Harassment vs. Offense

This is a long post, so to keep you reading and engaged, I am going to intersperse amusing kitten photos to keep this ball rolling. Hang in there, folks. :-)

We have a slippery slope forming in some communities (fortunately, I am not referring to Ubuntu here) surrounding how to handle cases of community members verbally offending other community members. Some of these communities are trying to build policies around this in the same way we write software to solve problems; by trying to codify what is considered offensive and then form policy protections around this.

This is a mistake.

Most communities are too culturally diverse to enforce any kind of detailed policy that defines specific areas of concern that can be mapped en-mass to everyone. We all have different values, interests, senses of humor, and cultural norms that combine and make a single all-encompassing policy impractical. What offends one person may not offend somebody else, so if you blacklist particular topics of conversation or content, you may be inhibiting the very free and open communication that invigorates so many communities.

As an example, I am pretty easy going when it comes to jokes or criticism. I welcome all and any criticism (as I am sure some of you will seek to test in the comments ;-) ), and I have always believed you should be able to poke fun at yourself and be open to others poking fun at you too. Jokes about my pasty British skin, lack of hair, funny accent, my tendency to always wear flip-flops, my terrible taste in music, crappy cooking abilities, my inability as a man to see things my wife asks me to find in the fridge, my political opinions, and more are all open season. Reading back over the last (uncomfortably long) sentence, these topics of conversation cover race, gender, visual appearance, lifestyle choices, politics and more. I would never want to restrict the ability for people to talk to me in a loose, fun, and social manner, and poking fun at me is part of this. Likewise, I strongly abhor a document that tells me I can’t comment on these topics in a community environment or poke fun at others too.

Importantly, such jokes and comments are only acceptable if they are respectful. Someone can say the most critical or personal thing they like to me if it is delivered to me on a foundation of respect. A minor jibe or comment that is delivered in a disrespectful or passive aggressive manner is unacceptable. The topic is not what matters, it is the tone and social context that sets apart thoughtful satire and commentary from disrespectful and aggressive content.

Saying this, I understand that some people will be offended by such comments. Just because I don’t get offended doesn’t mean everyone else should share this view. This is why social context is so important; when I am hanging out with my friends and I know their boundaries, we can be loose and fiery with each other, but when I am in a more formal business setting or with people who I don’t know, it is better to be more conservative.

The nature of offense is fundamentally born from a mismatch of social expectations.

Typically what happens in cases of of someone getting offended is that Person A makes a comment to Person or Audience B that the latter considers to be offensive. This usually happens when Person A thought the comment would be OK, but Person or Audience B did not feel it was acceptable. In the majority of these cases Person A was not trying be malicious or disrespectful, it was merely a social expectations mismatch. If Person A was deliberately trying to be disrespectful then this is obviously unacceptable.

An important point here is that sometimes people get offended and that is OK. Social mismatches happen. Just because someone gets offended doesn’t mean they have the right to shut someone else down. The rights and views of Person A are just as important as the rights and views of Person or Audience B.

If we try to construct communities with policies and governance that restrict collaboration and communication to protect against “potential areas of offense”, then we gut our communities of the freedoms that help us thrive, and instead instill bland, mundane, and restrictive environments for fear of offending someone. Freedom comes with responsibility; all community members should be respectful and responsible in their conduct, but it is also irresponsible to presume that just because you are offended, the wider community needs to change.

A related problem here too, is that some folks conflate harassment and offense.

An off the cuff comment might offend someone, but that isn’t harassment. Harassment is a repetitive, personalized and targeted act: it is a repeated anti-social set of instances targeted towards a particular person. If someone yells at me on my blog about me doing a terrible job, I might be offended, but if they do this every day, targeting me personally…I would consider this to be harassment.

I am OK if someone offends me, but I am not OK if someone harasses me and I fully endorse any and all efforts to stamp out harassment. Our communities should be welcoming, diverse, and positive environments. We should never tolerate harassment, but we should also not confuse offense for harassment.

Thanks for reading such a long post, and I hope the kittens helped relieve the boredom. In a nutshell, sometimes it is OK to get offended; social mismatches happen. What is not OK is deliberately disrespectful conduct and harassment.

