David Heinemeier Hansson

March 18, 2022

Always provide a way out

It's never been easier to dig yourself into an ideological hole. Get swept up in The Current Thing without really thinking it through or simply by following whatever herd you've been trotting along with so far. The internet today is nothing if not a credence reinforcement program. But some times people do change their mind, some times they've finally or suddenly had enough, and when that happens, the smart thing to do is gracefully help them find the exit.

Because if you don't, if you block the graceful exit, you'll end up pushing those with doubts who are ready to leave right back into their former doctrines. Few humans can weather the world without companions. Most will choose comfort among compatriots, even if internal opposition to the shared ideology has crept in, rather than be hazed by new allegiences.

I found Alex Garcia's opinion piece Sanctions Should Give Russians a Way Out a perfect illustration of this principle. In the West's zest to seal off Russia for its awful invasion, we might end up trapping Russians who'd eagerly oppose the current regime, if only we gave them a way other than martyrdom. But if trapped, without a realistic path to dissent or defection, we shouldn't be surprised if they eventually accept and embrace whatever modicum of comfort they might find in life as a supporter of the only regime that'll have them.

You see this too at the lower stakes of ideological adherence. Certain strains of wokeism that pushes ceremonial defenestrations even in the face of groveling confessions, and thus sends a take-no-prisoners signal that repels any hope of broad coalition building for its political aims. Or the MAGA movement that holds allegiance to Trump as the True Scotsman test for whether someone believes in America!!

If you climb further down the ladder of criticality, you can see this with the intellectual purity tests in certain technical communities. I always get that vibe from some functional programming types that enjoying the object oriented paradigm as well means you could never truly be one of them.

And on the contrary, the reception I met from much of the Bitcoin world when having a fundamental change of heart was exactly the opposite. Open arms, glad-you're-here vibes, don't-worry-about-getting-everything, and I-can-see-where-we're-lacking-too sensibilities. That stood out as a model in providing an exit (or, I suppose, an entry!) for those intersted in changing their minds.

We should all seek to lower the price for those who wish to be convinced by our arguments, if we care to be effective persuaders. It's hard enough for someone to give up their ideological moorings on the sunniest of days. It's virtually impossible if there's a jeering crowd waiting to greet them on the new shore.

The Lord's Prayer got this one right: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Open your arms and your mind to those who've come to see it your way, and forget quickly where they came from. This is the mercy of a winning argument.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.