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.)