Selfishly Selfless; Selflessly Selfish or My Responsibility to a Network

I’ve stewed and pondered and argued, for quite some time now about the “rules” or guidelines for what folks should do in regards to online networks.  Specifically, I bristle whenever someone writes about how others should act or behave or post or not post or whatever.  I don’t know that there’s one code of behavior that specifically works across contexts and cultures and all the other separations and connections between you and me.  It’s complicated, at best.  Dave, in a recent post, describes it this way:

If you are in a community you are, in some way, responsible to that community, in a network you are responsible to yourself and the rules that govern you are those set forth by our society as laws.

I think Dave makes a useful distinction in that I am responsible to a community, but in a network relationship or environment, I am responsible to myself.  I find that people tend to feel “guilt” or “worry” or concern when they choose to act in a way that is useful to them but does not reflect the rules or culture of someone else.  While I understand those feelings and sometimes have them myself, I’ve come to think that most of them are wasted energy, often, but not always, devolving into distraction.

In my network relationships or environments, it’s not useful for me to act as others would prefer I act; it’s preferable to act in a way that maximizes the value I receive from those networks.  I find that there’s great value, both to me and to others, when I act in such a way.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s value in me being a jerk, or in treating others poorly (which is, I guess, also being a jerk), but it does mean that my concern for the feelings of others should probably end right around the time I figure out what I need to either do or understand.  The value to others in a network relationship, at least as I’ve experienced it, comes from the ability to follow my process or to improve upon it to meet a slightly different set of needs.  (Or, perhaps, there’s an aesthetic value to some of this, too, that I’m not getting at here.)

Over time, I’ve come to call this basic guideline that governs my behavior “selfish selflessness.”  Or “selfless selfishness.”  I get stuck on which word should come first there, but, basically, it seems that whenever I act in a way that focuses on my needs first, it ends ultimately more useful to others than it would’ve if I was thinking first of others and then myself.  That’s a bit quite contradictory, but the older I get, the more I notice that the truly interesting bits of the world and of myself are the contradictory ones.

I enjoy and gain value from following folks who are doing interested things, and who find beauty and passion and anger and whatever from the world in which they regularly engage.  I’m quite content to follow along behind someone blazing a trail of their own understanding.  I think others are, too.  There’s certainly a place for considering one’s audience, but when it comes to network behavior, I find value in considering myself first, audience second.  (There’s another conversation lurking in this paragraph about the difference between writing for self and writing for others, but I’ll save that for later.)

Dave has launched a much more formal exploration of community responsibility.  I’m looking forward to his continued exploration, as well as the continuation of my own limited explorations.  I think his dichotomy of responsibility for communities and networks is worthy of much more thinking.  I guess, if anything, I’d call this idea of selfish selflessness (certainly, there’s a better term), my own network responsibility guideline.

But that’s just me.

10 thoughts on “Selfishly Selfless; Selflessly Selfish or My Responsibility to a Network

  1. Thanks for putting my network behavior in context for me. I am constantly worried that I am wasting people’s time, because I refuse to simply reiterate the sounds of the echo chamber. I see little use for this sort of interaction. I guess I must be doing something right, because my followers keep growing. But even if they were shrinking, I think I would still agree with you when you say:

    In my network relationships or environments, it’s not useful for me to act as others would prefer I act; it’s preferable to act in a way that maximizes the value I receive from those networks. I find that there’s great value, both to me and to others, when I act in such a way.

    Your words:

    the older I get, the more I notice that the truly interesting bits of the world and of myself are the contradictory ones.

    I enjoy and gain value from following folks who are doing interested things, and who find beauty and passion and anger and whatever from the world in which they regularly engage. I’m quite content to follow along behind someone blazing a trail of their own understanding. I think others are, too.

    Remind me of the final words of On The Road by Jack Kerouac:

    “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

    These are the types of people I want to see in my Twitter feed! Thanks for, unbeknownst to you, becoming a mentor of sorts for me.

    Jabiz (Intrepid Teacher)s last blog post..Support Daraja

  2. One’s network and one’s communities are only partially overlapping sets. It makes sense, therefore, that ideas which make one or the other productive might not have the same effect in areas that overlap, etc.

    Assuming that I buy into the dichotomy given (responsibility to community from within and to oneself in a network), the troublesome questions remain regarding productive activity when in both simultaneously.

