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Author's profile photo Jon Reed

What Should a Blogger’s Terms of Discourse Be? – w/ 2012 intro

March 2012 update: I originally posted this on SCN in 2009, but as I review my old blogs this one jumped out to share on the new SAP SCN platform. I’ve seen some really good blogs on SCN, and some that didn’t seem to have much effort or thought. That leads us to a spirited discussion of what the aims of blogging should be – consider this piece one aspect of that – Jon.

In my own work inside and outside of SAP contexts, there are two things I am often reflecting on:

How should I conduct myself online, particularly in situations where I strongly disagree with someone else in a community, or when I feel I have been unfairly criticized or attacked?

How should I balance what I love about blogging: the immediacy and the (often) outspoken nature of an entertaining blog, with the need for intellectual and factual rigor?

I am always looking for tips to guide me in my efforts. I know, for example, that I have regrets about some things I have published (or even Tweeted) in the SAP field: sometimes for shooting too much from the hip, other times because I could have gone farther, made one more call to get another view, or dug for that crucial piece of data that would have driven my point home.

Recently, while doing a spring cleaning purge of my office, I came across a short document I found quite relevant. For those who haven’t seen my SCN profile video, I am a Hampshire College graduate. I served on the presidential search team that hired President Gregory Prince to serve at Hampshire, where he began his term in 1987. Greg led the college until his departure in 2005.

Greg was a leader I admired, willing to take unpopular or unconventional stands. One time I will never forget: in the summer of 1988, I was working at a banquet for college donors, pouring drinks and cleaning tables. After dinner, the group gathered around a long table to discuss Hampshire’s future. I was shocked when Greg called on me to sit at the table with the donors and participate in the discussion as a peer. It was a lasting reminder that leadership means drawing out the views of everyone in the community, not just the so-called rock stars who have been afforded a certain status.

At any rate, Greg was also someone who was brilliant at engaging in heated arguments without ever losing a thoughtful respect for the views of those he was jousting with. He once derided the appalling state of public education and the federal remedies around testing standards as a “failure of imagination,” a phrase I’ve thrown down in heated moments of my own in years since.

To the point of this blog post, Greg also developed a “Principles of Discourse for Hampshire College,” a document he probably made after one of his many run-ins with student activists (at Hampshire, engaging with politically vigorous students is part of the President’s job description).

While scouring through my office, I stumbled on this document. I was struck by how relevant it felt to my own pursuits, both as a blogger and SAP community member:

“1) That we value truth and the process of seeking truth as ends in themselves;

2) That we accept responsibility to articulate a position as close to the truth as one can make it, using to the best of one’s ability, available evidence, and the rules of reason, logic and relevance;

3) That we listen openly, recognizing always that new information may alter one’s position;

4) That we welcome evaluation and accept and even encourage disagreement and criticism even to the point of seeking out for ourselves that which will disprove our position;

5) That we refuse to reduce disagreement to personal attacks or attacks on groups or classes of individuals;

6) That we value civility, even in disagreement;

7) That we reject the premise that ends, no matter how worthy, can justify means which violate these principles.”

As I consider these principles in an SAP community context, I’m aware that an unwavering pursuit of the truth is probably not the most fashionable way to approach enterprise software discussions. Too many of us feel pressure, either stated or not, from our sponsors or employers, to toe a certain line in our public comments. Even those who claim to want honest feedback are not always happy with how it reads on a web page. Sometimes we wrap ourselves in “honesty” when we are being at best intellectually sloppy, and at worst, a bit cruel. And there is always the question of how to balance our commercial interests with our desire to call it like we see it – something that college students in fierce debates don’t have to worry about so much, as long as they keep it off their Facebook pages.

I’m not going to offer any easy answers to these dilemmas here, only to say that for me, the closer we can model our business dealings on a foundation of open and honest dialogue, the stronger I believe we will be in the long run. Exactly what that model will look like is something that is still being developed, on many fronts. We can look to the impact of sustainability as one sign that companies are confronting “externalities,” issues that used to remain hidden outside of narrow corporate balance sheets, in a way that has not happened historically.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I guess for me, it will unfold one blog at a time, but more than ever before, in the context of a community that is influencing and impacting my own work. I’m not sure if my attempts to follow Greg’s principles will make me a better business person, but I know they will make me a better blogger.

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      Author's profile photo Stephen Johannes
      Stephen Johannes

      The concept is great and I think a few more things that I would consider important to blogging:

      1.  Don't hide your mistakes and admit those errors you have made. 
      2.  Never claim to be objective, instead let your reader's know what type of prism you view the world through.

      That type of honesty allows the reader to have a greater trust of the author, because they know what to expect.

      Take care,


      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Raising this conversation around the terms of discourse in blogging every so often is an important community act of service.  And citing different guidelines is a useful exercise.  Your president’s "Principles of Discourse for Hampshire College" is a great example of useful guidelines for communication and apply well to blogging.  It’s also important to link it to the wiki area Getting Started With Blogs
      A few years ago I created Blogging 101 in SDN and BPX here on SCN.
      It was prompted by a post by Valery Silaev titled:  "If you have nothing to say - just shut up"  (also should be put in the wiki area for reference).  Writing my piece introduced me to the “argumentum ad hominem” concept or “attempting to undermine a speaker’s argument by attacking the speaker instead of addressing the argument”  Even figuring out what fits into that category of personal attack is contentious as this link about ad hominem outlines. 
      Beyond what you have covered and Stephen as added, I’d also suggest folks taking  a look at COBE and these two excellent sources of blogger ethics:
      I’ve added them and this blog entry to the wiki Getting Started with Blogging under Ethics.
      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for adding so much context to this piece, that's a huge help to plug this into the existing discussions, and I'll add the wiki link you refer to below.


      I could not agree more with your additional distinctions. Since we all have agendas we are driving at, the more we can acknowledge those to our readers th e more credibility, and, as you point out, trust, we will have. My only concern around objectivity is that if we are too easy to surrender it, sometimes we lose the rigor of putting our views to the rest of real debate and fact checking, which is why I enjoyed Prince's terms of discourse so much.

      I guess we can all define this a bit differently. For myself, I realize objectivity is not possible but striving for fairness, and to both acknowledge and try to see beyond my point of view, can hopefully make my work more well rounded, while still being true to whatever point of view I have.


      - Jon

      Author's profile photo Tom Cenens
      Tom Cenens

      Hey Jon

      Inspirational piece you have put out here. I really like those pointers and I have no problems stating in retrospect I have also said / written stuff that I could have handled better looking back on things. Admitting that is already a good step forward I think.

      Kind regards


      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Blog Post Author

      Tom, thanks for that comment. I think the point of contributing is not to be perfect but also not to shy away from ruthless self-inventory either. I know I have been critical of SAP but to me that means I must apply that same view to myself. A great example for me was Twitter, during my first year on Twitter I tweeted a few things carelessly that I wasn't proud of. It was a good lesson and one I took to heart. One of my mistakes was assuming people really weren't listening. In fact they are and we shouldn't underestimate the small and big impacts of what we do. With that in mind, the way I see it, it's not about being perfect but it is definitely about putting ourselves out there as "imperfect but always improving."