Don’t be a jerk to people asking questions about the things important to you.

I’d noticed a day or three ago that there’s been some changes in Linux; Linus Torvalds (the person who originally invented Linux) weakly apologizing for past behavior and adopting a Code of Conduct instead of a Code of Conflict were the biggest. It doesn’t directly effect me; I’ve never been a kernel dev, so I’ve not seen Linus’ behavior in person. Hell, I didn’t even know how abusive he’s been to others until this whole story broke, and didn’t know that his apology was prompted by a news outlet calling him on his abusive behavior until today.  (More on that in a second.)

But I have seen devs and other users be ashholes to people who were just learning about linux and open source software. I’ve seen it happen a lot.

I stayed away from Linux for years partially because I’d heard how angry and intolerant the community was. Where RTFM (Read The Forking Manual) wasn’t just used with people who expected someone else to fix the problem for the, but the answer to any question.  Where the tone was verbal abuse and threats of those who asked questions or whose knowledge base didn’t meet whatever arbitrary standard the other jerks thought was acceptable. And it was even worse towards women.

That changed.  Not completely, not enough, but it has changed.

From my point of view, that change was due to Canonical and Ubuntu.

Suddenly, there were community forums where – though folks were still encouraged to learn on their own – it was pleasant and helpful. People were, on balance, kind. There was a desire to share expertise with other people. Since I originally took the plunge with Ubuntu (I now use Debian), I’ve recommended it to other people solely because of the support forums. This has spread – the Arch forums (a distro which is based around build-it-yourself to a high degree, and where you’d expect to see this kind of crappy behavior) are equally helpful.

Can you still find devs and forums where gruff ashholes berate anyone who can’t figure out their super opaque documentation? Absolutely. My favorite RSS reader is Tiny Tiny RSS, but I am hesitant to recommend it because the developer is a verbally abusive jerk, and if you have a question or problem setting it up, don’t bother asking him. At best you’ll get told to read the documentation.

But on the balance, things have started to change – and those changes have finally caught up to the innermost circles of Linux.

Now, let’s be clear: Linus apologized after a media outlet started asking hard questions, and after a LOT of pushback from a few devs.

Was his apology sincere or just an attempt to get positive press from a potentially negative story?  I don’t know, and in one sense, it doesn’t matter. It’s a positive change. It’s not the end of the changes needed, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So I was really interested when I saw a toot from June that seemed to indicate that change hadn’t happened at all.

I wondered if something new had happened. If there was a development I was unaware of. So I asked, trying to be respectful of her time.

@StevenSaus imma ask you to do this homework yourself. @June Okay. That's why I asked if you had one handy. You don't, no big, I'll get to it when I get a chance. Thanks for responding! @StevenSaus Oh, I have it. It's right here in a tab. I've even posted about it this morning. So. This should be very, very easy.

I understand that there are some people who are rude about asking questions and insincere, which is why I was trying to signal that I probably agreed with her (and after this exchange made a point of saying explicitly that I did).

More importantly, I understand that people who aren’t cishetwhitedudes get tired of explaining things to everybody.  That’s why I was trying to be extremely polite, deferential, and making sure that I wasn’t being a bother. There’s a LOT of cishetwhitedudes, and nobody’s got the time to be the answer police for everybody.

Which is why it was so shocking that June went out of her way to let me know that she had the answer and was going out of her way to make sure she didn’t give it to me.  (A friend of mine replied a few minutes later to fill me in.)

It’s one thing to be expected to waste your time giving answers to ungrateful – or even grateful – people. I would have been unoffended if there was no reply.  (Just as I’m unoffended that there’s been no reply to my reply since.) It’s another to spend as much time as it would take to answer the question to instead go out of your way to make sure someone else knows you’re not giving them the answer about something you find important.

And that’s where the irony comes in. Because this person – the same person (I realized later) who had previously said men were incapable of moderating an online space – is behaving the same way as those ashhole devs that are being criticized, by being a jerk with someone who is looking to better understand something they’re passionate about.

And that makes me sad.

Featured Photo by Lewis Ngugi on Unsplash