    But I don’t think that dichotomy is particularly accurate. A healthy community will provide rewards for being part of that community the presumably outweigh the costs of taking the community into account– otherwise, why belong? But a healthy community can only exist when people also act for their own “selfish” ends– otherwise, again, there’s no value in being part of it.

    And let’s not forget the problem that in any particular instance and with any particular utterance you might be working in your network but in my community, or vice-versa.

    Finally, I imagine I could rustle up as many that feel as I do– that the most valuable contributions we make come when we forget ourselves in the heat of enthusiasm and passion– but in your model here we can’t both be right. That seems a bit Western and limited.

    Chris Lotts last blog post..Linklog: 2008-11-12

  3. Bud,

    For what it’s worth, networks are about pushback, and if we are too afraid of violating rules of those communities at the expense of moving our thinking forward, than I believe that is a mistake.

    From the few times that you and I have been in the same discussions, either synchronously or asynchronously, your contrarian viewpoints always serve to move conversation in challenging directions. For a good deal of us, this is our main source of professional development, and if it is grounded in solid thinking that challenges our status quo, but still is bound by civility, I think we are all the better for it.

    Patricks last blog post..Daily Diigo Links 11/15/2008

  4. @chris,

    Not sure where the dichotomy is… to talk about two things and deconstruct where they don’t intersect is not to say that they are the only two members of a given set. Plus… can you elaborate what you mean by ‘western’ – my guess is that you mean something like ‘modernist’ as the ‘eastern’ that would be the other half of the ‘western/eastern’ dichotomy that you’ve constructed is now very much more ‘western’ than the west is…

    dave cormiers last blog post..Community Responsibility vol 1 – OMG is this a community?

  5. I wonder, and I have to agree with Chris, if this selfish selflessness is coming about because of the increase connection of the west with the east. Typical “Western” ideologies focus around the individual, while “Eastern” focuses more around the community.

    As westerners we have an ingrained need to push ourselves and fulfill our needs, but as our world becomes more and more connected the eastern thoughts of the community must come into play and find a place in our networks, where our cross continent connections are the strongest.

    And a combining of the two, a need to take care of the individual and the community, creates Bud’s “Selfish Selflessness.”

  6. I agree with you about being selfishly selfless- or whichever arrangement you finalize… but I guess my outlook is that I will always wear my educator hat, and act and react within my network/community with that in mind.

    One example: during the election, I was really discouraged with all the negative and (frankly) off-putting comments and blog posts I read by educators from whom I expected more. In a blog post, I noted that, in a community that is supposedly helping to move schools into learning communities, many educators were acting like children who couldn’t agree to disagree in a civil manner. To that extent, I think we do have a responsibility, especially for young people, to show how we help each other along through sharing and respecting each other, even when we disagree- not starting flame wars in Twitter and blogs.

    Michelle Baldwins last blog post..Classroom Blogging with a Purpose

  7. Do you have time for yet another network? Our goal is to improve the practice of teaching writing, and our first phase was to create our blog, The Writing Teacher, http://www.thewritingteacher.org.

    Our second phase it to put together tips from teachers, which we are doing as part of a contest at http://contest.thewritingteacher.org. And, we have plans to expand from there. All resources will be free.

    If you have thoughts for an article, please let us know.

    Mirch Weisburghs last blog post..A Few Principles of Writing Instruction by Michael Hebert

  8. I belong to a lot of networks and I’ve noticed that there are times when those networks become communities. This became more apparent to me when the disembodied @s I met on Twitter became real breathing human beings when I talked to them face-to-face at NECC09.

    I try to get the most I can out of a network and that often includes social aspects beyond more pragmatic concerns. Am I only responsible to the members of my network when I engage them sociably instead of or in addition to whatever professional interaction we have? I think not.

    I take far more learning and resources from my network on Twitter than I contribute so I am maximizing my participation, but I also feel the obligation and need to contribute what I can when I can. I resent my followers who contribute nothing but benefit from following me.

    It is not guilt that propels me to contribute to my network, but rather then understanding that if everyone is only taking, the network cannot exist. If I am getting more from the network than I put into it, it is in my interest to maintain the continued existence of the network and to do that I have to participate and contribute.

    Oddly, that’s precisely how I think of my community.

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