Monday 23 February 2015

Regarding codes of conduct and the nature of forum participation


There's been discussion about a Code of Conduct for the Lucee Google Group. Well without having the bottle to actually describe it as such... indeed going so far as to suggest that isn't what this thread was floating: "Tone and community guidelines".

Despite knowing full-well that some of the points are directed at least partially (or possibly entirely) at me, I think it's an appropriate idea. Sorta.

That said, I'd like to have a look at a coupla issues that came up in that list of bullet points, from comments on the thread, and in general.

What's absolutely not acceptable

Kai mentioned these points:
  1. Don’t insult any person directly
  2. Don’t insult anyone’s religion or gender or sexual orientation etc.
  3. Don’t be a total dick
But that’s _about_ all it needs.
I agree with most of what he says there.

Ad hominem

I agree with the first point. It's not acceptable to engage in ad hominem attacks on people. One should play the ball, not the person, as it were. If you are in a discussion with someone, judge the topic under discussion based on any merit it might have, or on any distinct lack of merit it might have. One is completely fine in dismissing an idea as fatuous. It is not OK to dismiss the person with the idea in the same fashion.

If I was to suggest that CFML should change the tag prefix from "cf" to "cfml" (eg: <cfmlabort>), then this is is not an ad hominem attack:

That idea is bloody stupid, Cameron.

This is but this is:

Cameron, you're a bloody idiot.

(true though it might be. And, TBH, I'm not that bothered if one was to think that).

A lot of people will call foul on the first example too. I'll get to that.

It's completely fine to pillory ideas. It is not OK to pillory people.


I've changed my wording slightly here to make it clear I'm demonstrating the difference between an ad hominem attack and just dismissing an idea. This is due to Dom's feedback below. That said, I stand by the fact that it's OK to dismiss a stupid idea by calling it a stupid idea (the idea above is stupid!). The tone of the dismissal ought to only be in proportion to how stupid the idea is. But Dom's right, simply saying "I think perhaps that idea ain't one I can get behind, and here's why..." might be better ;-)

Prejudice based on physiological characteristics

I could not find a term that covers just ideas like racism, sexism, sexuality-ism, ageism, and various other prejudices people have regarding immutable characteristics another individual or group of individuals might have.

Those are completely not on, and I think should play no part in any discourse in a social environment. I think we all agree here? If no: you're a sociopath, sorry.

This is not quite the same list as Kai's, because I specifically exclude religion there. Not because I think religious discussion of any sort (pro- or anti-) has a place in the kind of environment we're thinking about, but religion is conceptually different from a person's physiological characteristics, and I don't believe should ever be included in the rest of that list Kai cited.

I think it's important to make the distinction.

And that's it. That's the entirety of what should be actively "legislated" against in these "Codes of Conduct". One cannot legislate against people being a total dick, so there's no point in mentioning that. Also it's too subjective (hands up who thinks I'm a dick? Now who doesn't think that? It's definitely not black and white. I'll not venture as to how dark the shade of grey that particular question yields though ;-)

What actually is OK

"Bad" language

Anyone is entitled to like or dislike any words they like. However if they dislike a turn of phrase or think it's inappropriate, then they should not use them. And that's the end of where this notion should have any relevance to them.

Bad language is purely a social construct and what constitutes good or bad language varies from social class to social class, region to region, culture to culture or even bloody what time of day it is (eg: the TV watershed). Your culture might think swearing is bad. So don't swear. I happen to think your culture sucks specifically because it deems swearing is bad. However I would never suggest anyone ought to drop their cultural whim just to indulge my own.

Uttering bad language if you think it's actually "bad" might negatively impact you because you're letting your social or cultural mores down. Hearing me utter what you perceive to be bad language has actually no effect on you whatsoever. So don't pretend it does.

You might judge me for it, but that's your failing, not mine.

To be very clear, these statements are not correct:
  • using bad language is not professional;
  • using bad language demonstrates a lack of intelligence;
  • using bad language intrinsically invalidates one's argument.
You can trot them out as often as you like: this does not make them correct.

The notion of "bad language" is simply a transient social construct which some people happen to subscribe to. Nothing more.

Digression (contains "vulgarity" beyond that which I usually spout)

In the middle of writing this, I was still participating in the thread on the Lucee forums. My good mate Andy Myers replied to one of the comments about swearing in typical Aussie form. I have numerous mail rules in my inbox, which will stick stuff from Andy in the "Andy" folder, and stuff from the Lucee group in the "Lucee group" folder. And in this case... it filed it in both. As Andy and I were also discussing this in private, and I saw his reply in the "Andy" folder and assumed it was just an email to me, and I replied with very very overstated profanity, including the word "cunts".

