Active vs. Activist

Update: There’s a now apparent disconnect between what I intended in this post, and what it came across as. The poor choice of labels and tasteless examples are getting in the way of what I was trying to say. My intention was to cry out against celebrity, opportunism, and abuse of status. Turns out, I came across as doing those things that I was trying to say were bad.

The point I was trying to make is that the headline making news of individual’s “shocking” or “extreme” actions are not usually the right way to enact change (there are times when it is appropriate, though). It was supposed to be a call to action, to live the example of the ideals that you espouse, to influence those around you toward better practices by showing them and teaching them, to be a part of the solution and not just someone who wants to get their 15 minutes of fame in the limelight of extremist action.

I think @derekgreer undertood my intent best: “are you just someone that likes to stir up trouble or are you trying to help a cause along?”


The Original Post



A long time ago, I heard someone ask and heard another person respond:

Q: “Are you an environmental activist?”

A: “No. I’m an active environmentalist.”

I honestly don’t remember where I heard this, or when, but it has stuck with me for many years.


What’s the difference?

I don’t know what the original respondent intended as the difference, but here’s what I take from this:

An movement activist is someone who gets a lot of public attention by doing outlandish and even crazy or illegal things. An activist may bomb an abortion clinic, tackle the Pope, or chain themselves to some large object to prevent ‘bad’ things from happening to it. These people tend to do these things for attention – attention for themselves and ‘for ‘the movement’ (though this can be questioned). They make the headlines and people pay attention for a few minutes. These people are the ‘celebrities’ of ‘the movement’. Once the story is old news, though, people go back to what they were doing, ignoring whatever movement this scene was promoting.

By contrast, a person who is active in a movement is pretty much the opposite of that. They aren’t in it for attention or glory. They don’t necessarily care about the name or ‘the movement’ as a formal organization. Rather, they see the underlying goals and ideals and are actively working within them. They are out in the real world every day, making a difference in someone else’s life by _living_ the examples and ideals of ‘the movement’. They promote the principles and practices of ‘the movement’ not through voice and showmanship, but through example, by serving and through real leadership. They are not celebrities. They are servants, enriching the lives of those that ‘the movement’ is claiming to benefit. … this doesn’t mean the active person gets no attention. There are plenty of authorities and leaders that are making waves and getting attention who I don’t consider to be activists. But they are getting attention for the right reasons – for doing good and helping others do better.


Activism and Active People In Software Development

Recently, there has been some interesting conversation around twitter and the blogosphere around the state of certain movements in software development. There are a number of people who love to be the activist in various software movements. This can be said of the Alt.NET movement, the Software Craftsmanship movement, and probably others. Unfortunately, those people are also the ones doing the most damage to the movements.

So, am I an activist or someone active in any of these movements? … does anyone care? I doubt that you do, and you shouldn’t if you do. The real question is whether _you_ are an activist in ‘the movement’, or are active in promoting better principles and practices by living the example. I sincerely hope that you are the active person, living and teaching by example.

the sad thing is that this blog post is likely going to wither in the echo chamber with no real effect. for better or worse, I am a part of the echo chamber by association if not by action.

About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • Wow. What an utterly manipulative, opportunistic characterization of activism. This post may bolster your own social climb, but you do a tremendous disservice to the innumerable efforts that went into the podium that you now take for granted. I’m deeply disappointed with the implications of this kind of dialectic gaming coming from you.

  • There is plenty of action. I don’t think you need to beat up on anything that was done either. Perhaps you’re seeing it wrong.

  • mbergal

    This is an extremely one-sided view on a role of “movement activist”.

    For one, how exactly are you proposing to assemble a movement w/o bringing stuff to attention of people? By example? So if you start to recycle all people around you start to recycle too. That would be hard to believe.

    Please explain.

  • For the record – i am oversimplifying the situation, to an extreme. i’ve painted a black and white picture of something that is a full spectrum of color and shades.

    Adam – I have not, nor will i ever say, that there is no action being taken for positive change. your comment via twitter has a lot of merit to it.

    “adymitruk @derickbailey @bellware I also got a bit of the “activist == bad” vibe from the post. I didn’t think those examples were needed”

    if you don’t like my label, well… ok… bad label choice.


    rather than calling me manipulative and saying that i’m playing games with definitions and understanding, why not just tell me i’ve chosen a bad label and made too much of an extreme out of the situation?

    i think some of the response on twitter, from scott, have been much more constructive than what i’m seeing here.

    bellware @derickbailey then you’ve failed to represent the continuum, communicating only the extremes and obscuring the fullness of action

    bellware @derickbailey your article will also serve the opposite of your goal. whether you understand that or not yet is another matter.

    ok… i’m opinionated, oversimplifying, painting extremes in a continuum, and probably wrong. i have no problem being told i’m wrong. just do it in a constructive manner, as these twitter comments have.

  • Derick,

    You’re a community influencer now. The price of the attention you receive is great attention to detail on your part and an ever-greater dedication to understanding the repercussions of your voice to an ever-greater depth of consideration and analysis. Not holding yourself to a higher standard while being granted greater social capital by the community isn’t acceptable. You’re no longer in a position that can require or expect treatment with kid gloves. Those days are in your past. Now is the time when the quality of your actions must be commensurate with the level of trust invested in you.

  • Liam

    For the record, I have invested zero trust in Derick.

  • @Scott – good point

    @Liam – does that comment really add any value to the conversation, or help me see my mistakes?

  • Steve

    Derick, that comment from Liam could be taken many ways, I guess it’s up to him to clarify what he means. But it easily could be taken as more of a disagreement with Scott over his statements.

    In a way, this reminds me of the arguing over steroids in baseball, where reporters on different sides of the issue appeared daily on sports shows across the country viomently arguing their points. What was funny is that the average person really didn’t care, but that didn’t stop months of debate over an issue.

    Could it be that the vast majority of the .NET “thinking” community really doesn’t give a crap about this stuff? I know when I come to a site like this, Codebetter, etc., I don’t really care about this stuff (yes, I recongnize the irony in that I am posting in a comment, but bare with me). Show me how to make my applications better, show me how to better do my job, THAT is what I care about.

    Op Ed type posts are fun to read and debate, but it take an awful lot to get me to stop coming ot a site that still gives me good, thoughtful posts about things I want to learn. On the other hand, if a site goes all Op Ed, then I won’t bother coming back. Is someone like Derick, or Karl from Codebetter a “community influencer”? I’d say only part of the time, when they are giving us technical blogs then they are, when they do opinion blogs, they’re just another guy with a blog.

    People are intelligent enough to make that distinction.

  • Peter G

    boring, boring, boring….
    stick to the technical stuff, Derick.

  • I liked the original post.

    I am impressed by the fact that this comment thread turned into drama queen venting so fast. I didn’t realize your commenting audience consisted of so many wanna-be teenage girls.

    For the record, I think “community influencer” is a bit overstated. I don’t mean that as a dig at you either. I think a lot of people make stuff out to be *way* more important than it is. This post, for example, is simply common sense – it didn’t require the hyperventilating of the comments immediately after it. =)