  • http://2buntu.com Roland Taylor

    Well said, timely, and I hope a lot of people read this and take it to heart.

    And let me add this note, because I think it’s relevant. Coming from a non-Christian, a post like this is very good to me as Christian – (now let me clarify why that is important):

    In the open-source community my type is a bit of a minority. We get a lot of offenses – and some harassment. So, it’s good to see that leaders in the community understand the difference between the two and are willing to address it up front.

    I’m sure the same could be said by any “minority” or “target group” within our community. It’s okay if people disagree, and even poke fun – so long as they don’t get personal, aggressive, and extreme.

    P.S. Kitten Pic #3 is full of win :D!

  • Anonymous

    Usually the sign of a community that has devolved into an echo chamber.  Although I have no idea which one you’re talking about, so hopefully I’m right?

  • Bruno Girin

    Great post Jono! I completely concur with what you say and it applies to all communities, whether they be online communities, workplaces or neighbourhoods.  I would add that it is also very useful for members of a community to learn how to say sorry or accept apologies. In a large and diverse enough community, there will invariably be a moment when you will accidentally offend someone. Not being too proud to apologise for being a dork can do wonders to diffuse a situation.

  • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

    Excellent post… I think as a community people need to be cautious that they do not ignore or discount ones opinion simply because it may socially or even culturally mismatch their own opinion or values. We have to remember that people come from different walks of lives and need to try to respect their right to have a different opinion so that they too can return that same respect.

  • DamonHD

    Though you and I, Bruno, have never been and never will be dorks, right?  B^> Rgds Damon

  • Arth

    I very much agree with you. The discussion around this topic in the GNOME community centers the view too much in Anglo-Saxon social norms. As an example, what in the US might be considered as “unwanted sexual attention” or “offenses regarding religious or political views” would in many cultures be considered as perfectly normal behaviour. As an example, if a transsexual person were to be introduced to someone in Brazil, the Brazilian person might very well go on and on for half an hour about how all the persons physical attributes really got “well done”, without any malicious intent. In much of Southern Europe and depending on age difference, making fun of ones physical appearance, politics or culture might be perfectly normal and expected, even for people who just met. So I’d say that the best policy is for everyone to trust their social intuition and take everything with a grain of salt, also because we as a community happen to be very diverse and full of “crazy people” (in a good way). 

  • Anonymous

    yes, trying to legislate this sort of stuff is hopeless – it’s way too complex, different people find different things offensive. I think the key is to recognise that this stuff happens, that it’s a normal part of human interaction – especially online, where we talk to strangers from all sorts of different backgrounds – and when it happens, we just need to have the maturity to apologise/accept an apology and move on. One of the sad things I see in online communication is people getting on their high horse and claiming some kind of right to be offensive and not to care if another person is hurt; but on the other hand I see people going over the top in demanding that others should avoid saying anything that they may find offensive. If we’re going to have good communication, we’ve got to meet half way.

    oh, and about the kitten pics – I found them a huge distraction in trying to read your post. No offence :)

  • http://twitter.com/hypatiadotca Leigh Honeywell
  • Anonymous

    Which parts sound familiar to you?

  • Jeff Osier-Mixon

    Very well said, Jono. Jenny “the Bloggess” uses similar criteria, writing about humor – it’s ok to offend, but not to hurt other people. In my experience, offending is usually accidental, while harassment is not, by definition.

  • Jeff Osier-Mixon

    Very well said, Jono. Jenny “the Bloggess” uses similar criteria, writing about humor – it’s ok to offend, but not to hurt other people. In my experience, offending is usually accidental, while harassment is not, by definition.

  • http://twitter.com/binarymutant Christopher Lunsford

    good post

  • Pierre

    Thanks for this post Jono!

    In French, we have a saying that goes like this: « On peut rire de tout, mais pas avec n’importe qui ». You can make fun of everything, but not with everyone.

    The problem in on-line communities is that what you’re writing can be potentially read by anyone!

    Moreover, someone making a joke/pun/jibe about someone else online would probably act completely differently in a meeting or in a pub.

