[Editor’s note: This commentary originally ran as an item in the Larry the Free Software Guy blog earlier this year.]
I wrote a blog item back in October 2011 that garnered the highest amount of hits (well into five figures), and the highest amount of comments (around 200), that this blog has ever achieved. Even the follow-up blog item garnered an abnormally high number of eyeballs. No, I’m not linking to either because I’d prefer not to go another round in the ring, so to speak, putting aside the fact that both blogs still get a considerable number of daily hits.
But if you Google “larry fsf” (no quotes), it comes up first — at least it did for me just now (sorry, “Larry Lessig”).
The back-and-forth in the comments is sometimes civil, sometimes not, and since this outpouring of vitriol — mine included — is abnormally high, I have given a lot of thought about the range of civility in the FOSS world.
I’ve been sitting on the following commentary for a long time. I even wrote an unpublished draft months ago that sits in the Larry the CrunchBang Guy draft queue because, well, I didn’t pull the trigger on writing about the incident in that forum which pushed over the first proverbial domino.
Personally speaking, I have no problem with the fact that I’m not going to agree with everyone, nor is everyone going to agree with me. My opinions, here and elsewhere, on the purposes and goals of free/open source software (or just about everything else) are going to clash with the opinions of others, and I’m at peace with that. In fact, I welcome the exchange of ideas with those with whom I may not agree to see if, perhaps, my mind can be changed, and conversely I would hope that others would take the same attitude. More often than not, I am disappointed here, but never mind. That’s another topic for another time.
So to those who “get it” — those who understand we’re not all of the same mind and there is room for debate and discussion, to say nothing of the fact that one does not have to be disagreeable in order to disagree — a deeply grateful “thank you” goes out to each one who deserves it. This item is not for you, though you’re welcome to continue reading.
It took me awhile to understand this, and as I’ve written in the past, there are times when the “current me” would take the “past me” and slap him in the back of the head, multiple times, and show him the best way, or at least the more civil way, to do things.
But I’m a little tired of appealing to some people — an annoying, yet tirelessly vocal, few — to be more understanding when they seemingly can’t hear me because they need their own individual proctologist to help each of them find their heads.
Nevertheless, this blog is a call out to those who don’t get it: The ones for whom dissent or disagreement is a good excuse to start playing “Call of Duty” verbally, escalating what started as a disagreement or a misunderstanding into a holy war with massive collateral damage.
The problem here is that this lack of civility, this absence of open-mindedness, and this departure from decent behavior scales in an enormous way in FOSS: from the new user warmed in the glow of their new-found FOSS enlightenment thinking their first distro is “the Holy Grail,” to some of those who got the ball rolling back in the day and are responsible for the world-altering digital movement in which we now find ourselves.
Most of the time we wrongfully give a pass to $FOSS_ICON because he or she is just “being $FOSS_ICON” when in reality we should be saying, “Seriously?”
“My way or the highway” is not a FOSS tenet. If you think it is, then the four simple words below are for you.
“Populating forums or IRC channels with troll-worthy posts and abusive behavior is clearly OK, and rules don’t apply to me especially when I have made it my sole purpose in life to shut people up who disagree on this insignificant issue.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.
“My desktop environment/FOSS program/Linux distro is the digital equivalent of perfection, we should all unite behind one (the one I’m using, of course), and if you disagree, you’re a moron.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.
“Not being mature enough to handle one’s behavior (or, in some cases, urges) in a large group of people, thereby forcing gatherings to enforce elaborate codes of conduct, is normal and acceptable.” If you think this way, then the four simple words below are for you.
There are more examples, but you get the point.
The Fedora Project, in a motto that embraces that distro’s workings and is oft-quoted in discussions, has boiled this concept down to five simple words: “Be excellent to each other.”
I’ve narrowed it down to four simple words: “Don’t be a douche.”
I’ll let you in on a secret, too: Adhering to these words, whether they’re Fedora’s or mine, also works in real life outside the FOSS realm. Don’t take my word for it — try it for yourself.
See you here next week. Agree or disagree, I’ll still be here, and you’re clearly welcome to return.