gnome is humans; jeff is human; murray is violating the no asshole rule

My post yesterday was all too brief. This one will be equivalently long, sorry. Some clarifications:

First: gnome is not ‘in trouble.’ [1][2] GNOME is people, and so, of course, we should be excellent to each other.

But GNOME is also humans. This is not to defend being an asshole (more on that below) but every organization composed of humans has assholes and more mundane personality conflicts. You measure the organization not by whether it has assholes, but by what it does about them. GNOME is no different; like any long-lived organization, it has had conflicts before and will have them again. So, no, GNOME is not “in trouble,” unless being assholes to each other becomes an ongoing problem rather than an occasional outburst. And I don’t see any evidence of that, yet.

Second: I should clarify my comment that Jeff and I have “had several frustrating clashes when we’ve worked together;” Jeff and those who are thinking of voting for Jeff deserve that I be more specific and not leave that dangling.

Jeff is a passionate, committed person; he cares deeply and honestly about GNOME and about software freedom. He channels that into being an incredible motivator, and a great communicator of our values and message. There are very few people, anywhere in Free Software, who are his peer in this department, and GNOME is lucky to have him in that role.

Like all of us, Jeff is human and hence imperfect. In Jeff’s case, it is ironic that someone who is most of the time so positive can some of the time have such a hugely negative impact on people and their motivation. I think Murray does exaggerate (psychotic? come on, man. Also, see below.) But as Jeff admits, there is truth there- he has obstructed the work of others in the past by overcommitting himself and refusing to delegate (I’ve been one of those victims who Murray refers to, and it sucks), and one of the least appealing activities in GNOME (for me) is disagreeing with Jeff, because it is so emotionally draining- much more so than anyone else I’ve ever had to disagree with. It is hard to explain until you’ve been there, but trust me- not fun :/ (This particular experience is much of what I was alluding to when I talked about avoiding politics in my own candidacy announce.)

But after several long talks with Jeff since my candidacy announcement, where I’ve been more up front about my issues than I have in the past, I do think he’s genuinely working on these things, and I certainly think that (in most circumstances) these problems shouldn’t outweigh the other things Jeff brings to the table. I look forward to working with him again in the new board, both as his friend and as his fellow volunteer, and I will be more upfront than I have been in the past about broaching the sorts of issues raised by Murray- not just with Jeff, but with others- so that we actually fix these issues instead of just screaming about them.

Finally, and probably most importantly: Murray, FFS. We should all feel that it is our responsibility (not just our right) to speak the truth. And you are right to call out those of us who have soft-pedaled problems in the past. But it is hard to imagine a worse way to deliver the message than what you did. I think less of you as a person now- even though I agree with much of what you said! Truth speaking and communication is a habit I hope GNOME gets better at, but this goes well beyond that- the level of vitriol and hatred is simply something that cannot become a habit in any healthy community. The way you delivered the message simply must be condemned.

You wrote the code of conduct– the one that says “Disagreement is no excuse for … personal attacks.” (emphasis mine.) No matter how correct the substance, your post is almost the textbook example of not merely a personal attack, but a vicious, hateful, direct, unambiguous personal attack. There is no other plausible explanation for the tone of your post. If you honestly wanted to help GNOME deal with the problem, you could easily have listed the various factual issues, discussed factual results, and let people draw their own conclusions as to whether or not Jeff is ‘poisonous people.’ You could have suggested ‘hey, next time you block on Jeff, JFDI instead of waiting; here are the reasons why blocking on Jeff has been damaging in the past’, or any of a number of more constructive approaches that still would have done the good deed of getting these issues into the open, while being less purely hateful. You’re completely right that these things need to be discussed, and should be discussed. But that isn’t what you did. Instead, you drenched your commentary in so many layers of palpable loathing that it may well end up being harder for people to challenge such behaviors in the future, for fear of being associated with such hatred.

So… I don’t know. The words cannot be resaid or unsaid; informative speech should not be stifled, especially when we’re all trying to make decisions about how our community will run in the future; and in the end some good may even come of the message if it helps all of us work more honestly and straightforwardly with each other. But regardless of what you think of the substance of the message, the way in which Murray delivered it should be condemned; must be condemned, if we’re to function as a healthy community. I hesitate to say ‘unacceptable’, because that implies some sort of punishment; I’d settle for shame and embarrassment.

