I’ve had an interesting week with WordPress. It’s been bad enough that I have to preface this post with a note.
I have no plans to quit WordPress at this time.
Good Faith and History
This morning, I woke up thinking about a statement I picked up from Wikipedia. Assume good faith. I like that. I try to do it. The concept is simple and direct. Don’t assume everyone’s evil, instead assume they do mean well, but sometimes they may have trouble expressing it properly.
And while I do believe that most people don’t mean to be evil (there are exceptions…), I think that more people remain concerned about themselves over anything else. And this self-involved nature causes problems like happened recently, with choices certain companies made to self-promote in ways that other people found offensive and harmful.
So when I think about ‘good faith’ I do it with a look back to the previous actions someone (an individual or a company) has taken. How have they behaved before? Have they constantly shown poor choices? Is this a first? What happened the last time I tried to talk to them about it? Did we have a discussion? Did I get 15 emails in a row, alternately being called names or being begged to give them another chance?
That means I find it strange to watch people use the concept of ‘Good Faith’ to argue that they don’t look at people’s past actions to judge their current ones.
I’d like to think that my consistency would be something people would use to judge my actions, but I’ve learned people whom I’d trusted don’t. And yes, that’s sad. It’s depressing to find out people would rather jump to outrage and pointing fingers and blaming me than taking into consideration 10 years of work.
Respect and Doubt
Respect is both given and earned. You give people respect for a position, under the assumption they deserve it, and people either live up to that respect and thus earn more, or they don’t. But when you have an unknown person, you start from assuming good faith based on the hope that they have legitimately earned the position.
Obviously when you know someone, hung out and had dinner, your assumptions are based on more than that. And if someone has a public history you can turn to, you can use that to base your assumptions.
That’s not what happened to me this week. Instead, I found out people actually assume bad faith, because perhaps my opinions are different than theirs, or because I saw something in a different way. It felt like “Assume good faith, but only if you’re on my side.” And that? That is sad.
I imagine how different things would have been to say “Hey, y’all. Mika’s been really careful about using her power here for five years. Give her the benefit of the doubt.”
Instead, people said I was seeing things that weren’t there. I was playing a victim. It was all in my head. There’s a word for that: gaslighting. God help you if you call them out on it.
Damage and Care
It’s in a week like this where I totally understand why so many people have been quitting WordPress. People have worked hard to do good for a community, without any expectations of compensation, but they find out their opinions are dismissed and their word discarded or minimized. They feel disrespected, and it’s worse when they feel made fun of by the community they’re trying to help.
Some of them have chosen to walk away from WordPress, and I fully support that choice. To do anything less would be like telling someone that the beatings will stop once morale improves. It would be cruel and unkind to dismiss their feelings, and it would mean I’m not listening to them and have no empathy for them.
Also I’d have to be blind not to see it, because it happens to me all the time. This week? People I thought I knew assumed the worst in me. They didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt and, when I asked what I’d done to deserve that, they said I’d done nothing. They said they were just being fair and hearing all sides.
In other words all the work I’d done, being consistent and fair, acting carefully and listening to everyone was pointless. In the end, they were just going to dismiss all of that and jump on the bandwagon with everyone else.
And it was more than one person I’ve know for about a decade who did it.
For a while I wondered “Did I really mess up here?” And then I asked myself if I’m told I did nothing to be not-trusted, but I was going to be anyway, was there a possible positive outcome here?
Empathy and Power
It really boils down to empathy. If someone says “Hey, this hurt me.” and your reply is “Yeah, I don’t see that” then you’re dismissing what they said. And it’s not just because I get treated badly that I have empathy, it’s because my parents, my family taught me to have empathy and care about the strangers as much as I cared about myself. We don’t live in isolation, we live in a community.
You can see why I call myself a Socialist, right? I care not just about the people I know, but the people I don’t know. I think about the impact my choices have beyond me, and given the amount of power I wield, that has a lot more weight than you might think.
Oh yes, I have an insane amount of power, and it scares the hell out of me. I could destroy a company with a click. I could insta-ban people for wrongs. I could close plugins for every single security and guideline mistake. I could publicize exactly what specific people did to get permanently banned. Worse, I could spread fear and doubt in the entirety of WordPress, just by closing a plugin.
I don’t. I handle the majority of that quietly, on the books but privately, because I assume good faith in everyone, even people who make massive mistakes. And because I consider the negative impact to the community in general before I take an action.
How much trust do I erode in WordPress as a whole with what I do or say? How much damage do I cause? How many people do I hurt? How many people will this person hurt if I permit them to carry on as they have been? Will their uncensured actions damage the reputation of WordPress? Will the community forgive a mistake?
That’s what I think about, every single day, before I approve, reject, close, or open any plugin.
Alone and Together
If you look at some of the people who’ve left the WordPress Community recently, you’ll see a trend. They feel alone. They feel like they’ve been tasked with ever increasing, insurmountable, chores, and they have no support or backup.
I feel that way too. It took months to be taken seriously about a problem, to the point that serious action was taken. Months, in which I questioned myself. Was I seeing something that wasn’t there? Was my value so little that I’m not worth taking the time to address this problem?
To put it in perspective for you, someone told me that my father’s death was my fault for banning them for abusive behavior.
When you look at it, you’d wonder how I could ever doubt myself. Well, that’s what happens when people don’t step up and ask how they can help. And certainly I could have been more vocal about it, but at the same time, it illustrates the invisibility problem in our community. People are hurt all the time, and no one is looking out for them.
Should I have to scream that someone is hurting me for it to be seen? There’s no oversight in all things, but there’s also no clear way to ask for help. How much worse would this have been if I didn’t have support from people in the community, people in places who could (and did) help me?
What about everyone else?
Unending and Critical
Now look back at Slacks and Blogs and Twitter. You know which ones I mean. Read what people are saying and assuming, and ask yourself “Is this making a welcoming environment?”
Far too many of us have used our critiques as excuses, without caring for the damage they cause. Dismissing people’s pain. Not offering honest and sincere apologies. We hide behind the veneer of “I’m just passionate” or “I’m being critical.” And instead of discussing the idea, we sling ‘understandings’ like accusations, and we cut at people for disagreeing. We assume the worst and treat people shamefully.
And worst of all? Our comrades allow this to happen in their backyards. They won’t remove a homophobic ‘joke’ comment because clearly it’s not meant sincerely. They will allow someone to be called a powerless puppet. They give space for hateful comments that barely even have a veneer of merit.
We’ve stopped encouraging meaningful discourse and regressed into screaming across the aisle that the other person is wrong. We believe our way is the only valid way, and we will tear people down, all the while claiming we’re doing it for the greater good.
And yet people can look at all that and not see the pitchforks and tiki torches.
Comments are Disabled
There’s a reason I disabled comments and mute and block people on twitter with ruthless abandon. It’s not that I don’t want to hear different voices, it’s that it’s stressful to be attacked all the time. It makes a person physically ill. Certainly it’s made me that on more than one occasion.
I don’t leave comments open, I don’t engage with certain community news sources, I left many Slack groups and I don’t offer comments when asked very often. You see, I can either do good work for the community, do my best and keep things safe, secure, and as fair as a human can, or I can wade through toxicity.
I decided to do good work.
I would like to think that a decade of it would allow any perceived missteps of mine to be taken with a grain of salt and a sip of trust. I will still believe in the inherent goodness of people, and their ability to make colossal mistakes. I will still accept an appology when sincerely given.
But I will not forget and I may not forgive.
Then again, forgiveness should never be the point of your apology.