I told a lot of people that I was going to stay out of the diversity discussion. However I couldn’t sleep last night because something was bothering me.
One of the memes when I joined the Ruby Community was “MINASWAN.” It means “Matz is nice and so we are nice.” Honestly, I think Matz smiles even when he’s asleep or using the bathroom. Unfortunately, sometimes I wonder if we forget that our community was built on the idea that we are kind and accepting to everyone in our community.
Most of us think about MINASWAN with regards to new programmers or programmers new to the language. I’m afraid sometimes we forget that it applies to everyone in the community.
The ideals of MINASWAN are mutual respect, helpfulness, and acceptance. We do very well with this when dealing with most members of the community because we mostly agree and frankly it’s not that hard.
Where I think we fail at this is when we want to make a point, we’re right, and we let that take precedence over being nice.
Let’s take the current situation with the discussion over diversity. MINASWAN clearly encompasses diversity. It’s doesn’t differentiate based upon sex or race and neither should we. So, in a sense, the folks pushing for more diversity are in fact working for a subset of what MINASWAN means.
The problem is that their response was not always in keeping with MINASWAN. Pointing out the problem so someone can fix it is the lowest level of what MINASWAN means. And only if it’s done in a respectful and accepting way.
I don’t think the initial commentary on BritRuby’s lineup was intended to be disrespectful or mean. However, I’ve found that many things on the internet get interpreted in the harshest way regardless of intent. So, if we’re going to be nice on Twitter, we need to be careful.
What MINASWAN means in the larger sense is: Just as we help “noobs” come into the community, we should help everyone. An all white-male lineup at BritRuby was a consequence of the organizers not knowing how to encourage a diverse speaker base to come speak. If we were to help them like we help new people coming to the community, then the experts in diversifying a conference should have stepped up and offered to make introductions and to show them how to reach out.
Some of the consequences I’m afraid we’ll see are that this will damage our conferences by increasing the risk or perceived risk of putting on a conference. That attendance will be hurt by this same sort of thing happening to their conference resulting in their losing money and effort. Or that they may decide to preemptively call the whole things off.
I also worry that some of the brilliant minority speakers we have in this community will feel that they got to speak because of their sex or race rather than because they were the right PEOPLE for the conference and because they are amazing programmers and great speakers.
If there’s any way we can pull together and be constructive about these issues, we have a responsibility to do it. A total win for the community would be that BritRuby be reinstated and that the organizers get a little help in finding the diversity they lack. An epic win would be that other conferences and community members gain the resources and know-how to promote diversity in their efforts without being afraid that they’ll get punched in the nose for trying to give back.
No one should feel singled out by this. It’s a general feeling that I’ve observed over the last day or so that needed to be addressed.