On Mutual Respect

March 10, 2012

A recent blog post syndicated to Planet Mozilla (trying to recruit supporters for a petition against marriage equality in the UK) led to a veritable storm in the Mozilla community around a content policy for Planet, and finally it turned into a general discussion about a Code of Conduct for the entire Mozilla Community.

This proposal isn't new: A few months ago, it shortly came up surrounding a panel discussion at Mozilla's internal All-Hands conference, where I asked for clarification on recent vague remarks from the CEO concerning anti-discrimination policies at Mozilla. Unsurprisingly (and rightly), the CEO reaffirmed that Mozilla would not tolerate illegal discrimination of any kind (paraphrase: mine).

At the time, I concluded that there was no need for a written Code of Conduct, believing that the basic concept of treating each other with mutual respect was so universal and simple that it can even (and should) be instilled into any preschooler, not to mention adult. It does not matter what you personally believe about anyone else's gender, religion, sexual orientation, body shape, color of skin, handicap, or funny accent. The instant you walk through Mozilla's virtual "doors", you have to exhibit professionalism and respect towards whoever you interact with. I expected it to be an obvious prerequisite for acceptance into the Mozilla community.

Apparently, this is not shared by everyone. A small minority of community members seem to believe they don't (always) have to adhere to such standards. Unfortunately, they are supported by another group of people who misunderstand this as a question of freedom of speech. It isn't.

Still, let's not get carried away: Inflating this occurrence into an outright crisis would utterly disregard the contributions of many individuals (me included) who take the mandate of mutual respect very seriously and have--regardless of their own background or even opinion on the topic at hand--been speaking up and demanding the person in question adhere to such standards while acting within the Mozilla community. Not to mention the many community members who may be less vocal but exhibit flawless behavior towards their peers on a daily basis as a matter of course.

In the light of all this, I concede now that writing down a Code of Conduct would be helpful to Mozilla. It would perform the important function of reminding people of these basic standards and urge superiors and peers to enforce them. It would also serve as a valuable reference in case of confusion, or when new members are unsure what's expected from them.

Christie has listed some good examples of existing codes of conduct by other open source communities. I particularly like the Code of Conduct set forth by Ubuntu, because it does not make the need to act civilly dependent on any particular attribute of a person. Instead, it demands consideration, respect, and collaborative behavior from all community members and towards all community members equally.

I'd wish for a Mozilla Code of Conduct to do the same.

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