knowing-ness (it’s fine, just add “words” to the list of things I don’t know), to assume that everyone else must have the answers, must have already figured this out. Sometimes that’s true. More often than not though, we’re all grappling with the same questions.

The biggest thing I learned at the first conference I attended was that everyone was struggling with the same things. It really was like a weight lifting up off my shoulders. I didn’t have to know! Nobody knew!

It was glorious, and also terrifying. I’d been going along thinking there were answers out there and I just had to find them, but then I learned there was no silver bullet, and no answers just lying around, waiting to be discovered.

That’s part of the fun though. It’s part of why we do this work. We get to make the answers together.

But we can’t get there if we don’t talk about what we don’t know and ask for help when we need it. It’s not that some of us get to be Chris Hadfield, sharing our wisdom with Tom Mashburn and making the web better for everyone. To move the web forward, we all have to be both.

Share what you know, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.


This post originally appeared on The Pastry Box Project.

A more human web

Last month, Anne Gibson wrote an exceptional piece here, outlining an alphabet of accessibility. If you missed it, you should go back and give it a read, but here’s a quote to get you started:

Robin Christopherson (@usa2day) points out that many of us are only temporarily able-bodied. I’ve seen this to be true. At any given moment, we could be juggling multiple tasks that take an eye or an ear or a finger away. We could be exhausted or sick or stressed. Our need for an accessible web might last a minute, an hour, a day, or the rest of our lives. We never know.

I’m writing this from my couch, with my right leg propped up on some balled-up blankets and a pillow. My knee is aching again. It’s not excruciating, just a constant presence, somehow dull and scratchy at the same time.

This has been going on in fits and starts since January, but I’m only now starting to realize the toll it’s taken on me since then. It’s been a long year.

I do all the things. I rest, I ice, I NSAID, I talk to my doctor, I go to physical therapy, I do my exercises, I stretch, I brace, I tape.

Some days are better than others. Mostly, it’s frustrating and slow and any forward motion is of the one-step-forward-two-steps-back variety. The sort of thing that would be a montage in a film, only I don’t get to hit fast forward on my life to get back to the point where I can run again, or even just walk without pain.

The last month or so though, things were getting better. For the first time since January, I was no longer afraid. Afraid that something was really wrong. Afraid that this would never get better. Afraid that it was a signal of worse things to come. I hadn’t realized how heavily all of that was bearing down on me, until I was marveling its absence.

Two weeks ago, things inexplicably got worse. I was completely unprepared for it, thinking I’d made it safely to shore, only to get pulled back under by another wave. I’m somehow still surprised by the tunnel vision that comes with pain. It becomes the lens through which I make all decisions. Will this make things worse?

Even minor pain, when it drags on, creates a steady hum, a background noise to your life that makes it just a little harder to hear the things around you. There’s a frustration that bleeds into everything you do, every interaction that you have. It means constantly confronting the fact that activities you once completed with ease are now more challenging, or simply impossible. I keep trying to remind myself to slow down, to adjust, but I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it.

I’m not writing this for sympathy (or medical advice), but more as a reminder. Last month, Anne reminded us that we need a more accessible web, but we also need a more human web. These things go hand in hand.

In the grand scheme of things, my knee pain is impossibly small, and incredibly trivial. But it’s still on my mind a lot. Whether I want to or not, I’m carrying it around with me, everywhere I go. It’s taking up a corner of my brain while I walk down the street, or ride the T, or look at my Twitter timeline, or read that article, or try to respond to your email.

It’s so easy to view our own lives and problems in three dimensions, while seeing everyone else in two.

I’ve got my knee, but we’ve all got something, and I’d like to think that most of us, most of the time, are doing the best that we can.

Let’s try to remember that while we’re building this space together.


This post originally appeared on The Pastry Box Project.