Unfortunately the response went to the list too. Oops. I deleted the post, so hopefully not too many people will see my outburst in their in boxes, but it does raise an interesting point: the word "cunt". A lot of people seem to give that word special weighting. Some also have decided due to its anatomical roots, it's also sexist. I don't actually subscribe to that view, but as some people do and I can't generally be arsed arguing the case, I do hesitate when committing that word to written text in a public forum.

Bad timing, eh?


See above. Blasphemy might be a concept within your personal set of superstitions, but all this means is that you shouldn't engage in it. It does not mean anyone else can't engage in whatever you might consider to be blasphemy. It's only blasphemy when you do it.


If someone makes a claim or statement that you think is incorrect, and you have a basis for thinking they're incorrect, then far from it being a bad thing for you to disagree: I'd say you have a responsibility to!

I know of a few people in the CFML community (and this crosses into the Railo & Lucee communities) who seem to put their personal reputation ahead of possibly being seen in a bad light by disagreeing with something that has been said. Or they think it's more prudent to be politically correct than to steer things in a better direction. That is appalling community behaviour. If you're part of a community, then the community should come first, and your personal rep. second.

More commonly people have got an idea that disagreeing with another person is wrong, or at the very least impolite. This is bullshit. This is just a symptom of this modern cringingly-PC world we live in gone mad. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone. I think it's insidious that some elements of our society seems to have got the idea it's better to simply be polite and agree, than try to improve things by engendering discussion.

Being disagreed with

Being on the "receiving end" of the above. If someone disagrees with you, it's because they've had the good grace to pay attention to what you've said, and have offered a differing point of view. This is a good thing. Now... go disagree with them back again! (kidding, but this is the basis for improving or clarifying a situation).

Being wrong

It's OK. All of us are wrong at times. Personally I love being wrong because it means I'm about to learn something new.

It's not a slight on your character if someone finds you to be wrong on something. In fact it's a bit hubristic to think so.

There's also no need to get defensive and wriggle around and start inventing explanations as to why you actually meant something different and you're still right. Doing that is really transparent to those following along, and just makes you look like a dick.

Just be wrong. Thank whoever pointed it out to you, and be pleased you've learned something!

Being right

Just correct people if they're wrong. Everyone's better for it. Don't think you're doing something wrong by being right, or knowing better.

Being a newbie

Everyone was a newbie once. Everyone is still a newbie when joining a new community for the first time, even though you might've been in the industry for 20 years.

You are no less a participant in a community when you're a newbie, so don't be afraid to participate. Participating is the best way to move on from being a newbie to being a familiar "face". That said, it's always a good idea to lurk for a while, pay attention to what's going on, look for house rules, read a bunch of the earlier posts etc, just to get a feel for the lie of the land.

Also don't feel like you're standing up on a podium with all eyes on you the first time you put your head above the parapet. All you're doing is writing an email basically. It's not hard, is it? Also bear in mind that on the whole people are more forgiving of new members than the existing ones. Despite what people might say, I have personally never encountered a forum which is cliquey or unwelcoming to new people. And if anyone does start acting like an arse towards a new member, they'll get jumped on soon enough.

Language barriers (even for English-speakers)

Not everyone speaks English, this is cool. Not every native English speaker speaks English well either. There's no problem with this at all! However just some advice: bear in mind that the point of attempting to communicate with someone is to be understood, so you can get the information you're seeking. To this end... you need to attempt to write clearly. This might mean more than just hammering some gibberish into the keyboard and pressing send. Unless yer fluent, then spell-check and grammar check your text.

Just a note on "professionalism". It's pretty unprofessional to include spelling and grammar mistakes in something one writes too, isn't it? Yet people seldom jump on that sort of thing the way they might jump on the perceived unprofessional "bad language". To anyone who thinks things through, a forum is professional in the sense that its topic is business-related / job-related. But other than that it's actually a terribly casual environment. Mark was right in suggesting it's not a pub; but it's closer to being a pub than a courthouse. And... Mark... we worked in the same office, so don't come the raw prawn at me suggesting that an "office environment" is somehow sacrosanct. That's ballocks.

Asking questions

Please ask questions. This is what a forum is for. However it's not true that there is no such thing as a dumb question... there really is such a thing. I see them every day.

Before asking a question, make sure you have done as much research and investigation that you might think a person answering the question might have to. At a bare minimum this means googling the docs, googling Stack Overflow, and just generally googling the actual problem (googling verbatim often works really well)!