    Anyway, don’t worry, I’ll never make fun of your British accent (I mean, I’m French…). But wearing flip-flops all the time? Come on.

  • http://twitter.com/hypatiadotca Leigh Honeywell

    Mostly just the fact that you’re still framing this as “people being offended”.

    I feel like a broken record here, but freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism; freedom of choice is not freedom from consequences. You say that “Just because someone gets offended doesn’t mean they have the right to shut someone else down” – define shutting down.  It sure as hell is within the “offendee’s” rights to call the “offender” out on their actions.

    Go ahead and keep clutching those pearls though.

  • Paul

    To the extent the article is discussing policy, “shutting down” seems to be fairly clearly defined. IE policy that specifically seeks to stop people acting in certain specified ways. Nothing Jono wrote seems to suggest that people should not be called on any actions they take. His point is that trying to pre-empt those actions is the wrong way to go about it as a policy can’t adequately account for the nuances of social interaction.

    Personally I am in two minds about the issue. I think some policy is reasonable but vague policy isn’t. It might make sense to (for example) set standards banning sexual imagery for official parts of an event (ie booths or talks). Trying to micromanage the behavior of individual attendees seems the wrong way to go about it though, not least because it is unlikely to be effective.

  • PomPom McFluffypants

    The illustrations in this blog marginalize and objectify kittens in a way which I find offensive.

  • Mwildam

    Fully agree. – And by the way: Fine that I am not the only one who does not find stuff in the fridge. From time to time I give flowers to my wife to thank for such little services she is doing for me. ;-)

  • http://gkn.me.uk/ Greg K Nicholson

     > A related problem here too, is that some folks conflate harassment and offense.

    This is very much exactly the problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=694822458 Daniel Carrera Yanes

    I would like to present a dissenting view.

    I believe that personal jokes that serve no other purpose deserve no protection on the basis of protecting someone’s “rights and views”… Person A might think that it is very funny and acceptable to poke fun at person B’s weight, accent, appearance, gender or lifestyle… But I don’t.  And I don’t understand why such behaviour should be accepted on the basis of “protecting your rights and views”. What right? Poking at someone’s appearance, lifestyle or gender is not political speech.

    Furthermore, if person A is part of a large group who regularly poke fun (say) at person B’s lifestyle, that may be harassment even if no individual member of A’s group made a joke more than twice.

    I have been thinking about this topic for a long time. I don’t understand why if person B doesn’t want to be called fat, or bold, or short, or ugly, or babe, that means that person B is being sensitive and should learn to take a joke… Why should person B learn to take a joke?… Why is it that person A’s attack is protected just because person A thought it was funny?

    I am in favour of protecting political speech that I find offensive. Certainly anything that touches science, politics, religion, group decisions and more. And that may involve making fun of an individual. And I’m sure I can think of other exceptions. But as a rule, I say that person A’s jokes about B’s hairstyle are only ok as long as B agrees that they are funny.

  • http://twitter.com/bigjools_ J

    Spot on.  Offence is rarely given and often taken.  If someone takes offence at something I don’t intend to be offensive then that’s their problem, not mine.

  • Anonymous

     Jono says that repeated offenses constitute harassment, and that’s not OK. So you get a pass on the first offense, but you still can’t repeat the same offense. Is that enough “shutting down”?

  • Anonymous

     LOL!

  • Anonymous

     Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Daniel.

    I agree that if it is known that someone does not like jokes about a particular topic (such as if I knew Person C doesn’t like jokes about his hair) it would irresponsable to make those jokes knowingly.

    My primary point here is that I don’t think it is practical to ban humor in presentations and public settings because of the risk that someone might get offended.

    If a speaker was to make a joke about vegetables and someone in the audience was to take offence at this, then I think the person who took offense is free to express that they are offended, but don’t consider this to be a case where the speaker should motify their behavior.

    Now, if the person in the audience is talking to the speaker at dinner and the speaker knows the person is offended at vegetable jokes, and they make the comment anyway, I would consider that to be inappropriate.

    Much of this is down to context. Professional presentations in my mind require a more conservative approach to discourse. I don’t think it is appropriate to makes jokes or disparaging comments about gender or race, as it is known that many folks are sensitive to such comments. At a stand-up show I think thing can be much more liberal; the environment, expectations, and social structure is different.

