Compassion and Debian

Life has been too stressful to write about the entry that had me nervous. I tried writing about something else, but found that I was not getting anywhere. Then I stopped to ask myself where my mind was and where I was working with Venus and love. I realized I was spending a lot of time on Debian.

In the near future I'll talk about how I'm trying to take the lessons and magic of Venus work and thread them throughout all my life. I've talked a little about that in Love in Daily Life, but here's what has been for me a fairly intense example of what is becoming an increasingly important pattern. Debian Linux tends to be an emotional as well as technical investment for its contributors and members. We tend to believe in the importance of building the best operating system we can for our users and the free software community. Through focused intent and a lot of hard work we've brought something together that artists, activists, and corporations find valueable. I feel like I'm really putting my energy behind giving everyone access to technology when I spend energy on Debian. We work hard, and because we care, we fight hard. The last while has been really rough for our community. Lately I've been trying to bring the magic of compassion and healing into our work, because soon we're going to need it a great deal.

We've been having a discussion about how Linux computers initially load software when you turn them on. However, it's really about what kind of community we want to be. Ian Jackson describes how he wants to see us as a forum for technical cooperation where people have an opportunity to pursue their goals and find those who have similar goals even when it's not obvious to everyone that the goals have sufficient support. We try to enable people to do work even when that makes things somewhat difficult for others. Ian feels that is threatened by a ongoing discussion. As I write, sometimes things get tough when goals come into conflict. Some people want to work on different approaches. Others want to take systemd, the most popular approach, and see how much we can advance the state of the art by running with that and building lots of new ideas into it. People working with less popular approaches are worried they will be unable to get enough man power to keep up with the innovation in systemd. They are worried that if enough people start depending on advances made in systemd, their ability to keep working on things they value will be compromised. They are worried that they will be denied the ability to pursue their goals and dreams.

It's been bitter. The discussion has been going on for over a year. The initial decision was decided by a casting vote of the committee chair. The casting vote had never before been used and broke a 4-4 tie on the third ballot. There wasn't even agreement on what the ballot options should be. There was at least a majority agreement that some decision was better than no decision: our voting system would have allowed either side to force a further discussion result had they chosen to do so. We've been subjected to death threats, harassment and all sorts of badness from outside the project. Within the project there have been attempts to have people removed from their positions, claims of dishonorable conduct, claims of folks acting in bad faith, pleas for help coping, and resignations. Eventually some aspects of the decision were brought to a project-wide vote. Some folks are going to be really unhappy no matter what we decide. There are five options on the ballot; there may not even be a clear winner (although our voting system will do better than you might think at avoiding things like runoff elections).

There's a lot of pain. Here's where the Venus work, compassion and magic comes in. I care a leot about this community. I want it to be somewhere where I can work and bring about a better world. I asked how can I bring about that intent? How can I bring more love to the experience? Then, I began. I wrote about the world I was hoping for, shared my feelings, and exerted my will to offer that to people. I invited them to contribute to the world by being open about what they were hoping for in terms of healing. Several people joined me and opened up about their hopes; many more wrote and said they appreciated the reminder for compassion. My message helped another share their desire that we focus on the joy , happiness and love we bring from this experience.

I find that a lot of Venus work is having something between the strength and foolishness to believe you can change the world and to just go and do it. I was pleased with how things are going, but sadly, the pain runs really deep. This weekend one of our developers opened up about his disgust with Ian Jackson's behavior in this process. Unfortunately, that too is part of love and compassion: we need to be able to open up about our hurt and see how the world will respond. Is this a place where our pain will lead to positive change, or is this a place we need to leave because those who do not consider our needs and feelings will continue to hurt us without a response from the community. I had a challenge. How do you respond with compassion and build a world of compassion and respect in the face of that? The best I came up with was a attempt to respond to this while acknowledging the hurt, trying to build empathy with what caused it as well as Ian's position, while challenging people to meet me in the strength of constructive compassion. I was sad to learn that things had gone too far for even that. Another developer raised his belief that someone was not engaging in the process constructively, but instead viewed it as a war with enemies to be defeated. He thought that action needed to be taken to remove this person. What a mess. I left with one final message arguing for compassion even when we take actions to remove people from our discussion. My hope is not that we judge people but we simply take the actions we need to in order to preserve our community. It shouldn't be about "we hate you," or "we dislike you," but more like "we are removing you so we can have a constructive discussion, but we welcome your return when you are able to participate constructively and show us you can." Obviously, sometimes it may take a while to show that. I've tried to argue for empathy in all sides of this. To some extent I've been successful. I think the messages expressing real hurt today were heard mostly with understanding and a flame war didn't really break out even though the messages were hard. Firmness and compassion go together.

I don't know how this will all end up. However, I feel that I've acted honorably in my path, finding a way to offer the lessons I've learned to a community I value. I think I've done what I can: people need to make their own choices. I'm very close to pushing things as much as I can while still offering the respect I value.

To me, this is as much about Venus work as any ritual I plan. I'm working with will, magic and energy as much here as I am around any fire. The drums are quieter, at least when I'm not hearing the pounding of my blood as I feel challenged to preserve that which I value.