Communal Action in Self and Others
Sometimes situations take time to resolve. This situation is complicated and the goal is to treat everyone respectfully. We're beginning to see things play out now.
I want to offer some of my recent thoughts. By no means are they right or fully informed, but I wanted to share (please don't shoot the messenger).
A subtle reminder
This situation has reminded me that:
We are dealing with actual people
We are all human
Let’s break each down a bit more to set proper context.
We are dealing with actual people
People drive our community. Behind the keyboard is a person. No technical contribution would exist without people. Our community would die if we make no effort to listen to all of the voices that the community is comprised of. And, yes, this has nothing to do with someone’s technical contribution. Many strong words and opinions have been expressed from the community in response to the Crell situation. I think we may forget that the words are received by people - especially those most closely affected. This includes Crell, Dries, the members of the CWG, the DA, and countless community members paying attention to this discourse. I’ve seen people attacking others as “not human”, judging others voices as “noise with self pity”, and even people explicitly saying “I don’t care about [insert someone’s thought here]”.
Can we please all acknowledge our role in stopping the attacks on other community members? My CEO added some great insight yesterday during a conversation we had:
“We can’t be free from judgement, but we need to own our own bias.”
We cannot be what we all want the community to become without recognizing our own bias and demonstrating empathy for things unfamiliar. Empathy won’t come without making attempts at putting our own judgement aside. It may be hard but we need to recognize the diverse opinions of others and not be so quick to attack that we may not agree with.
To ignore actual people, you need to look no further than the efforts promoted by Drupal Confessions. The Drupal Confessions statement offers nothing but a false plea full of critical words and threats to the community under the guise of “support.” The results have done nothing but foster fanaticism, spread misinformation and promote conspiracy theories. Stirring the pot is exactly what is needed, said no one ever. Such efforts actually pin members of the community against each other through some collective distrust and angst. This has manifested into tons of white male voices promoting their own concerns (claiming to be victims of this recent situation) that actually threaten community members of protected classes (sex, age, gender, etc) already marginalized and fearful of speaking up against this nonsense. I have doubts the majority of “signees” actually understood what they signed up for or knew they would be sponsoring their ever-changing statement by some anonymous party who “promotes freedom” by placing blame, promoting judgemental posturing, and demonstrating a total lack of empathy for those involved. Most people likely just wanted to have a voice in this conversation and thought Drupal Confessions seemed adequate (not a wholesale sponsorship of their statement). Some may be surprised to see their name attached to probably the most damaging and toxic things associated to our community right now. What is most damning is the anonymity of the Drupal Confessions author(s) serving as one of the most cowardice things I’ve witnessed. Our community members are fully capable of speaking for themselves and engaging in the next steps of our community evolution without the need to be attached to the Drupal Confessions train wreck. You offer people a way to “sign up”; don’t forget to offer people a way to “unsubscribe”.
We are all human
For us to demonstrate empathy, we must recognize that we’re human. We are all capable of making mistakes, in fact we all do all the time. Some mistakes are more severe than others, but this is how we grow as people and our collective mistakes will help us learn and evolve as a community.
“To err is human; to forgive, divine”
This quote holds true for many aspects of this situation. Our actions are done at a moment in time. But, we are constantly growing and always evolving. I have learned from all of the perspectives shared on Twitter, blog posts, and even the fanatical Drupal Confessions. My thoughts on this matter differ greatly from the day this situation came to light.
To be empathetic, we must acknowledge that anyone in this situation is capable of making a mistake. Let’s stop blaming and start forgiving those we believe have done wrong. Given a second chance, people may have requested a “do-over” for specific words or actions that has caused this situation to become such a shit show. The Crell situation is still playing out and there is still time to help ensure this is resolved amicably and with the help of our community. Can we please demonstrate empathy to all of the involved people and not just those we identify with? Messages that Crell, the CWG, the DA, and Dries has shared has been under a microscope from hostile community members waiting to critique every single word they choose. Focus on educating others instead of attacking them. Some of these people do not even claim English to be their native language. If our goal as a community is to be open to all, can we please allow these people to share their voices without fear of being completely beaten down? Putting down pitchforks may actually help the community get more visibility into the situation because the critical responses have made those involved fearful of saying anything. We need to demonstrate more empathy to those making efforts to do right by the community.
A plea for the informed
One way to significantly damage the community is to not be informed. You may be concerned. We all are. We want the community to be fair and to thrive. Please pause and recognize that your opinion would be much stronger if you get your facts straight. I’ve seen many in the community buy into and even share uninformed opinions. The recent CWG message attempts to dispel some of the fears and doubts that have come from such voices - which are rampantly spreading more fear and doubt to other community members.
The following quote summarizes this philosophy perfectly:
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” - Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism
All material shared by Crell, Dries, the DA, and the CWG that I have reviewed has demonstrated a difficult, yet thoughtful response to issues raised by other community members to the CWG. All involved seem committed to an ongoing desire to do right in this situation and future ones. I’ve also admired how Crell has been open, thoughtful, and still supportive of the community he has given so much to. All of this is watered down by the uninformed and some of the strongest voices seem to be just that. This is dangerous. If you care about the community, get informed, then speak. I recognize people want to be heard. You have fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUD) that you are struggling to process. But the uninformed are doing so much damage by promoting an incomplete story that are causing others to be equally as uninformed.
