Friday, May 24, 2013

Catalyst Leadership

I read a list post thread tonight that saddened me. I won't say what community it is part of, or point out the participants, because it is far too common in many of our community meeting places, whether they be lists, IRC or forums. Stereotypes are used rather than names here.

Newperson speaks up, I think for the first time, wondering when a new project result will be put to use, and offering a possible sample.

Longtime Devel speaks up, using rather angry questions about how the old symbol came to be displaced.

Another Oldtimer speaks up defending the symbol, accusing Longtime Devel of being out of touch.

And on. And on. The listowners don't redirect the discussion, and when questions are asked, they are answered angrily.

Newperson probably has departed by this point.

This seems like a small occurrence, but it is bad for every single participant, and each bystander has the power to change the conversation at each point.

This blog is a call for each of us to think about our power to influence the community spaces we inhabit, to exercise leadership, to become a catalyst for dialog, to open up trust. When I was first asked to become an IRC channel operator, I was asked to read the Freenode Philosopy: Catalysts. Whether or not you use IRC, I recommend reading this page to change your thinking about how you interact with others in your free software project. In fact, these ways of thinking about personal interaction would transform business, education and politics if put into wide use.

We know that bullying in schools can be brought to a stop by bystanders who show the courage to immediately speak up on behalf of the victim, and walk away from the confrontation. While I don't want to label those who use abusive language as bullies, we can transform tense situations in similar ways by speaking up in a positive, calm manner, as outlined in the Catalyst page.

Labeling people as trolls doesn't defuse the situation, or create an atmosphere of trust and dialog.

Please folks, if you are in an IRC channel, on a list, or help out on a forum: read the Catalyst page, and remind yourself often to be the change you want to see in the world. You don't need to be an op, a listowner, or a moderator, to be a leader; bloom where you are! Our Codes of Conduct aren't bludgeons to be used against evildoers; rather they are guides to our everyday interaction with one another.