A subtle hint of true empathy

With this edition of the dispatch, we're starting something new: Each quarter, we’ll introduce a seasonal theme. As our community takes root, we have the opportunity to explore an idea together in more depth. For the last quarter of 2014, our theme is Doors.

Few people have played a bigger part in the story of this community than Kathy Sierra. From the start, Kathy's enthusiasm and support made all the difference. When I was unsure whether the idea was worth pursuing, she convinced me it was. Over the next few months, she tolerated my lengthy emails and provided fountains of wisdom in reply, then wrote a thought-provoking essay for our founding members. And when she joined our community, she insisted on paying despite her endless contributions. I know she is a friend and hero to many of you as well.

This story would be more remarkable if it wasn't so common. Kathy has long championed each person's heroic journey. Anyone who has had the privilege of attending one of her amazing talks leaves believing they can make things better. Her groundbreaking book series taught Java to millions of developers (and taught authors a new way to approach writing). Through her Creating Passionate Users blog and work with companies large and small, she has been a persistent crusader for products and environments that respect and empower people.

At its heart, her message is simple and profound: it's not about your app or book (or whatever else), it's about what people do as a result of your app or book.

Always supportive, always generous with her time, Kathy has opened doors for authors and readers, developers and users. Through her example, she has demonstrated the absurdity of technology's gender imbalance.

For all of this, she has paid a price. Kathy has been the subject of trolls and attacks in ways none of us can stomach. This abuse has made it nearly impossible for her to be present online. Last July she returned to Twitter after many years away, but recently stepped away again. Her account of the past ten years is disturbing and infuriating.

It's unacceptable when any one of us has to decide whether expressing ourselves online is worth the cost of threats, disparagement, bullying, and the loss of personal privacy. We must do better. Uncommon gives me hope that a community of people can care about each other as we share with wonder the best parts of the world around us.

If you'd like to join us in thanking Kathy for her continuous inspiration, wisdom, and example, please send your stories and kind words. We’ll gather our collective gratitude and pass it along.

Thanks for opening so many doors for all of us, Kathy. We stand beside you. Your insight, humor, and pony photos are forever welcomed here.

Prompted

Last week's dispatch asked, Do you have a favorite memory of meeting someone for the first time?

Markus wrote:

I really like to remember how I met my current girlfriend. We talked for some days on OKCupid and she seemed really nice. I ended up with a spare ticket for a concert I was going to and invited her spontaneously on the afternoon before the concert took place. I knew she liked going to concerts but wasn't sure if she would just go there with some stranger. We were both in a rush to make this happen, even managed to grab a beer before and talk for an hour. Although the concert was just "okay", it was a very exciting evening. That was an awesome start into an awesome relationship.

Carie wrote:

Well, this is a "memory yet to come" because it hasn't happened yet. The whole time I was reading your post about friendships forming across great distances, I was thinking about a trip I just planned. Next May, I'll be traveling to Atlanta to attend the World Horror Convention, and I won't be going alone. I'll be traveling with two female writers who I've become very close to online over the past nine months. One of them lives here in Texas and we've met once. The other one lives in California and we'll be meeting for the first time when we arrive at the hotel room the three of us are sharing.

You wouldn't believe how excited I am about this trip. To be attending the writing workshops at WHC and meeting the guest speakers and pitching my writing to agents is one thing, but to do it among friends as we make the transition from "online only" to "IRL" is amazing. In fact, none of us would be going to this conference alone. It's too big of a commitment, too big of an expense, and, well, just a little too SCARY to do by ourselves. (And I don't mean "Horror Movie" scary, I mean "Will I know anyone? Who will I sit with at lunch?" scary.) We've planned a group attack. Safety in numbers. Collective inspiration. Someone to save us a seat if we go to the bathroom.

The internet truly has made the world a smaller place, and most of the time I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that I can have meaningful, inspiring relationships with people I've never met. But I'm even more grateful that this time I do get to meet these people. WHC, here we come!

Adam wrote:

My favorite "meeting" memory is actually of my first cat after leaving home. I was at the shelter trying to decide if I wanted to volunteer -- not even planning to adopt -- when this tiny black cat crawled into my lap, planted both front paws on my chest, looked me right in the face and squeaked. Well, the rest is history.

Ryan wrote:

I first met my friend Joe in a fifth-grade Sunday school class at a new church. We were sharing the room with some younger kids, I think, so coloring books and crayons littered the table, and my only clear memory from that day is of Joe picking up one of the crayons—a greenish-yellow color—and saying the color was “putrid”. He kept saying that word—“This is a really putrid color”—as though he had only recently learned the word and felted pleased with it. Even then I found his lopsided smile infectious, so even though one half of my brain was thinking, “who is this strange person?” the rest felt oddly drawn to him.

I don’t think I’ve heard Joe say that word very often since then, but it’s been 23 years, so I’m not really that sure any more. He still has a great smile, though, and he uses it all the time.

Danielle wrote:

I really love the experience of having met Cherie. She is a bubbly, real, and loving woman who happened to come to Juan Pelota in Austin because she heard we had Stumptown coffee. I recall the first interaction with her as she genuinely showed interest in me as her barista. I don't recall what she asked or what I answered, but I recall that my answer was guarded and I replied in a superficial way, but her response had a subtle hint of true empathy and knowing exactly what my answer was not revealing.

She and I began meeting up for coffee dates as she just felt that she was suppose to reach out to me. She was my mentor for years, until she became my host mom for a few months when I moved to Portland. Cherie can read people's hearts, and she knew what mine was conveying when I spoke to her that day because I was nearly in her same shoes. Our paths are like fraternal twins.

Our story reminds me how much every person holds a potential for greatness and love in our lives!

Uncommon reads

Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away by Clay Shirky:

The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is—really, actually, biologically—impossible to resist. Our visual and emotional systems are faster and more powerful than our intellect; we are given to automatic responses when either system receives stimulus, much less both.

We Want Privacy, but Can’t Stop Sharing by Kate Murphy:

“It’s a bad deal because what they get is mainly informational support like maybe a tip for a restaurant or link to an article,” she said. “What they don’t get is the kind of emotional and instrumental support that leads to well-being, like a shoulder to cry on or someone who will sit by your bedside at the hospital.”

And yet, she added, they continued to participate because they were afraid of being left out or judged by others as unplugged and unengaged losers. So the cycle of disclosure followed by feelings of vulnerability and general dissatisfaction continued.

A Trip to a New Perspective by Natalie Armendariz:

The silence was deafening and the reflections on the lake had no end. The only sound was the crackling of the fire.

Once the shadows started forming, a layer of fog skidded across the lake and I sat silently watching as it rolled in. I probably could have lived in that moment for a long time.

More on the dispatch

Along with our quarterly themes, we’ll include more contributions from people in the community through essays and interviews. As always, the goal is to stretch our perspective and strengthen the strands that bring us together.

Finally, during this season, we're adjusting the dispatch rhythm to every other week. We want to provide more breathing room in your inbox during what is often a hectic few months. We also want dedicate as much as time as possible to bringing our online home to life.

Your turn

Who has opened doors for you?