The Importance of Assuming Good FaithEdit

In my real life, I've donned many hats from teaching postgraduate students to serving as Content Manager of an institute preparing Indian students for US certification courses. But as a volunteer, I developed content for several educational websites before discovering Wikipedia. When I discovered Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, they indispensably became part of my life. And in my editing journey, Wikipedia's Five Pillars served as guiding principles not just for adding or modifying content, but also for online (and some extent even OFFLINE) interpersonal interactions.

One of the important pillar states that "Editors should treat each other with respect and civility: Respect your fellow Wikipedians, even when you disagree. Apply Wikipedia etiquette, and don't engage in personal attacks. Seek consensus, avoid edit wars, and never disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point. Act in good faith, and assume good faith on the part of others..."

Sadly, neither being polite nor assuming good faith have always been adhered to. English Wikipedia is indeed privileged to have many dedicated editors. However, it is no secret that many of the prolific editors have often lost their cool during discussions. On the Hindi Wikipedia, we've a common practice of invariably adding respectful ji after the names of persons. Still, one should not be surprised to come across posts such as "...ji often strives to capitalize on sensationalism and this is no exception," and "I strongly suspect X ji to be the sockpuppet of Y ji"

In order to better understand the importance of assuming good faith, let me quote a few anecdotes from real life and show how things changed dramatically when "good faith" was put into rather than punitive action.

A few years back, I came across a very trivial situation. One of my colleagues at the college where I was teaching became terribly annoyed with the management. One afternoon, he approached me and said that he will not take classes any more. I asked if he was quitting. His reply was an emphatic "no". I smiled as I quickly rushed to engage his afternoon session. My colleague remained defiant and his non-cooperative stand continued for two more days. During this period, I felt that I could be of no help to him. After all, I had to engage my own sessions.

In order to better understand the importance of “assuming good faith”, let me quote two anecdotes from real life and highlight how things changed dramatically when “good faith” was put into practice rather than punitive action. A few years back I witnessed a very trivial situation. One of my colleagues in the college where I was teaching was terribly annoyed with the management. One afternoon, he approached me and said that will not take classes any more. I asked if he was quitting. His reply was an emphatic “no”. Though not happy with the situation, I still smiled as I engaged his afternoon session. My colleague remained defiant and non-cooperative for two more days. This was the period where I felt that I could be of no help to him. After all, I had to engage my own classroom sessions.

After two days, the principal of the college invited my dissenting colleague for a cup of tea. The principal told him: “Our college students are frivolous. They often make irresponsible comments about anyone and everyone. Some of them approached me complaining that you are not taking classes. But I took a firm stand and informed them that I have full faith in you and will not encourage any such nasty statements about you. I also told them that I take strict disciplinary action if they come again with this issue.” The result of this was magical - my colleague became a transformed man. Instead of skipping classes, he used to stand outside the classrooms at least 10-15 minutes before his scheduled session. I wonder if the same type of transformation would have taken place had the principal rebuked him or served a “show cause notice”.

There was another piquant incident which resulted in me undergoing immense mental trauma. A few years back, I was travelling in a heavily jam-packed public transport bus. I did not find proper place to even stand inside the running bus. This was when I lost my entire month’s salary to a pickpocket. When I got down from the bus, I was left with a few currency coins. I was terribly sad to reach my house empty-handed. My wife was expecting our first child and I desperately needed money to meet the rising expenses. On seeing me in a dejected state, my wife asked the reason for this, and when I told her, she provided me the much needed emotional support and encouragement. She assured me that somehow things can be managed till I get my next pay.

I remained awake for the whole night. When once my wife fell asleep, I stealthily went to the adjacent room. I felt like unleashing a volley of abuses and curses for the pickpocket. However, in order to calm down my anger and depression, I prepared a cup of tea for myself. Then surprisingly, a new development took place – quite uncharacteristically I took my pen and an old diary. I wrote a short story titled “Untamed by Time”.

This was a story about a boy who earned his living by polishing others’ shoes on a busy street. He somehow enters into conflict with a wealthy guy over the payment for his service. On that very day, the rich man loses a substantial amount of money in a very careless manner. The entire amount of money, which is contained in a purse, is picked up by this poor boy who returned it to its rightful owner. Neither monetary reward nor a job offer seemed entice this boy as he believed that handing over a person’s hard-earned money is no big deal to be bartered for any favor in its exchange.

As I saw the fictitious “street shoe polish boy” and the real life pickpocket who stole my salary, I found a world of difference - precisely the difference between fact and fiction. Yet, the motivation for writing a short story was so satisfying that I wholeheartedly forgave the pickpocket. For me, the best thing was that I was able to publish my story on website at the following link:

I shared the link of this short story with some of my friends who appreciated the story, presumably without reading it as I know their general preference of television news over newspaper and website news, or more importantly they showed a sympathetic friendly gesture instead of being too rude and churlish to break my heart with any critical comment.

As I analyze the above two incidents, I find that the first incident is more likely to be a reflection of “assuming good faith” and its possible good impact. On Wikipedia, I’ve found people posting their personal samples of poetry or adding content where they quote themselves as the source of information. Quite often, when many of these “Wiki-newbies” are explained about the encyclopedic nature of Wikipedia and citing secondary sources, they drastically modify their approach and become dedicated contributors. The second incident is possibly on a distant note or at odds with the “good faith” because a participant here has resorted to something evil. Even so, in trying to think positive in areas where antecedents, happenings and more significantly ensuing consequences are irrefutably negative can still lead to something good. And I believe this to be as much true on Wikipedia as in real life.