Lack of civility

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, October 10. 2014 in Personal

Over the last several weeks, much copy has been created over the lack of civility in various communities: Open Source, gaming, etc...

Now, I'm not a gamer, but I am a person seriously involved in the FOSS community, and I see some parallels between the issues involving all of these communities, and I have some thoughts and possible insights to share.

First of all, what I see is a significant lack of civility. Not only in what is being said, but also in how it is being said and, almost most unsettling of all, that if there is a way for someone's statements to be misconstrued in the most unattractive/unpopular/controversial fashion possible,  that's the way it will be seen (in other words: the other party doesn't receive the benefit of the doubt: you must prove that you are not an asshole; it's not assumed that you aren't).

Now certainly the anonymity of mailing lists, twitter, etc all help in that, but mostly, IMO at least, it's also due to people forgetting that there is a real live human being behind that Email address or twitter handle

The second issue I see is that there is no longer a desire to have a discussion or a conversation, per se, but rather it's a contest, a war, in which the sole desire is to win, and make the other side lose. In doing so, we don't listen, instead we are planning and plotting our response. And, because winning at all costs is important, the ends justifies the means. If we have to create strawmen, well, as long as we win (or, at least, they lose), that's OK. Of course, in matters that we have deep feelings and concerns for, it's hard to keep emotions out of it. After all, if someone calls my kids stupid, I will "fight" to ensure that no one walks away with the mistaken impression that somehow that position is correct, or right, or warranted. But very few things are really that personal, we just make them so.

Closely related to the strawmen method noted above, is that in most discussions other "baggage" (for lack of a better term) is brought in. This baggage is only remotely related to the discussion at hand, but it is a powerful, polarizing artifact, and serves to either focus the discussion on that issue or, most of the time, implies that being for one position implies being against another (which you would not agree to at all). For example, in a recent "discussion", I noted that "actions have consequences". Certainly this is something that we can all agree with, right? After all, our legal system is based on it, parents instill this concept to their children, religions are based on it, etc... But, that simple statement somehow implied that I was OK with "blaming the victim". So instead of simply seeing and understanding what I said, instead a position was forced upon me, a position that I would never take. And I had to prove that I was not a "victim blamer".

It is sad when activities which started off as, and are supposed to be, fun and enjoyable degrade into "contests" and battles in which people have to "expect" harassment, ridicule, threats, etc. All these technologies were supposed to bring us together, not provide ammunition and resources for dipwads  and psychopaths to destroy one's happiness and life. If you are involved in a community, it is your responsibility to make sure that poisonous people are not allowed. That's why I am so proud of the communities we've created at Apache, after all, our unofficial motto is Community Before Code. We aren't perfect, to be sure, but I think we have some insights that other communities could benefit from.

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