The “Invisible Baby” Metaphor

Be kind: you don’t know the constraints they have

Yihui Xie 2018-07-17

After I had kids, I felt like I had been wasting a lot of time in my earlier life, and should have gotten many more things done: what a great amount of free time I had back then! Of course, that was just my fantasy. If I had no kids, there would surely be other things to fill up my time, and I wouldn’t really be more productive. I’m just a victim of the Parkinson’s Law like many other people.

As I was thumbing through the tweets related to the useR! 2018 conference, I noticed a quote by Danielle Navarro (who delivered an excellent keynote at the conference):

Be kind: you don’t know the constraints they have.

This reminds me of a metaphor I have had on my mind for a long time: the “invisible baby”. I rarely work when my little ones are crawling or running or yelling in my home office, but I did merge Github pull requests a couple of times with my right hand while holding a baby in my left hand. Those who send the pull requests won’t see him, but that is one practical constraint I might have occasionally.

Hopefully you will understand better why I prefer “bite-sized pull requests” now. The moment the baby starts to cry, I’ll have no choice but leave my computer immediately.

I’m writing this down to remind myself as well because I often forget it: other people may have crying babies in their hands, and I may need to give them more time and patience. Needless to say, the metaphor could refer to many other constraints.

Be kind