To put it another way, Murray: you may be proud, perhaps even with some justification, for having the guts to deliver the message. But you should be deeply, deeply embarassed by the way you delivered the message- it was unnecessarily destructive and hateful, and that just can’t be part of any constructive, functional community.
[Disclaimer: I’m no saint; in a corporate context, I once did something similar to what Murray did, to someone who died in an accident not long thereafter. I still regret that I never had a chance to apologize for the way I said what I said, and I’m trying hard not to repeat the mistake. Maybe Murray can do the same.]

32 thoughts on “gnome is humans; jeff is human; murray is violating the no asshole rule”

  1. the nature-theme we discussed at Guadec ever would. Let the distros be held down by conservatism, let’s be bold and go dark!” There’s been some discussion about in on Planet GNOME (when people were not talking about the elections and who is oris notpsychotic [IMG ;-)]), some people suggested that having a dark theme would make the desktop look to “hackerish” and therefore scare people off. I do not agree with that. Right now vanilla GNOME looks very Windowsy when it comes to colors for

  2. the nature-theme we discussed at Guadec ever would. Let the distros be held down by conservatism, let’s be bold and go dark!” There’s been some discussion about in on Planet GNOME (when people were not talking about the elections and who is oris notpsychotic [IMG ;-)]), some people suggested that having a dark theme would make the desktop look to “hackerish” and therefore scare people off. I do not agree with that. Right now vanilla GNOME looks very Windowsy when it comes to colors for

  3. While I’m agree with Morten I also share Julien impression that “the community is broken in two camps”.
    The human is your personal friend, so you (mostly) have no problem with him.
    I didn’t receive any single ‘Yes/No’ answer on my mails from this ‘passionate, committed person’.

    I believe you experienced bad feeling about yourself while sending some unreplyed mail again.
    No answer at all is much worse than the answer ‘No’.

    2 or 3 weeks after IRC ‘conversation’ (if one can consider it as such) with the ‘great communicator’ I decided to ask about Planet policy on the foundation-list.
    Nothing sensible happened. Later Damien complained about Planet ans SVN accounts, so The Board leaked some info that they are working on the issue. Really, it’s still possible that The Board are/were working on it and some solution will be available soon. Am I the only who was expected more timely and open process or at least publishing something about it? Now from my point it looks like they promised to improve things just to stop the discussion and save some person from be named ‘asshole’ on public. Seems to be similar with OOXML statement fiasco, eh? Why I don’t trust The Board anymore?

    Well, I voted for you with hope that you are able to restore the board credibility. Good Luck, and thanks for all the fish!

    P.S. Sometime ago I sent a mail to the dude who manage Planet KDE, and asked him what the Planet KDE policy (if any) is and so on. Just two facts:
    1. The answer was received after _one month_.
    2. K-dudes have no published policy about their Planet too.

    P.P.S. Excuse my French, please.

  4. Luis, there’s one thing I’ve wondered and that nobody has blogged about yet:
    I believe there are very few humans that would be capable of expressing the frustration about someone they are close to without being very rude. I certainly know that I need to get _very_ pissed at somebody before I even think about denouncing her on my blog. And when I finally do it, I want to get it done. And of course, writing that stuff gets me into a rage because I remember all those cases where I was annoyed at that person. Even you admitted to behaving that way once, and I’m pretty sure you’re not one of those hate-spitting people, even though you’re a lawyer.

    So I don’t think any worse of Murray because he wrote such a mean blog post, I just thought the tone was “normal” in those conditions. I’d be surprised if his next blog post would sound as bad. So, do you really think your opinion of Murray needs to degrate just because he behaves like anyone else?

  5. Benjamin: You’re certainly right that when you’ve been frustrated with someone for at least five years, as Murray has, frustration can make it difficult to do anything else but scream. But even my event was capped by calling someone incompetent, not psychotic, nor did I broadly announce that I was going to just pretend the person didn’t exist. There are things you can do before it gets to that point, and Murray did some of them one-on-one with Jeff but none of them with outreach to the community. And that is what is necessary.

    Valek: I can’t blame you for being frustrated, and frankly, you’ve got no good reason to trust Jeff or the board. The best I can say is that I hope that you can put that aside in the name of our truly shared common goals, and continue to volunteer for the community while we try to prove we’re worthy.