  • Anonymous

     I never said that people can’t complain when they are offended, and as I said in my post, if someone is knowingly joking or criticizing someone and they know that person is offended by such comments, that is inappropriate.

    What I take issue with is that in the laudable and important interests of increasing the diversity and openness of our communities, some folks have built a platform in which if anyone gets offended, their personal offense can drive social policy. I believe this is a slippery slope. While I think we all agree that gender and race discrimation are terrible things, if we build social policy from personal offense, the door could be thrown open to areas that are not representative of the community and thus limiting in our freedom of expression.

    I just don’t believe you can fix anti-social and discriminatory behavior with rulebooks of things that people can and can’t do. They are partially effective, but the morons who do harass, abuse, and disrespect their fellow community members will not be reading the rulebooks anyway.

    Unfortunately, Leigh, and as we discussed a while back at UDS, I am not entirely what the solution to this is. I wish I did know. In Ubuntu we have found that a fairly general Code Of Conduct and a clear escalation path to the Community Council has generally worked well, but it is by no means exaustive.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    Hey Jono, have you heard of Disqus 2012 yet? Disqus 2012 is the newest product from Disqus, and it is actually turning out quite well. To see more, go to disqus.com, they have a interactive demo right in front of you!

  • Alias

    How about you look at it like this?  Making a joke that ‘pokes fun’ at something personal about somebody else might hurt them.  Hurting people is bad.  From their perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether what you did was ‘offence’ or ‘harrassment’.  Even if your intent wasn’t to hurt them, they have been hurt and it is undeniably your fault.

    The person might not want to hang out with you if you habitually make comments that are hurtful to them.  The person would almost certainly not feel safe going to a public place where there are many people who are likely to make jokes like that.

    A policy that bans these jokes allows vulnerable people to feel safe going to place like this, and that’s extremely important.

    Consider that your objection here is essentially based on the idea that it’s too much trouble for you to stop making one very specific type of joke, even though that joke might be hurting someone.  I don’t think that’s even remotely acceptable morally and if you do I’m not sure what that says about you.  If you’ve got to make jokes, make jokes that aren’t specifically about other people.  And understand that even if YOU aren’t hurting people deliberate, can you vouch for every single other person attending an event without a strong policy on harrasment?

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    You are framing things in a completely inappropriate way by putting scrutiny on “people who take offense.”

    In my experience, all or nearly all of the pearl-clutching is being done by the people who don’t like being called out for creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment for women, LGBT individuals, and other minorities. They’re “offended” that others are so insensitive as to not magically read their minds, and realize they didn’t mean to cause them offense when they acted like jerks, or even brought politics designed to destroy or erase those individuals into their shared hacker spaces. They’re “offended” at being called out for hurting others.

    Furthermore, the lines which you’re drawing between “offense” and “harrassment,” as well as between “respect” and being disrespectful, are disingenious. As far as I know and remember, you aren’t the subject of systemic harassment based on your gender, sexuality, or gender identity. Either way you seem to be more concerned with policing those who are about how “respectful” they’re being than with discerning what’s causing their problems and working to alleviate them.

    You have been trying to make the Tone Argument into policy for as long as I’ve read Planet Ubuntu, and this history has been documented by Geek Feminism. I’m not sure what conflict of interest prevents you from being honest with yourself and others about why you need to silence marginalized people, but I’d have a lot more respect for you if you owned up to it. As well as to the actual reason for your condescending vagueblogging.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    Because intent, and not effect, is what determines offense. And because endangered minority groups have no right to reprieve from their PTSD triggers, even inside of hacker spaces.

    It is their problem and not yours, because you are privileged to be able to walk away and leave the problem you caused in their laps. They aren’t.

  • http://www.kryogenix.org/days/ sil

     Be warned: I think the new Disqus removes the ability to post as an openid (it just does facebook, twitter, etc), which is likely to annoy your commenters (if I’m not wrong).

