Following Linux, GNU publishes ‘Kind Communication Guidelines’ to benefit members of ‘disprivileged’ demographics

4 min read

The GNU project published Kind Communication Guidelines, yesterday, to encourage contributors to be kinder in their communication to fellow contributors, especially to women and other members of disprivileged demographics.

This news follows the recent changes in the Code of Conduct for the Linux community. Last month, Linux maintainers revised its Code of Conflict, moving instead to a Code of Conduct. The change was committed by Linus Torvalds, who shortly after the change took a  self-imposed leave from the project to work on his behavior. By switching to a Code of Conduct, Linux placed emphasis on how contributors and maintainers work together to cultivate an open and safe community that people want to be involved in.

However, Linux’s move was not received well by many of its developers. Some even threatened to pull out their blocks of code important to the project to revolt against the change. The main concern was that the new CoC could be randomly or selectively used as a tool to punish or remove anyone from the community.

Read the summary of developers views on the Code of Conduct that, according to them, justifies their decision.

GNU is taking an approach different from Linux in evolving its community into a more welcoming place for everyone. As opposed to a stricter code of conduct, which enforces people to follow rules or suffer punishments, the Kind communication guidelines will guide people towards kinder communication rather than ordering people to be kind.

What do Stallman’s ‘Kindness’ guidelines say?

In a post, Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation, said “People are sometimes discouraged from participating in GNU development because of certain patterns of communication that strike them as unfriendly, unwelcoming, rejecting, or harsh. This discouragement particularly affects members of disprivileged demographics, but it is not limited to them.” He further adds, “Therefore, we ask all contributors to make a conscious effort, in GNU Project discussions, to communicate in ways that avoid that outcome—to avoid practices that will predictably and unnecessarily risk putting some contributors off.

Stallman encourages contributors to lead by example and apply the following guidelines in their communication:

Do not give heavy-handed criticism

Do not criticize people for wrongs that you only speculate they may have done. Try and understand their work. Please respond to what people actually said, not to exaggerations of their views. Your criticism will not be constructive if it is aimed at a target other than their real views. It is helpful to show contributors that being imperfect is normal and politely help them in fixing their problems. Reminders on problems should be gentle and not too frequent.

Avoid discrimination based on demographics

Treat other participants with respect, especially when you disagree with them. He requests people to identify and acknowledge people by the names they use and their gender identity. Avoid presuming and making comments on a person’s typical desires, capabilities or actions of some demographic group. These are off-topic in GNU Project discussions.

Personal attacks are a big no-no

Avoid making personal attacks or adopt a harsh tone for a person. Go out of your way to show that you are criticizing a statement, not a person. Vice versa, if someone attacks or offends your personal dignity, please don’t “hit back” with another personal attack. “That tends to start a vicious circle of escalating verbal aggression. A private response, politely stating your feelings as feelings, and asking for peace, may calm things down.”

Avoid arguing unceasingly for your preferred course of action when a decision for some other course has already been made. That tends to block the activity’s progress.

Avoid indulging in political debates

Contributors are required to not raise unrelated political issues in GNU Project discussions.

The only political positions that the GNU Project endorses are that users should have control of their own computing (for instance, through free software) and supporting basic human rights in computing.

Stallman hopes that these guidelines, will encourage more contribution to GNU projects, and the subsequent discussions will be friendlier and reach conclusions more easily. Read the full guidelines on GNU blog.

People’s reactions to GNU’s move has been mostly positive.

Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman have been the fathers of the open source movement since its inception over twenty years ago. As such, these moves underline that open source indeed has a toxic culture problem, but is evolving and sincerely working to make it more open and welcoming to all to easily contribute to projects. We’ll be watching this space closely to see which approach to inclusion works more effectively and if there are other approaches to making this transition smooth for everyone involved.

Read Next

Stack Overflow revamps its Code of Conduct to explain what ‘Be nice’ means – kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.

Linux drops Code of Conflict and adopts new Code of Conduct.

Mozilla drops “meritocracy” from its revised governance statement and leadership structure to actively promote diversity and inclusion


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