  6. Perhaps Gnome needs an ombudsman who can overrule people if they are not with the program (for whatever reason), to protect progress, but also the people involved on both sides.

  7. Condemn the vitriol, sure, but if you’re going to cut Jeff some slack for being human, you might want to cut Murray some too, instead of writing: “I think less of you as a person now.” After all, at least Murray’s unfortunate behavior was the direct result of Jeff’s. Which doesn’t make it right, just more understandable.

  8. The few times i had “text” discussion with murray, i already noticed he sometimes comes of as a bit of a ass. So the fact that when he tried to be a bit of a ass it went over the top really didn’t suprise me much.
    Don’t get me wrong though, i respect and admire murray for what he does, but if your not talking to him in person he can sound like a ass.

    The only thing that bothers me is that he used his own blog and thus p.g.o as a platform, and not a mailinglist. (foundation or otherwise)
    As i see it p.g.o is one of the best PR outlets we have, and while i would never want any censor on it, i do think that murray’s blog post may have hurt gnomes brand a bit. Although i’m not sure if its a little bit or even less, since (to my knowledge) no media have picked up on it. (not even ./ what is this world coming to? )

  9. Luis,

    I read your blog often, and have a lot of respect for your thoughts and opinions. Truthfully, I wish you hadn’t bothered to respond to all this nonsense at all. One guys flamed another guy in public — let it stay between the two of them. Why lower yourself into the muck? Especially given that you are running for one of the spots on the Gnome Board, I think you should have just stayed silent on the whole topic.

    All of the response and attention in the gnome blogosphere is just feeding the original troll.

  10. anon: I responded because this isn’t some crappy message board; it is a community of people who need to work together, and so we have to set some standards of behavior. If we allow trolls, we lose. (To be clear, I’m not attacking Murray’s content; we shouldn’t have to fake agreement with each other. But we should be required (if necessary) to fake respect for each other.)

  11. Luis:

    In what way was Murray’s post a personal attack? In what way was Murray a troll? The terms don’t mean what you think they mean.

    “Michael Moore is fat” is a personal attack. “Michael Moore is a communist” is a personal attack. “Michael Moore does a piss-poor job at whatever he’s claims he’s good at” is not. It may be vehement, it may be emotional, it may be unsubstantiated, but it is not a personal attack.

    And if — as you admit yourself — that Murray’s blog post is actually bringing some useful, fruitful information to the table, then in what sense was Murray being a “troll”? A troll is by definition someone who courts useless attention just for the sake of courting useless attention.

    When you label Murray as a “troll”, and Murray’s comments as “personal attacks”, I think you are the one who’s guilty of personal attacks here.

  12. […] Luis Villa’s Blog / gnome is humans; jeff is human; murray is violating the no asshole rule good to see Luis outline his position on the GNOME flap in more depth, and condemn the approach taken by Murray. disagreement and criticism are fine things, as Luis says, and no one is perfect. but there is no excuse whatsoever for what was said. (tags: luisvilla jeffwaugh gnome) […]

  13. Funny, how all these people come out of the woodwork to complain about Jeff, now that Murray started. Seems like they didn’t think it was a problem before. Or were they afraid of speaking up?

    Really, I don’t think not adding someone to Planet Gnome is proof of anything about Jeff. I bet there’s at least 50 people that I didn’t answer an email for whatever reasons, even though they would have liked me to.

  14. I think civility is OVERRATED. But I also think Murray should have quoted from relevant places when he ranted. By doing so, he would have proved his point beyond any shadow of doubt, nipped this controversy in the bud. GNOMErs tend to respond to well-reasoned arguments much better than to explosions of character.

    If GNOME is people, then everyone in GNOME needs to be prepared for these kinds of happenings every once in a while. It’s human to blurt stuff out, and it’s not necessarily unhealthy. If Murray feels like lashing out to anyone, it’s his biology-given right and people should have accepted it from the outset (the question of respecting his opinion, of course, is something that’s open to pondering).

  15. Benjamin, when the “job” you take responsibility of is to accept or reject people for inclusion on the planet, you have to… *shock* accept or include them. Replying, no matter what the outcome, is part of the damn job. If you can’t do it in a timely manner, you should be fired for being a public relations destroyer.

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