Re: What's the alternative to "snarling"?

Bron Gondwana <brong@fastmailteam.com> Wed, 21 April 2021 01:41 UTC

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Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2021 11:41:03 +1000
From: "Bron Gondwana" <brong@fastmailteam.com>
To: "Jay Daley" <jay@ietf.org>
Cc: ietf@ietf.org
Subject: Re: What's the alternative to "snarling"?
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On Wed, Apr 21, 2021, at 05:57, Jay Daley wrote:
> On 20/04/2021, at 10:25 PM, Bron Gondwana <brong@fastmailteam.com> wrote:
>> 
>> On Tue, Apr 20, 2021, at 01:16, Leif Johansson wrote:
>>> On 2021-04-19 17:14, Keith Moore wrote:
>>> > On 4/19/21 11:10 AM, Marc Petit-Huguenin wrote:
>>> > 
>>> >> On 4/19/21 8:02 AM, Keith Moore wrote:
>>> >> That's doable as part of a mentorship.
>>> > 
>>> > That way, they can learn to snarl like the rest of us :)
>>> > 
>>> > Keith
>>> > 
>>> > 
>>> 
>>> Or we assign tasks to old-timers so they can learn not to.
>>> 
>> 
>> A little late to the party but there's no better place to hang this comment.
>> 
>> History is littered with companies and clubs which decided that the right choice was to alienate their existing membership/customer base in order to attract a mythical new market of "grass is always greener" proportions.
>> 
>> Sometimes they're right, and they succeed wildly.  They were indeed stuck in a local maxima and pivoting was the right choice.  Far more often, they fizzed out.  To the point that there's plenty of advice in the business world to try to keep your existing customers satisfied as you evolve.
>> 
>> I think one of the key questions underlying trepidation with plans to reorganise the IETF culture along different philosophical lines
> 
> How on earth do you get to the position where you believe this is happening?  From my perspective all I see a bunch of people discussing the narrow question of how to avoid an adverse reaction to newcomers who make a suggestion that has been discussed ad nauseam before.  The only way I can see how this could be characterised as "reorganising the IETF culture along different philosophical lines" is if you believe the snarling at newcomers is a fundamental expression of an agreed philosophical basis for IETF culture - neither of which I think is even remotely true.

No, you're right - looking at this context the "snarling it's been considered already" topic is the wrong place for this comment.  The larger "is kindness the key virtue" question is the deeper thing, and I was reminded of it yesterday by a prompt to go back and look at:

https://www.fast.ai/2020/10/28/code-of-conduct/

Which is a great primer on the way in which well meaning codes of behaviour can be weaponised against somebody stating a technical belief that happens to annoy an observer.

>> Some would say that this conversation has already turned away good participants.  Probably.  The more time we spend introspecting on this, the more damage it will cause.  More than any particular outcome would.  Even the most extreme outcomes of "we commit to do nothing in this area for the next 10 years" and "we have a language police who inspect every draft and censor every microagression" are not worse than killing ourselves through reflexive infighting.
> 
> Again, I don’t see how you got here.  It reads to me as if you believe there are good participants who take from this conversation that their snarling days are coming to an end and so are choosing to get out early. 

I believe there are good participants who will get out if they see a trust-and-safety secret court established which can judge them as having snarled, and tar and feather them as happened to Jeremy in that blog post above, with no recourse and no fair hearing.

>> 
>> It's this recognition that the current state is worse than any of the likely outcomes which led me to write a draft in the first place.
>> 
>> But if we drive away a bunch of people who currently contribute, or demotivate them sufficiently that they put in minimal effort, then we'd sure better have a happy diverse bunch of folks waiting in the wings with the same level of energy and same level of value received that they would stick with the IETF through changing jobs and of their own volition as volunteers afterwards, or we'll find the new pool even less nourishing than our current one.
> 
> Other than my reading above I have no idea at all how you think avoiding snarling can drive people away or demotivate them, when the whole point of this conversation so far is how to bring newcomers up to speed quickly enough that they don’t get an adverse reaction to something they say that then puts them off.
> 
> Please explain for the benefit of one very confused onlooker.

I expect I'm conflating "let's all be better, please don't snarl" with "snarling is now banned".  Nobody wants to be a snarler - and we've all done it, either directly or in a passive-aggressive way.  It's amazing how much snarl can be hidden being plausibly deniable politeness, and that's the other big concern with "you must be polite" - it just gives cover to those who are better skilled at hiding nastiness in nice language

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not accusing you of anything like that in this email.  For real.  I think I wasn't clear about what I meant in my email, and re-reading it I can see why you are/were confused about what I mean!

We had an induction for my kids' school a couple of years ago, and the principal talked to us about bullying, and about how bullies often know the rules the best - they are intimately familiar with the rules and able to weaponise them against others, poking and needling at the other person until they break and lash out back, at which point the bully proudly shouts "look, the other person aggressed me" and points to the chapter and verse of the rule that was broken.  And looking back at the bully's actions leading up, they were all within the letter of the rules, while quite clearly also goading on their victim to impale themselves.

So yeah... that's my concern.  I think it's great for each of us to reflect on our own snarling and talk about good ways to avoid it and to look at how we can guide newcomers more quickly to the already assessed technical landscape and the underlying reasons why particular attractive-looking ideas have been dismissed, while still being open to the idea that we might have been wrong in that dismissal.  No concern there.

But "assign tasks to old-timers" - in the re-educate all the old bad people who need showing that they're wrong sense?  That's how you drive people out - by their involvement no longer worthwhile to them.  We'd want to be really sure there's newer, better people waiting to take their place before embarking down that route!  That's where I was getting at with the "disuade existing customer base in favour of chasing a theoretical new customer base" analogy.

Cheers,

Bron.

--
  Bron Gondwana, CEO, Fastmail Pty Ltd
  brong@fastmailteam.com