Carabiner Shaming: Losing The Gold

Written By: Craig McClure

I’ll admit it.  I’m guilty. I’ve done it.  Nope, I’m not talking about stepping on the rope, using dropped carabiners, or mistakenly peeing on my belay loop… c’mon winter layers can be a challenge!  Nope, I’m talking about what I’ll call “carabiner shaming.” Like many, I used to pick apart photos on the interwebs to see if I could find a mistake and point it out to the world.  A mis-oriented carabiner, poor knot.. Anything. I was as determined as I was in 2nd grade trying to find all the differences in the two similar drawings at the end of the Sunday comics.  It was a game and as they say “play dumb games, win dumb prizes.”

What “dumb prizes” did I win?  I won the likely occasional scorn of my peers and those that had a lot to offer, I greatly offended someone whom I respect and now consider a friend, and I looked stupid and like a jerk.  In looking for the diseased little trees I was missing the beauty and abundance of the forest.

So why do I bother to say all this now?

In my work in the field with The Crackerjack Group and Rigging Lab Academy I post a lot of pictures and help generate a metric tonne of imagery and it’s REALLY tiring to pore over every image to make sure I haven’t left any fodder for the carabiner shamers, people like me.  Ouch.. I realized how detrimental my behavior was the discourse of the industry and the education of others. Bluntly stated, when the tables were turned, it sucked. Truly my realization came quite a while before this point but it was driven solidly home when I was forced to limit my content and message for fear of the carabiner shamers.

Two weeks ago while teaching a class being filmed by Lance and Torrey at Rigging Lab Academy Lance asked me if I’d checked everything in a particular shot so, as he said it, “the trolls didn’t have any food.”  At that point, while baking in California sun, trying to keep a class on point and moving forward, and wanting to give the students space to learn and make mistakes, I decided I was done making things perfect.

Here’s an example:  

We have three students working together setting a monopod on a rocky riverbank… the previous evolution they forgot to sight their rope path, sag, and direction of applied force before tensioning guy lines and had thus a heck of a time…

So this time they are collaborating a bit more and working an unfamiliar process.  The image helps tell a great story about learning new concepts and teamwork but we were worried about posting it.  I’m sure there are imperfections and mistakes. There are supposed to be because they are learning. Who does this stuff perfectly the first 1,3,5, 10, or 20 times?   

Someone is going to say: “The silver carabiner will load poorly and needs a soft link”

Someone else will say: “A monopod needs more guy lines.”

And they are correct… but they are missing context and process.. They are missing the story.  I was doing that too and I was missing so much that was more important. Plus, I was kind of a jerk.

Imperfection is part of the learning process.  Imperfection is reality. Imperfection is OK and in my mind desirable in a learning environment.  I want people pushing new ideas and techniques and I have no expectation that it will look pretty. If I jump in and constantly put my hands on their work or change what they are working in to make it camera ready I demean their work and damage their confidence.  That is a horrible outcome for training.  If it’s safe, reasonable, and accomplishes the task I’m going to likely let it slide and find the appropriate teaching moment or debrief time to address it as an opportunity for improvement.

I’m no longer going to worry about feeding the trolls or empowering the shamers and I promise to not be one either.   Why?

  1. It impedes the broader education or discussion goals
  2. Frequently it’s highlighting a dogmatic rule with little truth (screw gates down, bowline inside or outside, etc)
  3. There is a larger context not visible in the photo
  4. It derails topics
  5. It discourages people from asking questions, posting ideas, or engaging at all

In the end, it doesn’t serve our industry well. Period.

So here’s their nearly finished product.  Not bad for their third day with a vortex and a complex litter evac problem on steep bank.  They have more guy-lines than they’d use next time, the head is a bit crowded, and the knot-craft could be cleaner.  But regardless, they did a fantastic job and we can all look at the image and take something away. Or we can use it as an anchor point for discussion on rigging high deflection gin poles for system altitude.

So here’s my boilerplate:

These photos are presented for educational purposes or storytelling and were rigged by humans in the real world.  They may not be perfect but we believe they are safe, demonstrative of general good practices, but are not presented as images of perfection or legal documentation.  

If someone wants to find details to nit-pick I’ll happily recognize their attention to detail by saying “thank  you” and copying and pasting the above statement.

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Happy rigging and post away! Let’s share ideas and stop expecting perfection.  It isn’t the goal of our work in these discussions.



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