Don’t Be a “Chet”

I recently read Ashe Dryden’s brutally honest indictment of the tech community, We deserve better than this. (If you haven’t read it, do it now! I will wait…) I am not completely naive to the fact that women in tech face many additional challenges, but to me this has always seemed like a distant problem. I have never personally witnessed any of these egregious acts, and this led me to believe that it’s not happening in my community (the PHP community). Thanks to Ashe, I now realize that I have been making a lot of foolish assumptions and overlooking signs that all is not well in the community that I love. I can’t afford to continue believing that the problem does not exist or is “not that bad”.

Ashe’s post sparked a lot of discussion and provoked a wide range of reactions. Many were positive and supportive (most notably, Aaron Vegh’s), but unfortunately some people attempted to play down the issue or even attack Ashe. I will not mention any of these negative replies specifically because they’re honestly not worth reading.

As for my own reaction, I will attempt to persuade you to be a part of the solution not part of the problem, and I will show you how to do it.

Don’t Be a Chet!

I originally planned to entitle this post “Don’t be an Asshole”, but instead of repeatedly throwing that word at you, I’ll only write it once. I am substituting Chet, the obnoxious brother from Weird Science, a thoroughly unredeemable character who took every opportunity to be unpleasant to everyone he interacts with. For those who have seen the movie, I think you’ll find that he is a suitable equivalent. No one wants to be around him, and no one wants to be like him in any way.

How to Avoid Being a Chet

It’s really not that hard to avoid being a terrible person. Just think about what you do and say. If you think something you say is likely to be interpreted in a negative way, don’t say it. If your actions might make others uncomfortable, don’t do them. Humans have reason and self-control. Use them!

It’s fairly easy avoid offending someone with the same sensibilities as yourself. Consider who you’re speaking to and also who else will hear you. Empathize. Consider what you know about the other people and how well you know them. With people you know well, you likely know where to draw the line. For people you don’t know, err on the side of caution.

Also consider your current setting. While your friends may enjoy your sense of humor over drinks, they probably don’t want you cracking jokes while they’re trying to listen to a conference talk. (Well, maybe they do; you know your own friends better than I do.) On the subject of conferences, people generally attend in order learn and network with their peers. With very, very few exceptions, they did not come to the conference to “hook up”. Keep it professional!

Tolerating Chets Makes You One Too

All it takes for the Chet-culture to survive is for good people to let it exist. If you see or hear something that you think is offensive (or even suspect could be offensive), do not stand idly by. Either call the Chet out for this behavior, or report it to the appropriate authority (a boss, human resources, conference organizers).

It doesn’t matter if you are the (potentially) offended person or just a witness. Stand up for what’s right! Victims have it hard enough. They shouldn’t have to face it alone.

D’oh! I Was a Chet. What Can I Do?

Even with the best intentions, you will cross the line at some point and say or do something that offends or annoys another person. Due to misunderstood sarcasm and overly stubborn debating, I have found myself acting like a Chet on several occasions. In some cases, I have been fortunate to have a friend call me out on it. In other cases, I inadvertently burned some bridges.

When you realize you’ve been a Chet, apologize! It may not have been intentional, but suck it up and say you’re sorry. If you’re lucky, you will be forgiven and there will be no permanent damage. If you’re unlucky, you might not be forgiven. There’s not much else you can do about it. Perhaps it will take some time, or maybe you have permanently lost a friend. You’ve made your bed; now you must lie in it.

Zero Tolerance… FTW!

It is possible to be a Chet to anyone: man, woman, child, animal, etc. Though I personally find certain types of Chet-ness to be particularly egregious, this type of behavior is unacceptable in all forms. Your behavior has consequences. It can hurt other people, it can hurt your reputation, and it can close a lot of doors for you. If you don’t care about these things, you may be a sociopath, and you should seek professional help.

If we work together, we can squash the scourge of Chet-ness out of existence in our community. Don’t tolerate it! Speak up if you see it. If you let this behavior go unchecked, it will silently grow in the shadows and pop up more and more frequently.  Let everyone know this is NOT ACCEPTABLE! Either the Chets must change their ways or they will no longer be welcome here.

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