Compatibility is symmetrical

There's an old internet adage known as the robustness principle. It says "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept". That is, you should attempt to act according to specification, but be flexible and recover from non-spec behaviour from others. It seems like a good idea at first, but then the non-spec behaviour that you accept inevitably becomes a new de facto spec. My favourite example of this is the 3.5mm audio jack.

In many real-life situations, I think people try to follow a similar robustness principle. They are more than willing to accept a certain level of deviance in others, but are conservative in expressing their own differences. So at a job you might pretend to be interested in work that bores you, or on a date you might avoid mentioning that a significant part of your life revolves around collecting Pokemon cards. In a sense, this is trying to follow a particular social specification to maintain compatibility with others.

But I'm not sure that is actually the right strategy in the long term. After all, if you make a point of not mentioning how you differ from the standard, all that means is that you will end up with people and situations that aren't actually compatible with you. If Pokemon collecting is that large a part of your life then you're attracting people who aren't compatible with you by pretending to be compatible with them. And, the reverse problem, other people who share your passion for card collecting may pass you over because you didn't say anything.

In that sense, I think compatibility is symmetrical; in every way that you're incompatible with someone or something, they're also incompatible with you. So homogenising away your differences just hides that incompatibility behind a veneer of superficial compatibility, much like the audio jacks with a zillion different pin layouts, or the early days of the web with wildly different rendering behaviour in different browsers.

That's not to say there's never any reason to feign compatibility. If you're going for quantity over quality, and you're happy to engage at a superficial level, it makes sense. Much like political figures hide their rough edges to appeal to the masses, maybe you can gain more popularity by being more compatible. There's even a theory that the web really took off for that reason, because people could just write what they wanted and browsers would kind of figure it out. But then, inevitably, that generation of amateur web developers learned bad habits and became incompatible with the actual standard.

So perhaps it's worth being a bit more liberal in what you do, and conservative in what you expect. That might not win you as many friends, but the ones you do make will be actually compatible with who you are. That seems to me a better kind of robustness.