develooper Front page | perl.perl5.porters | Postings from April 2021

On community hostility and the need for change on p5p

Thread Next
Neil Bowers
April 16, 2021 05:52
On community hostility and the need for change on p5p
Message ID:
As you're probably all aware by now, Sawyer has resigned from the Perl Steering Council (PSC), the Perl Core Team, and other positions he had in the Perl community. He would like to honour his commitment to release 5.34.0, but said he plans to withdraw from the community after that. The reason he gave for his departure was the hostility he has faced in recent years, particularly since announcing the Perl 7 plan at last year's Perl Conference in the Cloud.

Sawyer felt bullied, which is a serious accusation, and one that we should not take lightly. Those who've been accused by Sawyer of bullying claim there was no intention to bully, but that they were engaging in discussion and standing their ground, admitting that they did so strenuously. Furthermore, they believed they had no other choice, because they felt they weren't being listened to, nor their concerns acknowledged.

Setting aside the definition of bullying, the reality is that the style of discourse adopted by people engaging with Sawyer caused him distress and led to him leaving. Sawyer isn’t the only person who has said they’ve stopped participating because of a widespread culture of aggression and derision. This is not acceptable. More though, we're missing out on contributions from people with deep knowledge and experience, and we're undoubtedly putting off new contributors.

Perl, and the ecosystem and community surrounding it, runs almost entirely on the passion of volunteers from around the world. People are passionate because they care about Perl, have invested a lot of themselves in it, and share the same goal: the growth and improvement of the language that they love. But if they become divided because they feel that only their approach will avoid doom, then passions get the better of reason, and by that point the only likely outcome is that it will end in egregious behaviour.

There are wide cultural differences in the way people resolve disagreements. Maybe with friends you have a style of discussion where you get in each other's faces, and the good ideas survive, but that's not viable on p5p, or any forum that wants true representation, and where you're working with people you don't really know. We all need to listen more, and respect the opinions of others. You must be aware of your volume (is anyone else getting a chance to speak?), your tone (are you catastrophizing?), and your manners (are you calling the other person an idiot?).  You should be able to disagree without being rude, and if you can't, we'll call you on it.  And if you persist, you'll be removed.

We cannot afford to keep losing people. Sawyer's departure was very visible and public, but there are others who are quietly walking away, and that's just as damaging, if not more so. Some are (contemplating) leaving because they're burned out, and others are afraid to share their thoughts because of the hostile reception they might get. So we have to change the way p5p works.

Part of the job of the PSC is to pose questions, and then listen to opinions from all quarters, to try and build a consensus, iteratively and transparently. As part of that, we have to ensure that the behaviour of some doesn't suppress the participation of others. Eventually, discussions need to come to an end, and decisions made by the people empowered to do so; this needs to be possible without acrimony.

The definition of Perl 7 is a perfect opportunity for us all to start working on a more constructive and inclusive style of dialogue. We've decided on "use v7", but there's plenty more to work out, and we need to do that together. Please hold fire on your thoughts for this though, until we have shared our thoughts on how to structure this. It would be good to see Perl on the front page of Hacker News for positive reasons, rather than as the poster child for dysfunctional tech communities.

Though we're all volunteers working together on Perl and everything around it, we have to accept that certain standards of conduct are expected of those in leadership positions, whether that's the Perl Steering Council, the Core Team, PAUSE admins, the toolchain, and leaders of other communities within the Perl world. This applies not only to Perl mailing lists, but also on social media, IRC, and elsewhere.

If you have concerns or questions about this, please contact the PSC ( and reflect on this before engaging in discussion publicly. If you do want to reply to this message, please wait at least 24 hours before doing so.

Sawyer became the Perl 5 Pumpking in 2017, and has overseen releases from 5.26 through 5.32 (and hopefully 5.34). This is only part of what he has done for Perl and the community – many of you know him from Dancer and other contributions, and from his energetic and passionate conference presentations. We would like to acknowledge all of his contributions, and thank him for everything that he's done.

We hope that at some point in the future Sawyer, and others, will feel ready and able to return. But there's no chance of that happening until we have made our community a more welcoming and supportive environment. Simply ignoring disagreements and shaking each other warmly by the hand won't work, but neither will shaking each other warmly by the throat. We need to avoid both extremes.

Neil & Rik

Thread Next Perl Programming lists via nntp and http.
Comments to Ask Bjørn Hansen at | Group listing | About