[personal profile] mjg59
Inspiring change is difficult. Fighting the status quo typically means being able to communicate so effectively that powerful opponents can't win merely by outspending you. People need to read your work or hear you speak and leave with enough conviction that they in turn can convince others. You need charisma. You need to be smart. And you need to be able to tailor your message depending on the audience, even down to telling an individual exactly what they need to hear to take your side. Not many people have all these qualities, but those who do are powerful and you want them on your side.

But the skills that allow you to convince people that they shouldn't listen to a politician's arguments are the same skills that allow you to convince people that they shouldn't listen to someone you abused. The ability that allows you to argue that someone should change their mind about whether a given behaviour is of social benefit is the same ability that allows you to argue that someone should change their mind about whether they should sleep with you. The visibility that gives you the power to force people to take you seriously is the same visibility that makes people afraid to publicly criticise you.

We need these people, but we also need to be aware that their talents can be used to hurt as well as to help. We need to hold them to higher standards of scrutiny. We need to listen to stories about their behaviour, even if we don't want to believe them. And when there are reasons to believe those stories, we need to act on them. That means people need to feel safe in coming forward with their experiences, which means that nobody should have the power to damage them in reprisal. If you're not careful, allowing charismatic individuals to become the public face of your organisation gives them that power.

There's no reason to believe that someone is bad merely because they're charismatic, but this kind of role allows a charismatic abuser both a great deal of cover and a great deal of opportunity. Sometimes people are just too good to be true. Pretending otherwise doesn't benefit anybody but the abusers.


Date: 2016-06-07 03:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unixbhaskar.wordpress.com
Matthew you are spot on. Channelising the power to the right channel is very important.

Thank you

Date: 2016-06-07 06:20 pm (UTC)
ext_1793572: Picture of Justin W. Flory, jflory7, from January 2016 (jflory7)
From: [identity profile] jflory7.id.fedoraproject.org
Hi Matthew, I've been reading your blog for a while now and I often find myself agreeing with your thoughts and opinions, especially about these types of things.

I appreciate the perspective you add in to these situations, especially so early on when so many people are either shocked or in denial and many different voices are talking over each other at once. Your thoughts always appear to be like taking a step back from it all and taking a healthy amount of rational thought to the discussion… for many, I think you put into words what others struggle to put together. From a young open source contributor slowly entering the world of software and beyond, thanks for setting a positive example for others in the community.

I'm not sure I believe you...

Date: 2016-06-07 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lersek
... because you communicate extremely effectively. What's your hidden agenda here? ;)

Date: 2016-06-08 02:32 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What you are describing isn't a hero but a firebrand. Healthy, functioning communities tend to have methods to leverage the work of firebrands while protecting neophytes from getting burned by them. While I can't say for sure, your (and my) careful avoidance of the actual individual, and the slow drip of reports coming in sure seem to describe a tech community that a) isn't healthy, b) isn't functioning very well, and c) is made up of participants who are scared as hell of getting burned.

If a single bad actor can sink the entire community into a Chaumian whirlpool of paranoia, it's time to stop using the pronoun "we" because it no longer holds any meaning.

What controversy is this post referring to?

Date: 2016-06-27 11:06 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have a feeling this post was brought on by some sort of controversy involving a charismatic public figure. Anyone know what?


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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