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Abridged and minorly edited from a message to the internal-l mailing list. Some of it is specific to that list, but not very much.

I read most of the list--nearly all of it; I think of it as one of my responsibilities to do so. But I tend to dread opening it. And I don't reply to things nearly as often as I should.

The thing I regret most is that unhelpful posts make me reluctant to engage on substantive issues on mailing lists. And I don't think I am the only one who suffers this problem. When it's impossible to have a discussion that stays productive and professional, it's difficult for most people to be motivated to participate.

A forum for expressing disagreement and criticism honestly is absolutely a necessity. And I think a forum like that kills itself when you don't appreciate that with the ability to speak freely comes the need to speak responsibly. Your message is completely lost if everyone who reads it is inflamed by the way it's delivered.

Perhaps some ideal people are always able to look past imperfect communication and engage substantively. Those on OTRS may recognize that as the challenging part of the job--to be able to respond even to irate and unreasonable people with kindness and professionalism. It's not too hard for me to set aside my emotional reaction and respond that way to strangers. But you guys are my colleagues, with a common purpose. We're supposed to be able to recognize each other's situations and treat each other with respect. It's depressing to read the list and find that we are no more considerate of each other than people shouting into an anonymous mailbox.

I know that it's possible to have discussions that involve strongly-held disagreements that don't devolve into shouting matches. But to get some sort of resolution you have to talk to others so that they will actually hear it, considering the effect of your words before you say them. Not hiding areas of disagreement, but in considering whether the message you send is going to do what you want it to do.

It is pretty much inevitable that any decision anyone takes is going to make someone unhappy. (It's especially true coming from the foundation, whose actions have an effect on the widest range of people. And perhaps I'm especially sensitive to it, feeling that most of the criticism is coming toward me.) One thing distorting this list, and many lists, is that you never hear from the people who are satisfied. You hear from the people who are upset.

It's also true that most people think what they're doing is the right thing, or at least, not the wrong one. We need to recognize this and assume the best of each other when we're talking to each other. There is nothing like putting time and effort and consideration into navigating a difficult situation, and to receive only accusations. None of us deserve that; we could all be home looking at funny cat pictures, but we're not, presumably because some of us think we might be able to do something worthwhile instead. We should be treating this list like any other aspect of our professional lives, because at this level it is professional, even for those of us who have never gotten paid for it.