On communities: Trading off our values... Sometimes

Not long ago I wrote about how much emotions matter in every community. In that post I explained the importance of emotions, how they affect our work and why I believe they are relevant for pretty much everything we do. Emotions matter is a post quite focused on how we can affect, with our actions, other people's emotional state.

I've always considered myself an almost-thick skinned person. Things affect me but not in a way that would prevent me from keep moving forward. Most of the time, at least. I used to think this was a weakness, I used to think that letting these emotions through would slow me down. With time I came to accept it as a strength. Acknowledging this characteristic of mine has helped me to be more open about the relevance of emotions in our daily interactions and to be mindful about other folks that, like me, are almost-thick skinned or not even skinned at all. I've also come to question the real existence of the so called thick-skinned people and the more I interact with people, the more I'm convinced they don't really exist.

If you would ask me what emotion hits me the most I would probably say frustration. I'm often frustrated about things happening around me, especially about things that I am involved with. I don't spend time on things I can't change but rather try focus on those that not only directly affect me but that I can also have a direct impact on.

At this point, you may be wondering why I'm saying all this and what all this has to do with both, communities and with this post. Bear with me for a bit, I promise you this is relevant.

Culture (as explained in this post), emotions, personality and other factors drive our interactions with other team members. For some people, working in teams is easier than for others, although everyone claims they are awesome team mates (sarcasm intended, sorry). I believe, however, that one of the most difficult things of working with others is the constant evaluation of the things we values as team members, humans, professionals, etc.

There are no perfect teams and there are no perfect team mates. We weight the relevance of our values everyday, in every interaction we have with other people, in every thing we do.

But, what values am I talking about here?

Anything, really. Anything that is important to us. Anything that we stand for and that has slowly become a principle for us, our modus operandi. Our values are our methods. Our values are those beliefs that silently tell us how to react under different circumstances. Our values tell us whether we should care about other people's emotions or not. Controversially, our values are the things that will and won't make us valuable in a team and/or community. Our values are not things we posses, they are things we are and believe. In other words, the things we value are the things we consider important that will determine our behavior, our interaction with our environment and how the events happening around us will affect us.

The constant trading off of our values is hard. It makes us question our own stances. What's even harder is putting other people's values on top of ours from time to time. This constant evaluation is not supposed to be easy, it's never been easy. Not for me, at least. Let's face it, we all like to be stubborn, it feels go when things go the way we like. It's easier to manage, it's easier to reason about things when they go our way.

Have you ever found yourself doing something that will eventually make someone else's work useless? If yes, did you do it without first talking with that person? How much value do you put into splitting the work and keeping other folks motivated instead of you doing most of it just to get it done? Do you think going faster is more important than having a motivated team? How do you measure your success? Do you base success on achieving a common goal or about your personal performance in the process?

Note that the questions above don't try to express an opinion. The answers to those questions can be 2 or more depending on your point of view and that's fine. I don't even think there's a right answer to those questions. However, they do question our beliefs. Choosing one option over the other may go in favor or against of what we value. This is true for many areas of our life, not only our work environment. This applies to our social life, our family life, etc.

Some values are easier to question than others but we should all spend more time thinking about them. I believe the time we spend weighting and re-evaluating our values allow us for adapting faster to new environments and for us to grow as individuals and communities. Your cultural values have a great influence in this process. Whether you come from an individualist culture or a collectivist one (Listen to 'Customs of the world' for more info on this) will make you prefer one option over the other.

Of course, balance is the key. Giving up our beliefs every time is not the answer but not giving them up ever is definitely frustrating for everyone and makes interactions with other cultures more difficult. There are things that cannot be traded and that's fine. That's understandable, that's human. That's how it should be. Nonetheless, there are more things that can be traded than there are things that you shouldn't give up. The reason I'm sure of this is that our world is extremely diverse and we wouldn't be were we are if we wouldn't be able to give up some of our own beliefs from time to time.

I don't think we should give up who we are, I think we should constantly evaluate if our values are still relevant. It's not easy, though. No one said it was.

Flavio Percoco is a passionate developer, with interests in languages, cloud computing and distributed architectures. He's currently working for Red Hat where he spends most of his time hacking on OpenStack. Flavio promotes open source, APIs, humility and loves the philosophy behind software and life. Flavio writes on his blog at flaper87.com and tweets on @flaper87.