Let me share some examples of this.
Example 1: This is not about freedom
First, can we please acknowledge that sometimes our actions impact others? This fact alone supports the purpose of the CWG and need for general governance. We can't pretend we live in a fantasy world and believe that everything we do jives with everyone else. That actually is in conflict of diversity and inclusion because an open-ended view on one’s freedom includes actions that lack empathy toward others.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela.
Some in the community distort an open-ended pursuit of freedom as diversity and inclusion. It is disingenuous to associate personal freedom with the governance around issues raised to the CWG by other members of the community. Why are people so surprised that their words and actions have consequences? Have you never been held accountable for what you say or do? Nelson Mandela’s quote summarizes the flaw in the “freedom” argument perfectly. As a person, you have the freedom to say or do what you please. As a member of the community, you need to abide by our collective values that help protect others. This may impede your ideals of open-ended freedom to be a part of something you have the right to support or not.
Free people are capable of doing harm to others. As difficult as it might be to separate your passion for free will, the community has a right to weigh in on actions that affect the health and viability of community. They don’t have a right to weigh in on your personal beliefs outside of the community. But, the gray area is if communal actions were driven from personal beliefs, you may indeed be mixing your personal and professional careers in a way the community is capable of weighing in on. In summary, don’t mistake “freedom” as your right to participate in a community that can and should make sure your communal actions align with it’s values.
Example 2: This is not about beliefs
One thing has become clear to me: If this was just about beliefs, this would have long since been dismissed. Many have been triggered by this; thinking they too could be persecuted. This was about actions. There is a huge difference in these two things.
In a completely unrelated example based on beliefs, consider Nazi Germany. Jews were segregated into concentration camps based on their beliefs. This was not motivated by any action of specific Jews or even the larger Jewish community - this was purely motivated from their beliefs in an effort to promote ethnic cleansing. Jews were not given any fair trial or evaluation. They were persecuted directly because of someone’s beliefs that Jews were inferior to the Aryan race.
Crell’s situation has very few parallels. I don’t believe Crell or others that maintain any belief system have been persecuted because of their beliefs through any means of governance in the Drupal Community. I do not see any proof or signs that members of the community threaten any individual’s belief systems (note: if this were indeed the case, we would likely see much more of this since our community is indeed diverse and individuals hold many different beliefs).
The key differentiator is action. Governance around mediating actions or issues raised by community members is radically different than someone feeling threatened that their beliefs are unwelcomed. Specific incidents involve the community and should not be confused by groups of people being targeted for their belief system. If your words or actions bring harm to those in the community and someone else feels like it warrants community intervention, it will occur regardless of what your beliefs are. We cannot dismiss that Crell’s actions could have been motivated from his personal views on the world. Such things may not be appropriate for the community. It’s no one’s place to weigh in on his personal views - that is his right and freedom to do so. We do have a right to understand how these actions affect the community.
Community governance isn’t about singling out any belief systems, it’s about ensuring actions promote a safe and welcoming community for all of us to thrive.
Should we feel threatened that our beliefs are not welcomed? No.
Should we feel threatened if our actions in the community (which may or may not be driven by our specific beliefs) threaten to other community members? Yes.
Most beliefs don’t threaten community values. Sadly, some do. For the small amount whose beliefs may threaten others (misogynistic, racist, sexist, whatever), please keep them private. This doesn’t just apply to the community, it also applies to your workplace, your business arrangements, and your general professional standing. We all need to keep our professional and private lives separate to the best of our ability. Because I am not fully informed, I will not speculate if this happened with Crell or not.
Conversely, we cannot support words or actions that community members discriminate others against their beliefs. The actions of Klausi, which by all accounts violated our community values, are being dealt with. Klasi relinquished his maintainership role in the community after realizing his actions were not in line with the boundaries I described. It is my belief that any issues raised by him or supporting material he brought up from digging through Crell’s personal life should be thrown out with respect to any decision making that affects Crell’s standing in the community. This wasn’t information the community was privy to. This doesn’t suggest there were no other actions raised to the CWG and we need to acknowledge we may never have the full context to be informed about this (put your pitchfork down, please).
Example 3: This is more than a meritocracy
If we stand for a friendly and welcoming community, some actions are not welcomed regardless of if we value the contributions of those involved. This is at the boundaries of a pure meritocracy from a community, which is very carefully analyzed in The Dehumanizing Myth of the Meritocracy. We can both deliver incredible "intellectual output" and ignore the real human flaws that damage the community. The article describes how we have a tendency to idolize those that contribute the most to the community. And, we continue to see people support their contributions by dismissing (or "sweeping under the rug") interpersonal injustices. This utilitarian perspective may threaten that which many have built their livelihood on: you can do good by giving back more. But, this situation and those that have occurred in the past, have made many people realize that our community is more than just code contributors and we must strive to do right by each other as people as much as we emphasize community code contributions.
