Wikipedia:Accepting other users

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We need to accept each other and get along.

Accepting other users is an important part of editing Wikipedia. You need to work with other users, reduce tensions that cannot be avoided entirely, and cope with the stress of handling difficult situations. If you have a great deal of experience with a subject in the real world, it might be frustrating that a user with seemingly less knowledge of the topic may challenge your edits. You may have to learn to be patient and try to make the case for the edits you want to make. If you are in a leadership position in your community or job, it might be hard to accept at first that on Wikipedia, you are just an editor, with the same status as all other editors. It might take time to learn to accept suggestions from other users. As well, it might take some users some time to reach a level of civilized behavior: try to be patient with them.

Over 18 million served

By 2009, Wikipedia had over 10 million registered users (currently: 32,251,651), while also hosting almost as many IP-address users who choose to edit without a login. People trying to write articles can face opposition, or get help, from many different people. In many collaborative projects in the world, there is a certain homogeneity in the contributors. In a big science research project, the participants may come from 50 countries, but they will all be professors with Ph.Ds. In a massive amateur orchestra concert held outdoors, there might be a wide range of different participants of all races and genders, from 8 to 108, but they all will have studied Classical music for years. In a massive youth soccer tournament, there may be teams from all over the world, who speak 20 languages, but all the players have been trained in the sport for years by soccer coaches.

That's how a lot of collaborative projects work. But not Wikipedia. There is no "minimum requirement" in writing experience, research or subject matter expertise. You might think that an online collaborative encyclopedia would have restricted the membership to those with experience writing or researching, or to those with a great knowledge of the subject, or to those showing a serious interest, but Wikipedia has almost no restrictions for user access. A teenager who has never edited the encyclopedia can log on at her local Internet café and start editing the Quantum field theory article, and debate the way the way intermediate vector bosons are described with another editor, who happens to be a physics professor.

In a sense, Wikipedia is a grand social experiment that poses the question: "What if we took away many of the social barriers and hierarchies[1] that often exist in societies, and allowed anyone–from any walk of life, from any community, from any country–to collaborate on a huge intellectual project?" For over 8 years, Wikipedia has presented an open environment where, every week, thousands of people try to work together to write and review articles, including articles on the most contentious issues of the day. It is an environment that most people have probably never seen before, and they would never be expected, anywhere else, to work so closely with that many thousands of people.

Imagine eccentric personalities

Typically, people tend to assume that others think or feel the same way that they do. However, with Wikipedia, the exact opposite will sometimes be the case. In a tragedy, sadness is often to be expected, but some might see destruction as a cause for extreme joy. Always expect the unexpected:

  • A very well-educated editor who is an expert in the academic side of a topic might have very little knowledge of the practical, real world aspects of the topic.
  • An editor who seems to have little formal education (from the misspelled words in her posts) may have a vast expertise in the subject at hand.
  • Someone with a command of the written English language might rarely speak English at home.
  • A writer might be hearing impaired, with little experience of how words are pronounced by others.
  • People working on technical articles, such as science or engineering topics, might never have attended college.
  • A person who seems very nice at first, might turn vicious several days later.

An analogy that might be helpful to consider is the way pets behave when meeting others: a dog is very likely to growl and bark at someone they have never met, yet become extremely friendly and cooperative several months later. Same dog – totally different behavior.

Civilized behavior requires teaching

Abandoned children, raised in isolation, do not magically become "well-groomed" women or gentlemen of polite society. It is unreasonable to think that people raised in fascist countries, or with domineering parents, would instinctively react with polite consideration, and request, "Well, I'd like to know your opinion, so we can develop a common viewpoint". Consider some related analogies:

  • Children must be repeatedly taught to say, "May I..." or "Thank you".
  • Dogs must be toilet-trained for proper behavior in the household.
  • The upper class has a maxim: "A gentleman never loses his temper with the servants".[citation needed]
  • Also: "You can tell the size of the man by the size of the thing that makes him mad".

Be prepared to face people with radically different backgrounds and less education than you, or a great deal more education, or a great deal more knowledge of the subject matter. It is not always easy to get others to sort out the priorities. Few would be visionaries.

Avoid trouble if possible

Many times, when troubles arise, each person has a choice, as to whether they could just drop the matter, and simply move on to something else. The first option is to back away from the trouble (see essay: "WP:Avoiding difficult users" ). However, sometimes, there is a need to resolve a conflict and try to forge some type of compromise to reach a true consensus, despite the difficulties involved. There is a famous quote of Sartre, "Hell is other people". Although many people are often very cooperative, there are limits, and when facing a massive confrontation, the situation can seem hopelessly deadlocked. It is important to find ways to accept the other users, and try to resolve the conflicts, to some extent.

Coping methods

There are many ways to alleviate the stress, caused when handling difficult situations. Some methods are:

  • Don't get angry – When interacting with thousands of other users, beware becoming angry by so many problems in so many diverse areas. And always remember "don't panic".
  • Count from 1 to 10 articles – Don't just back away and relax by counting from 1 to 10; instead, try editing 10 (or 30) other articles (perhaps click "Random article"), before returning to an article where recent trouble has occurred.
  • Look for possible benefits – Rather than dwell on issues causing anger, imagine how much worse it could become if others were to get even madder. Consider: What has the confrontation taught; what could be avoided elsewhere? Always look on the bright side of life: there are lessons to be learned and, on the other hand, the situation could have become much worse. Be thankful for the positive aspects of the situation. Each person should seek what works best for them.

Anger can poison daily events

If the frustrations and stress are not reduced, then anger can build to interfere with other events:

On balance, it would be preferable to merely accept, at some level, the actions of other users, and let go of any resentments, anger, or stress. Be willing to let others have the months, or years, they need to grow and learn how to cooperate in more civilized ways.

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Colosseum in Rome, Italy - April 2007.jpg


  1. ^ Yes, Wikipedia is not completely non-hierarchical. There are administrators on the project who make decisions on certain matters and help resolve disputes. But all the editors are equal. There are no "junior editors" or "senior editors", or different levels of status assigned to editors based on years of experience on the project, credentials, work experience, or any other factor. Also see m:Wikipedia power structure

See also

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