Apologies for top posting, I'm on my phone...
Mike, this was one of the best emails to this list I've read in a long
time. As someone who has squabbled with you on mailing lists, it's even
better to me.
Take care, sir.
Hi, Wil (and greetings to all my Wikimedian friends
I've been catching up on the Wikimedia-L threads, and of course I've
come across your many postings and your engagement, sometimes tense,
with other posters here. I have some sympathy for your reactions and
questions: I've had some similar experiences myself, dating in
particular from the first year I served on WMF's staff as general
counsel. My own experience was colored by the fact that I knew my
intentions were good, I was reasonably certain I was a smart, even
sociable guy, and so why was it that some significant portion of what
I posted generated friction on what was supposed to be an inclusive,
Assume-Good-Faith mailing list?
I think I realized reasonably quickly that, precisely because I
assumed my own good faith, I wasn't always alert to my cultural
missteps, even though I knew at an intellectual level that this
mailing list, unlike some others, is a community. For a community,
when a new individual appears out of "nowhere" and begins to assert
himself or herself, and launches into extended criticisms of so many
things he (or she) encounters, the natural, human reaction is not to
automatically embrace the newcomer for his or her contributions to
diversity and insight, but instead to wonder, "Hey, why hasn't he made
the effort to learn about our history and traditions and norms and
expectations?" *This phenomenon is entirely human and normal*, but it
still sometimes requires a bit of a bumpy transition, even if you know
(intellectually, at least) to expect it.
So, what I'm suggesting is, when you respond by trying to call
attention to the friction your (comparatively) abrupt dive into this
community has generated for you, what you may be calling attention to
is not something pathological about a mailing list but instead just a
part of the human condition. If you're patient, you can take a breath
or two, maybe even a short break, and come back to the list and give
as much attention to the issues and problems for the Wikimedia
movement as you like, and over time get better reactions/reception.
My own experience was that, over time, most Wikimedians had a chance
to observe my commitment as a Wikimedian, and in my role as WMF's
lawyer, to protect and advance the projects with the same fierceness
with which I sometimes, particularly early on, expressed my opinions
on the mailing lists and on the wikis. No doubt the potential is there
for you to have the same experience.
There is one important, though, between your experience and mine, and
if I were in your position I would give it some thought. Specifically,
your partner is only ever going to have one first month, and only one
first year, as the new executive director of WMF. If I were in your
position, I would give her as much breathing space and community
mindshare as I could to create her own first impressions, to find her
own themes, and to set the tone for her long-term role as executive
director. I might even take a month off with regard to participating
in public discussions -- *even though I wouldn't have to, and even
though some of the reactions to what I'd written seem unfair to me* --
just to let my partner establish her own role without any distractions
I might cause. Lila's job is tough and challenging, and she will need
all the support she can get. You may find that one way you can support
her in the very near term is to step away from tense exchanges (or
maybe all public exchanges on the lists) for a while -- even though
you may feel, with some sense of righteousness, that you shouldn't
have to do this.
I agree that in an ideal world you shouldn't have to. But in the human
world we live in, if I were in your position, I'd give this approach a
month or so, just as an exercise, and as a way of showing support for
my partner's taking the reins of an unusually difficult, but also
culturally unique enterprise.
You haven't solicited my advice on any of this, of course. But I hope
you appreciate that you're hearing it from someone who himself has
been outspoken on the lists, who is sometimes critical of community
responses and norms, who has been publicly criticized from time to
time, but who also has found that it's really helpful, especially in
the earliest days of engagement with a new community, to listen as
much as talk. I think of myself as a Wikimedian, and my ongoing
engagement with the movement and the community is one of general
respect and regard, even when I disagree with their consensus, as I
I hope this note is taken in the spirit in which it is written.
Thanks for your attention.
Senior Legal Advisor, Global Internet Policy Project, Internews
General Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation, 2007-2010
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