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    You have to go to disqus.com/login/ to log in using OpenID. Disqus 2012 is released to the public, but they are adding more features, from the classic Disqus, like media embed upload support. OpenID and other login options never introduced before are on the agenda.

  • Anonymous

    “A policy that bans these jokes allows vulnerable people to feel safe going to place like this, and that’s extremely important”.

    How do you define what jokes hurt and what jokes don’t? Sure there are the easy areas to define such as sexism, racism and homophobia, but what about the gray areas? What about jokes about technology choices, jokes about Operating Systems and companies, what about jokes about where people live and what sports teams they support? Are they banned too? They could potentially hurt somone’s feelings too.

    I have never once not advocated the idea of preventing people from getting hurt at events or in communities, but building social policy doesn’t work because “hurt” is not a consistent thing that we can build regulation and affordances around easily. While we can protect certain groups (such as avoiding gender-related discrimination), we can’t effectively cover all elements of hurtful content.

    “Consider that your objection here is essentially based on the idea that it’s too much trouble for you to stop making one very specific type of joke, even though that joke might be hurting someone”.

    Speaking personally, I always try to base my humor on the audience, and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong. I also base my humor on what I consider to be acceptable in a social situation. There have been times in the past when I have made a joke which based on my life experience and values I consider to be harmless and someone else had been offended. In those cases that person and I simply see things differently.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments, Taryn.

     ”You are framing things in a completely inappropriate way by putting scrutiny on ‘people who take offense.’”

    While I am applying commentary on those who take offense, this article is really about social policy makers. I make it very clear in this blog post that deliberately hurtful content is unacceptable, and I have never condoned it. I want a welcoming, diverse, and pleasant environment as much as anyone else, but I just don’t think building social policy outlawing anything that could offend someone is the solution.

    “Furthermore, the lines which you’re drawing between “offense” and “harrassment,” as well as between “respect” and being disrespectful, are disingenious”.

    I disagree about being disingenious. While I am by no means perfect, I do believe I am sincere. Why would I not be sincere on a topic such as this? It is not like I want a culture of harassment in communities. Just because I see things a little differently to you doesn’t mean I am disingenuous.

    “As far as I know and remember, you aren’t the subject of systemic harassment based on your gender, sexuality, or gender identity. Either way you seem to be more concerned with policing those who are about how “respectful” they’re being than with discerning what’s causing their problems and working to alleviate them”.

    This is is an argument I often see from some folks: “just because you are not a victim, you don’t understand”. Now, I agree, in part. I have rarely suffered gender equality, but it has happened. When I went to a Nail Salon with my wife shortly before I got married and everyone in the salon was female, they all thought it was funny that a guy was going there…and to get his “nails done”, no less. Likewise, when Erica and I are hanging out with two gay couples we know, they often make jokes and comments about me being straight. I don’t consider these cases to be problematic: they are not harassment, they are just an identification of our differences.

    But I agree, I have never been harassed, and I have never experienced what it must like to be harassed. But does that mean that I don’t have ideas, experiences, and solutions to contribute? While these things may not have happened to me, I have worked with and have friends who have been harassed both sexually and violently. Their experiences, like other experiences in my life, factor into my world view. Their experiences specifically are a big chunk of the reason why I consider “harassment” and “being offended” to be two quite different things.

    I might not have suffered at the hands of harassment, and my views and opinions may not be right, but I do consider my goals and actions to be sincere.

    “You have been trying to make the Tone Argument into policy for as long as I’ve read Planet Ubuntu, and this history has been documented by Geek Feminism. I’m not sure what conflict of interest prevents you from being honest with yourself and others about why you need to silence marginalized people, but I’d have a lot more respect for you if you owned up to it. As well as to the actual reason for your condescending vagueblogging”.

    In your comments you have accused me of being disingenuous, silencing marginalized people, and condescending. I don’t understand why feel the need to be so rude.

    I am being honest with my myself and with others and if you don’t feel like I am sincere in my goals and actions, well, we will just have to agree to disagree.

