Do not stand by
We all witness bad behavior at some point or other. For many of us, the most common examples are provided by men misbehaving toward women. Whether it’s in public at a conference, on an IRC channel, in an errant wiki page or two, or in a private conversation, how we respond to it is critically important. This is particularly true where the behavior undermines the security or agency of another person. Perhaps most of all, it applies where someone is speaking up about it.
If I’m standing with a group of people, and one of them behaves badly, I think that they’re a jerk. If no one else seems to notice or object, then I start to wonder if they’re all jerks. If someone speaks up, and is attacked, ignored or discredited, then I’m certain that I’m in a den of wolves. Feelings like these are toxic to communities, and I don’t want anyone to have to feel this way in one of mine.
Managing one’s own behavior, although it is an essential first step, is not enough. We must also critique the behavior of others, and signal to our peers that we object to bad behavior. Furthermore, we must support those who speak up, particularly when they are doing so on their own behalf, or as a member of an underprivileged or under-represented group. It may be difficult to speak up when you are an observer, but it is much more difficult when you are a target. This isn’t about coming to anyone’s rescue, but openly accepting their objection and their right to voice it—even if it’s directed at you.
I will not trivialize the effort required to do this. It is not easy to “break ranks” and stand as (or with) an objector. It is, however, often the right thing to do, and justifies the application of will and the taking of risks for the sake of integrity. I will also not profess that I have always made the right choice myself. Indeed, too many times, I have stood by, and I am ashamed for it. I have made excuses for myself and rationalized my choices, explaining to myself why I couldn’t do what was right in a particular situation.
That is why, in the title of this article, I am addressing myself above all. I am calling myself out, and calling on my peers in the Ubuntu community to do the same. Don’t accept bad behavior. Stand behind those who object to it. Hold yourself and others accountable for the well-being of your community, and let others know that you are doing so.