David Heinemeier Hansson

April 23, 2024

As we forgive those who trespass against us

Google's announcement that they're done discussing politics at work widely echoed the policy changes Coinbase and we at 37signals did a few years back. So yesterday, I did two separate interviews with media outlets on the topic. And we spoke in part about those early weeks of reaction to our changes, as Twitter went crazy in response to the story. What was it like to briefly be the main, hated characters on the internet?

In the moment, it was awful, but in retrospect, it was a gift. 

A gift as a mirror, causing me to reflect on how I might have been part of a similar mob, on other topics, in different ways. A gift of a misogi challenge of character, bringing the satisfaction of overcoming a vicious social purgatory. But above all, the gift of knowing who was there for me and who wasn't.

It's a cliché, but "knowing who your friends are" really is a blessing. We walk through life much of the time without really knowing who'll be there when the going gets tough -- and our guesses are often wrong. Only the moment of truth, a real crisis, can clarify who's who and what's what. And so it did for me.

It brought unexpected friends and allies out in the light, and it revealed which friends and acquaintances would rather crawl back in the woodwork than stand by my side. I was surprised on both sides.

But while I'll never forget who made what choice, I've committed myself to forgive those who trespassed against me. In that Mike Tyson'esque way of refusing to let any of them change me. I'm certain I've been the weak link in past situations from time to time. I'm certain I've been too lazy or too timid to reach out to support someone who I knew needed it. I don't have many regrets in life, but the ones I have usually fall into this category: I should have been there for someone.

Beyond the personal, I think forgiving our trespassers is how we get out of this specific mess. The period from the late 2010s until at least 2022 really was crazy. It swept up so many otherwise kind and caring people into an ideology predicated on dividing us all into oppressors/oppressed, privileged/not, and other false dichotomies and identities. The way out of bad ideas like that is not a vendetta, but forgiveness. We all have the capacity for being swept up in a social movement or mob. But equally, we all have the path of finding our way out again.

I think there are a lot of people sitting right now with a nagging sense of regret from what they partook in during that crazy era. Who tried on the cape of being a Social Justice Warrior, but ultimately found it suffocating both intellectually and culturally. That's the reckoning we're going through right now.

The worst thing we can do to slow down the rejection of these bad ideas is by forever tarring people who were momentarily taken in by them. Yes, we should absolutely have a vigorous inquiry into the nature of these bad ideas, trace their lineage, and uncover their tragedies. But we can't persecute every individual who in a moment of fear, weakness or ignorance signed on to carry a torch because that's what everyone else was doing at the time.

That is to say, it's more important that we expedite and complete the broad societal rejection of bad ideas than it is to pursue every bad actor until the end of the earth. That's exactly why this vicious ideology proved so unstable, and unable to retain the peak of its power. It kept eating its own for ever-smaller transgressions against an ever-shifting doctrine. To beat that nonsense back, the side of sanity has to do the opposite. Be broader, more forgiving, and less high strung.

Lead us not into temptation of retaliation.

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.