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Why I name names

Photo: Wikia

If you submit something to me and request anonymity, I will protect your identity. But nearly all of the material I critique comes from public news articles, people’s social media feeds, and mass emails that a company or agency sends to an individual. And in those cases, I don’t mask people’s identity. Here’s why:

  • The corporate context is relevant. When Johnson & Johnson posts an overwritten job description, it matters that it comes from a large, well-respected company. When Inc. magazine hosts a misleading post, both the author’s credentials and the publication matter. I want you to understand, not just what’s wrong with these pieces, but how they came to be.
  • My first objective is to teach, not to shame. If you don’t learn anything from my critique, I’ve failed. I praise what’s good and analyze what’s bad. Yes, I am quite happy to use humor to make my point, but when I make fun of something, it’s because it reveals the absurdity of writing bullshit and passing it off as truth.
  • I want to hold people responsible. Everyone who sends an email or makes a blog post should worry if their writing is ridiculous, and fix it. I’d like everyone to imagine that the words they publish will end up on withoutbullshit.com — if that makes them think twice and edit what they have written, that’s great. (I’d never ridicule anyone who sent me a one-to-one personal email, but when I hear from professional contacts now, they sometimes say “I have tried to write this email in a bullshit-free way.” I think that’s great.)
  • I give people a chance to respond. When possible, I will interview people and ask “why did you do this?” That’s what I did with the people who made useless infographics, for example. It’s not only fair, it’s revealing. (I can’t do this in cases that are very public — Donald Trump won’t talk to me — or extremely timely. And I’ve learned that journalists just ignore me.)
  • I have nothing to fear. People worry that if they name names, they’ll get in trouble with the boss, piss off a client, or make themselves unemployable. I have no boss, don’t worry about clients, and need no further employment. My commitment is to the truth and to you, my readers, as a group, not to any individual. In other words, I name names because I can, and you deserve someone who will.

What I do is not polite. But I value truth over politeness. I try not to be arrogant. When I speak to those I critique, there’s a sheepish acceptance — they know they need to do better. I will not change the names to protect those guilty of writing that wastes our time, because you deserve to know who they are and what they’ve done — and to make sure you do not become one of them.

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  1. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been trying to say, and how I’ve been trying to live my life, for some time now! “What I do is not polite. But I value truth over politeness” is one of the best “policy statements” that I’ve heard!

    I aspire to meet you. And, if you knew my history, I’m confident you would appreciate why.

  2. So long as a person does not bully or demean someone they’re calling out for improvement, truth should be expressed, even when it’s not necessarily being clothed in politeness.