Civility Linkblogging: Maine, Palestine, and Conservative Publications

By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

Welcome to the first edition of Civility Linkblogging of 2014.

Civility Linkblogging is an ongoing segment in which we search out news and discussion from around the web that highlights issues surrounding civil discourse, or that considers principles of civility. We gather the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and abroad.

This week’s segment covers the very busy month of December, which saw several developments related to education: new rules instituted by the Indiana State School Board to curb incivility in meetings, and a serious discussion of cyber-bullying — both directed at middle- and high-school students, and directed toward school officials — in Michigan and Maryland.

Here, however, we are covering the inaugural event of Choose Civility Portland, an organization devoted to enacting respectful dialogue in Maine. We are covering approaches to civilizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — as it plays out among students at San Francisco State University. And we are covering two very different calls for civility from two conservative news sources: The Washington Times and The American Conservative.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at [email protected]. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now on to the list:

Portland Campaign Promotes Civility, Tolerance in Public Discourse
Posted by William Hall at The Forecaster, December 3, 2013

Civility means manners, but Choose Civility is not just about etiquette lessons.

“To maintain a level of openness and inclusion in our community, we have to have some level of civility,” said Kimberly Simmons, the library’s Choose Civility coordinator. Civility calls for respecting others and their opinions, she explained, even if they’re unpopular.

A Call for Civility in Leadership
Posted by Jennifer Olney at SteamFeed, December 3, 2013

We forget that long before “civility” became a buzzword, leaders built genuine relationships in work life. The organization in the past was based relationship-centered, mission-focused, and valued based. Good manners were common, not uncommon. Civility was not something that had to be mandated rather it was the norm. Organizations didn’t have to have training in civility, rather, it was a given. Our society has changed and our organizations and leaders are now having to be retrained in civility.

To Counter Courseness, Choose Civility
Posted by Ben S. Carson at The Washington Times, December 17, 2013

Civility and honesty are highly desirable traits, which should be imparted to our children both through example and planned lessons. This teaching should begin in the home, but certainly teachers, school administrators and other responsible adults should take every opportunity to facilitate the learning process. On the other hand, we must not fall into the trap of being so concerned about innocent words and deeds that we destroy people while worshipping ill-conceived rules of speech and behavior.

SFSU Student’s Call for Civility Starts With ‘I Feel Your Pain’
Posted by Ryan Ariel Simon at, December 19, 2013

At the heart of this issue, and the pain of my community, is the inability and refusal to recognize or understand the pain of the other. This is a symptom, I believe, of the larger issue of the lack of empathy in the Israel-Palestine debate in general.

It is what scholar Herbert C. Kelman calls “the interdependence of Israeli and Palestinian national identities”: One group sees the recognition of the pain of “the other” as negating its own pain, its narrative.

How Snark & Smarm Fall Short
Posted by Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative, December 21, 2013

Smarm is bad. But the way in which we gleefully suck up snark’s sneering jabs is equally detrimental to society. Public discourse, in both cases, is more concerned with personal loftiness than truly elevating the needs and concerns of the public. Truth, one would hope, could offer us a different course: one in which “civility” is not saccharine, and “truth” is not nasty—a discourse in which mercy and truth can meet together.

Debating Civility in Linux Software Development

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds — by kuvaaja of Photo licenses CC-BY-SA

Think that civility in government is a matter only for senators and representatives? Think again. In the world of open source software, July saw a vigorous debate about the tone and tenor of Linus Torvald’s governance of the Linux kernel, one of the largest and most active collaborative software development projects today.

Originally started in 1991 by Torvalds, the Linux kernel is a key piece of code that powers computers around the world from the Internet’s largest servers to pocket-sized Android smartphones. Torvalds is known for dealing brusquely with the project’s contributors, often rejecting what he considers to be poor programming, publicly, in colorful and sometimes overwrought language.

In response to recent incendiary comments by Torvalds on the Linux Kernel Mailing List, Sarah Sharp, a programmer for the electronics giant Intel, had enough:

Seriously, guys? Is this what we need in order to get improve -stable? Linus Torvalds is advocating for physical intimidation and violence. Ingo Molnar and Linus are advocating for verbal abuse. …

Violence, whether it be physical intimidation, verbal threats or verbal abuse is not acceptable. Keep it professional on the mailing lists.

Sharp’s comments provoked an extended response from Torvalds in which he protested that he can’t just say “please don’t do that”, because people won’t listen, and that he is not willing to string bad programmers along.

But as Sharp pointed out, the issue is not simply a matter of coddling people, or even being nice. Torvalds, Sharp writes, has been verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart.

You’re Linus Torvalds, for crying out loud! Nodding to his prominence in the software development community, Sharp writes that there’s no need for it, when a simple, “No, that’s a bad idea, stop working on this RIGHT now,” is more than enough from you.

Linux kernel developers have come down on both sides of the issue.  Some have defended the culture of the Linux Kernel Mailing List, in which good ideas are rewarded as lavishly as bad ideas are rejected. While others tend to agree with Sarah Sharp.

In one article on Network World, developer Stefano Stabellini was adamant about his position. Torvalds’s leadership style is hurting Linux and in particular it’s hurting attracting new talents — not just devs for hire but people passionate about what they do and eager to become more involved in the project.

Does that mean that Linus Torvalds will change? Linux kernel contributors seem to think it unlikely.

But as Sean Michael Kerner of Internet News writes, the fact that Sarah Sharp is standing up and making her voice heard is the start of a conversation that should have started a long time ago.