Apparently, people care when you, as privileged person (white, male, long-time Debian Developer) throw in the towel because the amount of crap thrown your way just becomes too much. I guess that’s good, both because it gives me a soap box for a short while, but also because if enough people talk about how poisonous the well that Debian is has become, we can fix it.
This morning, I resigned as a member of the systemd maintainer team. I then proceeded to leave the relevant IRC channels and announced this on twitter. The responses I’ve gotten have been almost all been heartwarming. People have generally been offering hugs, saying thanks for the work put into systemd in Debian and so on. I’ve greatly appreciated those (and I’ve been getting those before I resigned too, so this isn’t just a response to that). I feel bad about leaving the rest of the team, they’re a great bunch: competent, caring, funny, wonderful people. On the other hand, at some point I had to draw a line and say “no further”.
Debian and its various maintainer teams are a bunch of tribes (with possibly Debian itself being a supertribe). Unlike many other situations, you can be part of multiple tribes. I’m still a member of the DSA tribe for instance. Leaving pkg-systemd means leaving one of my tribes. That hurts. It hurts even more because it feels like a forced exit rather than because I’ve lost interest or been distracted by other shiny things for long enough that you don’t really feel like part of a tribe. That happened with me with debian-installer. It was my baby for a while (with a then quite small team), then a bunch of real life thing interfered and other people picked it up and ran with it and made it greater and more fantastic than before. I kinda lost touch, and while it’s still dear to me, I no longer identify as part of the debian-boot tribe.
Now, how did I, standing stout and tall, get forced out of my tribe? I’ve been a DD for almost 14 years, I should be able to weather any storm, shouldn’t I? It turns out that no, the mountain does get worn down by the rain. It’s not a single hurtful comment here and there. There’s a constant drum about this all being some sort of conspiracy and there are sometimes flares where people wish people involved in systemd would be run over by a bus or just accusations of incompetence.
Our code of conduct says, “assume good faith”. If you ever find yourself not doing that, step back, breathe. See if there’s a reasonable explanation for why somebody is saying something or behaving in a way that doesn’t make sense to you. It might be as simple as your native tongue being English and their being something else.
If you do genuinely disagree with somebody (something which is entirely fine), try not to escalate, even if the stakes are high. Examples from the last year include talking about this as a war and talking about “increasingly bitter rear-guard battles”. By using and accepting this terminology, we, as a project, poison ourselves. Sam Hartman puts this better than me:
I’m hoping that we can all take a few minutes to gain empathy for those who disagree with us. Then I’m hoping we can use that understanding to reassure them that they are valued and respected and their concerns considered even when we end up strongly disagreeing with them or valuing different things.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever feel the urge to demonise my opponents in discussions. That they’re worse, as people, than I am. However, it is imperative to never give in to this, since doing that will diminish us as humans and make the entire project poorer. Civil disagreements with reasonable discussions lead to better technical outcomes, happier humans and a healthier projects.