Be glad we have governance
I am routinely reminded and grateful that our community actually has governance. And, I am even more grateful those participating listen and want to make this better. For a relevant example, our security team has gradually been refining their communication and practices around security releases (core and contrib). The most recent core update went off without a hitch. It was communicated across many channels well in advance, released during the standard security release cycle, and helped to mitigate the vulnerability across thousands of Drupal sites. Without this type of consistency in policy and practice, such a thing would be madness. I view the efforts of the CWG, DA, and Dries in the same light. I appreciate that there are structures and practices in place to advocate for our values. I feel like members of our community would be marginalized without them. And, to me, a community that only serves the interest of a few is no community at all.
I am fully confident that the people participating in discussions (CWG, DA, and Dries) have no intent to weigh in on people's personal lives - especially that of a prominent community member. They have made efforts to communicate this. Their words may bring doubt to some community members, but they have been clear that their motivation was not based on people’s personal lives. All of these people work hard everyday to make the community better and stronger for everyone. It is hard to please everyone, but are we giving them enough credit for these difficult circumstances? Are we that skeptical of these people to think they would consciously introduce their own bias on personal belief into the community? If you pause to ask that question, my answer is unequivocally "NO".
Crell’s situation evaluated specific actions raised by other community members. Might these actions have been based on or motivated from personal belief? I think that is entirely possible. Before you freak out, the community has a right to weigh in if such actions were done within the community. Aside from general distrust, we have little but speculation on such things. The CWG, the DA, and Dries has all of the context and information that none of us are able to see (and we should not out of respect for the confidentiality of those who raised issues). I am of the growing opinion that people’s distrust stems from this lack of context and some may never trust people without being fully informed. That seems impossible given the protections we have in place for people to raise issues without fear of retribution (which also seems to be an important aspect).
A key point really stood out to me from the CWG statement: this was escalated by the CWG to Dries. The term escalation is an acknowledgement of something that doesn't feel right but lacks clarity on how to deal with it. For those stuck on Dries serving as "a benevolent dictator," may you consider that there was an incredible amount of deliberation and mediation done by a group of his peers in the community that finally escalated this issue to Dries when no resolution was attainable. As a point of escalation in the current state of governance, he is tasked with interpreting community values and making a judgement call on how best to handle this situation. That is his role, much like managers and directors on teams you work in. There may be value in better distributing this role to more than one person and this is constructive feedback. But, those accusing him of somehow taking this matter into his own hands seem more interested in placing blame than they do productively participating or being informed of the steps that led up to his involvement.
We could be better served in this discussion by understanding conflict. We are all human and we bring different backgrounds and perspectives that can cause conflict when things do not match up. These same differences in background and perspective are what makes the community strong and vibrant. This does not mean that every conflict warrants action. I think it is telling that we do not hear of more conflicts, which suggests to me that, as a community, we are actually a pretty tolerant bunch (Drupal Confessions serving as a glaring omission of this). In fact, some clarity in what constitutes a conflict may be another one of the more constructive governance discussions we can have.
Another key point about conflict: it can happen without intent. I would gather that most people do not intend to promote conflict. As such, we should be open to helping community members learn and grow through such conflict -- these are often great opportunities to do so. This may include not outright kicking them out of the community but taking (temporary) actions that can afford the time and reflection needed to process situations. Those actions may be reserved for repeat offenders, which, again, doesn’t seem to happen all that often. Those with even the best of intentions can cause conflict (some more severe than others). I have no sense that after reading Crell's own words that this conflict was intentional. It doesn’t dismiss that the conflict exists.
The CWG, DA, and Dries had the unfortunate task of having to evaluate the circumstances surrounding this conflict. Before you are quick to judge or place blame, bear in mind that the CWG, DA, and Dries not only represent Crell, they represent those that issues the conflict. Imagine yourself participating in these discussions. Fully supporting Crell is akin to fully dismiss those that were potentially impacted by his actions. These are all likely people that care deeply for the community.
Some want a complete definition of governance rules. I don’t see how this is possible. We should accept the need for ongoing changes and make progressive enhancements to build a framework that can evolve over time. Enhancements can/should come from specific situations that are explored. A logical outcome would be reflecting on what governance changes or clarity needs to happen after every situation concludes (like the retrospective concept in Agile). Changes and evolving thought should be shared transparently without divulging specific details that may damage either party. Each situation warrants delicate and thoughtful deliberation that fully respects the people involved and the unique considerations presented. There is no blueprint for how to navigate everything that can happen now or into the future - regardless of if community members want black and white rules that help bring comfort in their unknowns.
We need to ensure our code of conduct is clear about what we stand for, the boundaries of community governance, and a statement of our values. We all want the governance structures to be as valuable and effective as they possibly can be. Get informed, put your biases aside, and dig your heels in. Participate in discussions to help us evolve as a community and submit your ideas now and in the future.