Recently, GitHub adopted the Open Code of Conduct on a few of their open source projects. The Open Code of Conduct is pretty short and pretty light, so I’d recommend reading it, but here’s the gist (pun!):

  • Be friendly & patient
  • Be welcoming
  • Be considerate
  • Be respectful
  • Think before you speak; don't use discriminatory/unkind language
  • Have empathy for people you disagree with
  • An explicit channel for reporting incidents related to this code

If, after reading the OCoC, you feel a tightness in your chest, a vague feeling of being chastised for something you didn’t do, then do me a favor and capture that feeling. Study it. Remember it. This is how people in discriminated groups feel all the time. If the idea of a code of conduct that says things like “we explicitly honor diversity in […] technical ability.” scares you, if the idea of “Discriminatory jokes and language” being banned and punishable makes your community sound no fun, then you are part of a special group we call “privileged”. I would know, I’m right there with you. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it (although you probably will.) This is part of who you are, and like all of humanity you just have to know it and account for it. So when the idea of a code of conduct makes you uncomfortable because

  • You might be accused of doing/being something you didn't/aren't
  • You might become an outcast even though you care deeply about the community
  • You might be criticized for something other than the code you write
  • You have to carefully weigh what you say to people in the community lest it be taken wrong
  • A place where you once felt completely comfortable and safe might be taken over by people who don't care what you think

Then you now have a taste of what it feels like to live without privilege. People in non-privileged positions have to weigh everything they say carefully, lest they be dismissed as stupid or fake. A woman, when asked to give a talk, has to think about how many technical vs. community-building-oriented talks she gives, lest she be seen as “community-oriented” and not technical. If they’re the only woman in a community, they may feel responsible to “represent their gender”, lest everything they say and do wrong be counted against all women in the minds of that community. Being non-privileged means you have to weigh everything carefully and hope to not be mis-construed. As far as I can tell, the OCoC’s goal is to provide safety and encourage diversity in communities by forcing everyone to be considerate in the same way, although to a much lesser extent. Safety and freedom are mutually exclusive. You must balance one against the other; you can never have a maximum of both. For a long time, most internet communities have set the slider almost all the way to freedom. Now, if you choose, you can move the slider on your community more towards the middle. I really hope you do. If you are already in a position of privilege, it will make your life permanently less comfortable. You will be trading some of your freedom to give others some of the safety you enjoy by default. If you agree on a mental level, but still feel that tightness in your chest, here are some resources you can do to feel like a team member in the fight for equality rather than an offending party: