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The Freedom to be Civil

May 11, 2007, 21:45 (38 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

This whole business of how we treat each other online has been on my mind a lot lately. I know you've heard all the same excuses and justifications as I have for treating other people shabbily: defending sacred free speech rights, can't you take a joke, stupid people deserve to be treated like idiots, if you can't take the heat get out, it's just colorful language lighten up already, oo here come the politically correct police, Linus calls people braindead and everyone thinks he's cute and funny, and so forth.

Maybe I'm getting mushy in my old age, but I think it's wrong and destructive. I'm glad that Ubuntu makes their code of conduct a priority, and actually enforces it. Sure, there are bumpy spots, but overall they're successful at establishing an atmosphere that supports courtesy and discourages rotten behavior, without needing jackbooted forum cops on duty all the time.

Why bother with courtesy? Because it shows respect for other people. Because it shows you're a mature, thinking person who is capable of understanding consequences, and who understands the difference between undisciplined spewing and communicating. Probably the most famous example is how to say RTFM in a constructive way:

"RTFM, luser."
Obviously that is not constructive. But this is:
"You'll find the answer in the manual at http://foourl.com."
The first example accomplishes nothing; why even bother? What good do you get out of speaking that way? A small bit of nasty temper and peeve is emitted, and then what do you have? The second example delivers almost the same message, but in a much more constructive and helpful way.

I'm probably preaching to the choir here; the LT crowd is a pretty good one. I enjoy reading your comments and learn a lot from them. But even on LT we get the occasional spew of raw bile that leaves me scratching my head, like this one:

"I won't even argue against the usefullness of a Linux distribution designed for 17 - 23 year olds with testosteron overproduction problems and the brains of not overly bright moles."
I almost deleted it. But then I decided to leave it and let it speak for itself. It's not like you fine readers are going to be instantly brainwashed or drawn into a pointless flamefest.

My wise mom used to tell me "Any dope can be a vandal. It doesn't take any skill or brains to break things. But it takes special people to build things, and to build them with care and love." Of course I didn't appreciate the wisdom of this until I was approaching old fartdom; isn't it funny how our parents get smarter as we get older.

I love this quote:

"It seems pretty simple to me: you try to post things which are not offensive, and if somehow you do manage to offend someone, you try to make amends. That surely should be the norm.
This comes from Balancing discussion. Nearly all of the comments are wonderful; they express disagreement with the parent post in clear but not insulting terms, and present articulate alternatives. Just think if the responses had been the more typical "STFU luser" type of commentary- more heat, no light, and another little blotch of nastiness is born.

I'm going to close with my current favorite Edmund Burke quotation:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
We need to support each other, and not toady to the bullies and trolls of the world.

Oh, and what about Linus? Well, he's Linus. We aren't.

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