Kindness in (Open Source and Online) Communities

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

~Mark Twain

I’ve had this post swirling around in my head for a while.  A post on my experiences and preference to lead, participate and negotiate conflict in online communities through kindness.

I might  be writing it as a proposal to others, but also it might be a bit of therapy to review this strategy for myself.

Kindness is the tone you set for yourself

When we consider approaching community conversation with kindness and patience; when we squash that immediate need to react we’re setting a tone of kindness .  It is not, as you might assume, solely for the benefit of others.  I believe much more that kindness is a selfish act,  siding with optimism for the community conversations  guides  outcomes far more meaningful than ‘being right’, or getting the most of what you came for.

Regret is harder to overcome, than leading with kindness will ever be.

Measure Twice, Respond Once

If  a conversation topic or introduction starts off in a way that makes you feel defensive.  Stop.  Read it again.  I know it’s hard, but looking past negative words  – to find the truth in a conversation often makes the difference to everyone involved.  Negativity could be as a result of events of the past, misconception and defensiveness.  It might have nothing to do with you at all, and so digging out the root of the conversation and focusing there, can bring sunshine.  I actually skim negative, and unprovoked comments altogether as a kindness to myself.

Every personality exists in community.  With the invitation of ‘open’  –  the simple act of getting shit done can come laced with barbs of protest, and  challenge.  Even when it’s clear that intentions may not be positive, reaching out with a benefit of the doubt can often turn that around.  I have found new allies this way.

Sometimes people just want to know they’re being heard.

Have a Point

If you are reaching out with a concern, complaint or comment  have a clear point.  A discombobulation of emotion mixed in with accusations and assumptions  will get you nowhere near the solution you’re seeking.  Instead of writing long posts/emails/forums with an assumption you’ll get push-back – dare to assume  people will respond with a desire to help!  Narrow your point into an ‘ask’, that welcomes feedback.

Make sure your point isn’t simply to ‘be proven correct’, or to expose what little someone else knows. There are better things to do in the world.

You could be wrong.  Learning is often a humbling experience (if you’ve ever watched a babys first steps), but learning and growing is a gift.  Don’t close the door to being wrong.

Check your Ego

If being right is a goal for your communication – then that’s a debate, and those can be good fun when both people sign-up.

However spending time providing the community with your credentials as a way to influence opinion, does far less than the act of listening, acknowledging the points of others, and specifically calling out feedback that helps you. Learn about others, there are some very brilliant, experienced yet quiet people lurking in our community – you may not realize the depth of someone else’s knowledge without making room for it.

Consider entering discussions with the goal of having your mind changed!

Ending with Kindness

By starting kindness with you, you can more easily recognize when your participation becomes of risk to yourself.  Giving people he benefit of the doubt, being open to correction, extending help – whatever kindness matters, does not mean taking people’s crap.  It doesn’t mean accepting abusive behavior or bulling. At. All.  By staying true to the good person you are, bad behavior of others is much more obvious.  You need to do less talking in general.
I’ll end by saying that I don’t think I have all of this covered – I’ve found this approach to work, well often.  But I forget too, I get caught up in negativity, defensiveness and justice – but  ‘what negativity feels like’ only confirms, and brings me back to what I feel is this more centered, and healthy approach.
 I would be interested in other day-to-date strategies for keeping communities, discussion and outcomes positive.
image credit: Mark K