  • https://launchpad.net/~bjoern-michaelsen Bjoern Michaelsen

    Thanks Jono for this excellent post. I read some of the other posts wrt this topic and thought of giving adding my own position in a post of my own, but since I find your post an excellent starting point, I will just add a few thoughts here: I found most of the discussion about the wording of a policy mere sophism as growing a community is never about such an abstract word-monster. As someone older and wiser than me said a long time ago “technical solutions to social problems almost never work”.  And some policy wording is a technical (legalise) solution.

    That does not mean such policy should not exist. However, its exact words are mostly irrelevant. Relevant is how people implement the idea and not the words of the policy.

    I bet e.g. Microsoft has a anti harassment policy and is financing terrible gender-stereotyping like this (german): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwfV4mBUbbo or that embarrassing show at the Azure show at NDC.

    So: Stop fighting about wording in policies and start taking care to implement the idea behind those policies.

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

    I don’t have many commentors, but you can comment at my website if you wish, OpenID does still work I believe if you are still logged in. Go and see if you can comment there, I have a native Disqus login because I have a forum set up with Disqus.

  • mrben

    Greetings from another member of your minority ;)

    Jono – good post, although I think you have maybe failed to identify the varying degrees of offensiveness. Whereas you do sometimes get individuals who seem to get offended by anything/everything, you also get some things that are offensive to everyone in a group. But, as you say, knee-jerk reactions and attempts to codify social interactions aren’t helpful. (“Convention dictates that I offer you a hot beverage” Sheldon Cooper, TBBT)

    Presumably, of course, this clears up an age old question – LugRadio wasn’t offensive – it was harrassment! ;)

  • Enoch Root

    Quoth: “Just because someone gets offended doesn’t mean they have the right to shut someone else down. The rights and views of Person A are just as important as the rights and views of Person or Audience B.”Not actually true, as stated. It’s completely situational. Not all offenses are the same, and not all reasons for stating something offensive are the same.The rights of the individuals remain, but the relative merit of an offense, or an offending statement, can’t be assigned in a blanket statement such as this.The process of determining these relative merits is called ‘society.’It’s a favorite game of trolls and bullies to upend this process, and say that their rights are valid too, just like those they’ve offended or hurt. This is likely why so many react negatively to a reasoned response to complaints of offense; the hurt party has heard it before, perhaps with much worse intent.

    It is much more difficult to rectify this situation than it is to simply not say offensive things in the first place.

    So if you end up in a situation where you have to tell people to grow thicker skins and respect your rights as a presenter, it’s safe to say you suck at it.

  • Enoch Root

    Also, Discus seems to have swallowed my formatting. Boo.

  • Anonymous

    This post needed at least another three kitty pictures …

  • Alias

    nobody is oppressed based on their choice of sports team or operating system.  people are oppressed based on their race, sexuality, and religion.  it is not hard to tell whether or not a joke is offensive.  you seem to be much more concerned about people being polite than people not making hurtful comments about one another.  believe it or not, it is entirely possible to say horribly hurtful things while being polite, and it is possible to be outraged for a good reason.  you probably aren’t going to believe this though, because you seem pretty invested in pretending that people being rude is the REAL problem.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    The “tone argument” means insisting on decorum from people who have been hurt to the point that they’re no longer able to maintain it. It’s a tool for the priviliged to silence the oppressed, not a requirement for civil conversation. Because of this, insisting on civility above all else is marginalizing regardless of your intent.

    People are telling you that you don’t understand because you act like you don’t, because if you did understand you wouldn’t be doing things that hurt and exclude them. Or establishing social policies that create situations where they will be hurt or excluded.

    People can’t magically read your mind and know that you didn’t intend to upset them. If you want to build a community that lives up to the Ubuntu name you have to educate yourself about the issues marginalized persons deal with, so that instead of passive-aggressively telling someone whose foot got stepped on to stop crying in pain you can just tell the one who did it “yeah, that sexist joke you just made? Not cool, bro.”

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

     This post needed less passive-aggressive crap.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    How do you define what jokes hurt and what jokes don’t?

    Gee, I don’t know, maybe you could just err on the side of caution at the technical conference referred to in the journal entry you totally aren’t replying to and just make a rule not to make fun of anyone or anyone’s choices.

    Failing that, you could make stuff where, say, someone’s the target of systemic oppression, off-limits.