After doing passive research, do active experimentation.

Actually, I don't need to repeat myself here. Just read these:

Bottom line: before asking someone else to help you, it's courteous to first try to help yourself, then actually let the other people know what you've tried. It just saves everyone time.

Answering questions

A lot of people only seem to participate in a community when they need help. How about you help other people out too? If you know an answer to a question... answer it. Don't even worry about being 100% confident of your answer. If you're not 100% right, someone else will help out then everyone will know more than they started off with.

Personally I have found the best way to learn my craft is to help people with their issues, even if I don't know the answer. I'll find out. Or at least try to.

What's undesirable


A lot of legislation suggestions I hear about are all too focused on being politically correct, diplomatic, and bending over backwards to reach some middle ground and mollify anyone who anyone perceives might need mollifying.

Well f*** that.


All we achieve by approaching a middle ground is to become mediocre. That might be an improvement for some people, but it's not how a community shines.

There are various scales upon which people can be measured, and people will be spaced along that line. This is fine, and this is the natural order of things. However unless we're in the Lego Movie, trying to bring everyone into the neutral middle ground is not awesome, it's a sad waste of resources and opportunity.

There's the old war-time addage of "no man left behind". This did/does not mean "we all find a foxhole that'll be comfy for everyone, and stay there", it means the more capable help the less capable to meet the common goal (survival, in the original context; slightly less life-important in our tech communities, but the metaphor holds up). The less capable go with the more capable. And the more capable don't stand around waiting for the less capable to work out how to do it for themselves.

This applies in a technical community too.

How this manifests itself is sometimes the "more capable" people have to spend more time putting their head above the parapet, make more noise, make their presence felt more, and sometimes need to instruct the less capable people as to what to do. Sometimes this can come across as being a both forthright or "in yer face" or like someone always seems to pitch in. This is how this stuff works. This is leading. Leaders sometimes have to be unpopular.

Being "offended"

This is different from being on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks, or the various -isms I listed above. This is specifically targeted at people who like to claim they're offended by [something]: usually a person's tone or choice of words, or not liking having something pointed out to them. The easiest way not to be offended by something is simply choosing not to be. One has to actively take offence at something, so if you've actively decided to do that, you can't really then be justified in complaining that that's what you've chosen to do.

If you find yourself being offended by something, then simply don't be. There. Problem solved. And, again, it's your problem to deal with, not anyone else's.

Just don't declare that you're offended by something as if that, in itself, is "a thing". As Stephen Fry puts it:
It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what?

Taking it all too seriously

I meant to say this before, but forgot. Jim's comment below reminded me. Don't take things too seriously, or to heart. People seem to treat stuff that's written down as being far more important than it actually is. A forum is just people jawin', nothing more, nothing less. I think this whole idea that it's somehow "professional" probably gives the wrong impression. Do you know any professional environment that conducts itself like even the most well-meaning forum? No.

I do not get flapped by anything anyone says. Ever. Why? Because it's all just chatter. I'm in a privileged demographic in that I don't get bullied, so I am treading cautiously when I say this (because I do know it happens), but for 99% of situations just don't put too much stock in the way people say things. People are inarticulate. People are in a rush. People are imprecise. People might be pricks, but really, why let it bother you? Almost always, the tone one might perceive a person has is down to them being inarticulate, rushed or imprecise. Or you getting the wrong end of the stick. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, before swooping in and finding something to get rarked up about.

I like to position all these conversations as if we are around a table at the pub, and even when I tell someone to f*** off, and they call me an arsehole, there's no real harm done and it's not like we won't be up to the bar next to get each other a pint (or whatever). Even the most protracted 20-responses email thread really only constitutes a coupla minutes discussion in real time - we've all had these sort of conversations face to face with someone as well, right? So you know what they're like - and really... aren't something to get riled up about even if people are disageeing, and being adamant about it. Or just tell 'em to f*** off and go get the next round in ;-)

It's just jibber jabber. It's not serious. Don't fret.


To get along as a community we just have to observe a couple of rules that shouldn't even need stating. And beyond that we have to have patience with each other's proclivities, and accept that "how you prefer things to be" is not really the most important thing in the world (sorry about that). You have to accept that people's preferences, understandings and whims all differ. And this is actually a good thing. Don't be afraid to ask for help: no-one will bite you. Don't be afraid to offer help: it's kinda your job if you have help to offer. Don't be afraid to be right; don't be afraid to be wrong. And don't take stuff too seriously.