But what if they don’t?

A number of Open Source communities have recently published statements discussing appropriate behavior within the community. The obvious question is, what do we do when someone disregards our guidelines?

This question came up during Chris Davis’ talk at ApacheCon, and came up again just now on an IRC channel I frequent. I thought I’d write up my answer before it comes up a third time.

My response actually comes from the Bible, and regardless of your personal religious preferences, this is just good common-sense advice. Here’s the original version:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

So, in the context of your Open Source project, I expect you know how to translate “brother” and “church”.¬†Perhaps “pagan or a tax collector” could give us some entertaining contextual translations, but I think that the spirit of the thing is precisely what we’re looking for.

When folks are jerks in Open Source communities, there’s many possibilities. They may be a jerk In Real Life. They may be unaware that they are being jerky. They may be socially awkward, and not clear how they are coming across. They may be intentionally being destructive. They may be a non-native speaker of the primary language of the project, and it’s simply a matter of poor translation. The best way to find out is to talk to them privately. If you can win them over, you’ve saved the project, and you’ve saved this person the embarrassment that was assuredly coming their way. If you can’t, then the community is more important than their potential contribution that you’ll be losing.

If you can resolve community conflict in a way that preserves the dignity of the people involved, you’ll come out ahead. If the troublemaker (“poisonous person”, to use Fitz and Sussman’s terminology) will not be won over, then they should be removed for the sake of the community.

See also: If you have not seen the Poisonous People talk, you should watch it. It has lots of sane, common-sense, practical advice in it.