    I know, everyone has to be able to exchange light-hearted, good-natured sexist jokes and homo- and transphobic slurs, even though those damn feminists keep getting all uppity about it. Now if only there were more women and queers in open-source; I can’t fathom why they wouldn’t want to show up.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    Yeah, I’m getting outraged here and that’s going to get me banned.

    That “pretty invested in pretending” thing is what I meant about his conflict of interest.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Taryn,

    Thanks for your comments. Responses below:

    “The “tone argument” means insisting on decorum from people who have been hurt to the point that they’re no longer able to maintain it. It’s a tool for the priviliged to silence the oppressed, not a requirement for civil conversation. Because of this, insisting on civility above all else is marginalizing regardless of your intent”.

    I am getting a little tired of this view of “you are privileged, therefore your opinion is less valid”; I find it condescending and exclusionary, in the same way women have suffered exclusionary behavior in various communities. Just because I am white and male doesn’t mean that I don’t understand or have compassion and empathy of exclusionary, anti-social, or harassing behaviour.

    “People are telling you that you don’t understand because you act like you don’t, because if you did understand you wouldn’t be doing things that hurt and exclude them. Or establishing social policies that create situations where they will be hurt or excluded”.

    How am I “hurting and excluding” people? Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I am hurting and excluding others; it simply means that I don’t agree with your viewpoint.

    As for me “establishing social policies that create situations where they will be hurt or excluded”, point at a policy I have written or supported that deliberately hurts or excludes people. The whole point of this blog post is that social policies that blacklist certain types of discussion or behaviour are not effective; they don’t get to the root cause of exclusionary or divisive behaviour, so why would I architect such a policy under these principles?

    “People can’t magically read your mind and know that you didn’t intend to upset them. If you want to build a community that lives up to the Ubuntu name you have to educate yourself about the issues marginalized persons deal with, so that instead of passive-aggressively telling someone whose foot got stepped on to stop crying in pain you can just tell the one who did it “yeah, that sexist joke you just made? Not cool, bro.”

    Of course people can’t read minds, and this is why I made the point that people sometimes just get offended, and that is OK sometimes. I don’t believe that you can build an open, diverse, and rewarding community with a social policy that prohibits all things that could hurt someone; as I said in blog post, where do you draw the line?

    As an example, in your comment you suggest a few things that hurt me – that I am hurting and excluding people, that I am creating social policies to do this, and that I am privileged and therefore my opinion is less valid because of such privilege – I find these comments hurtful, but do I want to ban you from saying them? No. Of course not.

    As I said in my post and as I have said before that, I believe the solution here is balance. Good general rules of social engagement (such as the Ubuntu Code Of Conduct) and clear governance escalation processes are what I consider to be the best solution for helping to protect our communities. Can we prevent all occurrences of people getting hurt and offended? I don’t believe the solution is creating a detailed handbook of things that are and are not acceptable. I also don’t think you do this by disregarding someone’s opinion because they are “female”, “male”, “white”, “black”, “rich”, “poor”, “technical”, “privileged” or otherwise.

  • Anonymous

     Taryn, I would never dream of banning you from my blog because you share a different viewpoint to me. I do however  kindly request that all commentators are polite and respectful in their discourse; I ban people who are not, and there have only been a few where that has occurred.

    Alias / Taryn – I agree that just being polite is not enough, and believe me, I know what it is like to work with people who are passive aggressive; I recently had a colleague who exhibited this kind of behaviour, and it was demotivating.

    There is absolutely the potential when someone can be polite but disrespectful and hurtful. I have seen people myself who in a calm and respectful tone have said incredibly hurtful things to others. I am not tolerating this at all, and those people should be disciplined in our communities.

    The challenge here is that indeed it is not obvious when something is going to be hurtful to others, but does that mean that we outlaw anything that could cause hurt? Everything can hurt someone, so this is not a scalable policy, which is the point of my post.

    It boggles my mind that in many communities with such technical and intellectual capabilities that we still need to teach people how to have basic social skills. Like you, it disappoints me when some acts in an exclusionary, hurtful manner, or objectifies anyone. We don’t solve this with rulebooks and content blacklists though, we solve it with education.