Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thinking Together for Success

Tonight I heard an excellent interview on Fresh Air called How Birth Control And Abortion Became Politicized. Don't worry, I'm not going to write about politics, history, or medical procedures! I was struck by how positions on this subject have changed over the years. And yet many Americans now line up on one side or the other, and little dialogue is taking place between the two sides. As a consequence, my country is making little progress in resolving this issue. We have a shocking number of unwanted pregnancies here, with little discussion about improving the situation.

I just finished an interesting book about religion and politics by Francis Shaeffer (Sex, Mom and God), where he makes an eloquent lament about the same issue, and he's been on all sides of it, including creating the Religious Right in the US with his father and some others. When people stop listening to one another, they stop thinking together, which is the process we need to solve the really tough problems.

I'm reading again the excellent Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together. The author illustrates many tough problems which have been successfully solved in dialogue, and some cases where dialogue broke down, and why. Unfortunately, the most often used attempts we are making to solve problems and make decisions aren't as effective as they could be. I see this in Western culture, and in Free and Open Source Software. I see a lot of conversations which turn into an airing of long-held positions, arguments, and debates, instead of creativity, fresh thinking, and problem solving.

There is another way, and I thank those in Linux who are fostering team-building, sprints, and larger in-person meetings such as Canonical's UDS, the KDE e.V.'s sprints, Akademy, Desktop Summits, and the GNOME Foundation's Guadecs and Desktop Summits. So much great dialogue can happen in those gatherings! There are other excellent groups sponsoring other opportunities for people to dialogue, but these are the ones I've experienced. I'd like to see us carry out dialogue on our mailing lists, blogs, forums and on IRC as well as our face-to-face meetings.

To the extent that people can begin to listen to one another as much as talk about their own knowledge and ideas, we'll begin to think together more and more, and craft more amazing solutions to our common problems. Until we learn how to do this better, we'll be a minority movement. We have to offer not just better software than the closed, unfree stuff, but also an attractive community, where we model mutual respect and helpful partnership.

This week I've read some really discouraging blog comments, IRC discussions, and mail list threads. We can do better! And we must do better, if we want to be ultimately successful. This isn't about enforcing codes of conduct, but about listening, and engaging in thinking, together. As Mahatma Gandhi said, Be the change you want to see in the world.


  1. Good post.

    I think the dialog problems arise when one of the part mark one of the discussion points are not negotiable, in the case of birth control religions (mostly catholic) the right of life is not negotiable and that's something the other part do not understand.

    To put in in the record, the catholics are not against birth control, they are against some methods used for it.

  2. Do those "discouraging blog comments" include reminders that calls for civility are often just ways to silence people who point out that a) The Ubuntu community is now in the business of promoting "un-free stuff", and b) Canonical has made some serious jerk moves towards its upstreams and contributors?

  3. Nicely done. You may have actually said something and encouraged change without stirring up a hornets nest! =)

  4. Thanks for reading and responding, commenters. Dialogue is a process, and politely stating your position, and then defending it against attack, are the beginning two stages. Unfortunately, that's as far as we get, far too often. The difficult part is to stop talking, and start listening, and actually *hear* the other viewpoints. Eventually, the group coalesces to the point that people can begin to speak for the group, rather than for their own beginning position.

    Thank you for bringing your viewpoints here.

  5. Thoughtful and enjoyable as always :)