Theodicius

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Bad Behavior and Arrogance

Posted on by arlen

How far can you reach when someone’s behavior becomes offensive? Is guilt by association ever permissable?

Robert Vining, newly minted chief spokesman and admin for All Together As A Whole is finding that out, right now. He writes about it in this blog post.

I’ve been there, Robert. You made the right choice.

In a nutshell, he was told he was going to be removed from helping with the joomla.org forums unless, now that he’s in charge, he bans an individual from an unaffiliated website. (It says “independent” in the tagline, in case you’re easily confused.)

Now let’s note that this person was banned from joomla.org, and from all appearances the banning was certainly with cause. But note also this individual has not given cause to be banned from the site Robert administers. And that’s the crux of this.

Let me speak to this from direct experience. I used to organize chess tournaments; my events were among the strongest held in my state every year. And more than once I had to listen to players from a neighboring state expressing “sympathy” for me for having to put up with another player from their state. And every time one of these “helpful” people said that, I responded that the person in question is better behaved in my events than most other players, including themselves. I don’t know what their issue was, and I don’t care. I just know that when he was in my house he behaved himself well, and I wasn’t going to let them litter my yard with their garbage.

I loaned money to a player once, and was instantly told (by my partner, no less) that I was making a mistake, and I’d never see the money again. And the next day, before play began, I got my money back.

This is the lesson I learned long ago, from direct experience. Behavior in one location, among one set of people, under one set of conditions, does not dictate forever behavior in other locations, among other people, under other conditions. And to assert otherwise is dangerously stupid.

I’m leaving names other than Robert’s out of this for a reason. The point here is one of principle, and is not in any way personal. Let me say that I would certainly have voted in favor of the original ban, had I had a vote, so in no sense is this aimed at criticizing the original ban, nor should it be seen as excusing or condoning the behavior that caused the ban. Let the joomla.org ban stand unchallenged, by all means. It is instead aimed at the presumption behind further opinions expressed during discussion of this by two members of the project leadership that this person should not be allowed the chance to prove he has changed and that he can participate somewhere else without giving offense. In effect, they assert he should never be forgiven.

I find that attitude dangerously arrogant, and deeply offensive. Almost as offensive, in fact, as the original conduct. People can change. I have first-hand knowledge that people can learn how to behave themselves. Not only have I seen it around me, I’ve seen it in myself.

We all know that we can blow it for ourselves by our own conduct. That’s how it should be. But how comfortable can we be around people knowing they’ll turn on us, and turn us out, when our only offense is to have the grace to give someone whose only transgression is words a second chance?

I honestly don’t know. And that worries me.

(Full Disclosure: I edited this post after it was published. I broke what was paragraph #3 into what is currently paragraphs #3 and #4, to make it more readable.)

6 Responses to Bad Behavior and Arrogance

  1. Wow, I don’t think I could have put it quite as eloquently as you did. Perfect example of the point I was trying to make with them.

    The sad part is, the discussion is still being steered toward the third party and totally dancing around the issue I raised in my blog post.

    It’s pathetic.

  2. I know. As I read through a lot of the discussion taking place I was marveling at how much it was getting sidetracked into minutiae, away from the point at hand. A good half of the “official” discussion I could find centered on events and their aftermath on Joomla.org, and not on the principles involved.

    It’s something I’ve found to be quite disheartening at times. There’s a tremendous tendency to shift focus away from principles; it almost seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. This is understandable, perhaps, in writing code; working code trumps principles. But interactions within a community must begin with clearly defined principles, and only descend from there to cases; the alternative can work quite well in small groups, but it doesn’t scale at all.

    One thing I didn’t mention, mainly because I have uncertain knowledge of it (I am not, after all, a lawyer): Would there have been any legal liability unleashed upon you or the All Together As A Whole community for barring someone who had not given the community cause to take such action? Like I said, I’m not a lawyer, but were I in your shoes, that is certainly something that wold have concerned me.

  3. To be perfectly honest Arlen, I had not thought of this liability that you mention. I was strictly standing ground on a moral issue.

    I don’t know that I said it, but thanks for writing your thoughts here.

  4. I was very much aware of the point you made in this blog before I read the above, but now I realise I had still failed to grasp how far-reaching the implications really are. No wonder the concept of forgiveness is common to all world religions.

    If you don’t take this as a professional view, personally I think banning someone who has done nothing wrong might well have had legal implications, at least in theory.

    It is a sad thought that a quiet ATAAW ban might have been less harmful than his name being pulled through the mud in the leadership discussion that followed Rob’s correct decision not to give in to undue pressure. Even heavy criminals see their names omitted in news reports.

  5. “Even heavy criminals see their names omitted in news reports.”

    Not here in the US. In fact, you can go to a web site and see a list of former sex offenders (who have already served their full prison sentence) who live in your neighborhood, complete with their names and current addresses.

    I can see reasons both for and against such a practice, so let’s not open that sort of a debate, OK? I just bring it up to show that’s far from a universal practice.

    But in the specific case of the person in question, I have mixed feelings about the situation you describe. While I agree it was ugly to see the spectacle he made of himself rehashed, and quite possibly made him squirm to have it waved in his face again, it also may have the salutary effect of reminding us all that our actions have consequences, and that what we say and do out here on the web can stick with us for a long time. It’s a reminder that we all need to control ourselves out here.

    “As it was, so shall it ever be” is a sad mantra. It denies life, for the essence of life is growth and change. It’s the trap of the Devil, which to this day continues to snare otherwise intelligent and good people.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends.

    Matthew 5:43-47

  6. Thank you for this post, Arlen. Thanks, especially, for sharing that passage.

    It would have been helpful had the leadership team discussion focused on a review of the process by which community members are assigned positions within the Joomla! project. That was the crux of the problem and reviewing and adjusting that process would have been a helpful response.

    Unfortunately, the conversation did not go that way. Instead, the mistakes of the individual who was banned a year earlier were put on display and the conversation shifted to the integrity of those who would involve him.

    As is often the case, there was a single voice in the discussion dealing with the real issues. That voice was not heard.

    At this point, I think it would be best to remove the display of the wrong doing since it had no bearing on the problem. And then, go back and focus on the process issue that created the problem to begin with.

    It can be very tricky business to deal with problems of this nature. It’s never to late to make things right and it’s important to give people another chance.

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