What to respect when

When I travelled in Borneo last year there was one question that popped into my mind which I have pondered on a bit since. And that is the question of ‘showing respect’ when abroad and what that means. The reason the question came up was that one of the first things the tour group was told was that women should dress in a certain manner in order to show respect for local culture. In theory this seems a fair request and similar to what I experienced many times before, like requests I got when visiting a church in Greece about not going into the church with wearing shorts, but wearing long pants.

When it comes to buildings and other special areas I can accept this, but when it become a general rule I started wondering about it. The thing is we do many things every day that may or may not agree with everyone around us. There are many of these issues ranging from the trivial (you wear to bright coloured shirts) to more the more essential (coloured people shouldn’t be in here).

Everyday we fight a battle over what is right and what is wrong. And everyday people give in on some issues (ok, I will wear a different shirt) and stand up and fight for other issues (of course coloured people have a right to be in here).

The thing is that as soon as you do give in on any issue the people making the demand will naturally strenghten their belief that their viewpoint has a higher moral standing than yours, and assume you agree since went along with it. So to go back to the initial issue that got me pondering, it was that if we accept that when we go some places women in our group need to cover their hair, we to some degree validate those requests and say that our beliefs are somehow less moral or worthy than those of the people making the demand. That the people making this demand are justified in making the demand.

Especially since these things seldom tend to be two-way street I feel it comes out wrong. Because if it is only about showing respect for local tradition, then shouldn’t we make the same demand when people come to us, that women do not cover their hair when coming to our countries as it is seen as offensive and as a symbol of female oppression?

So to put this into a GNOME community context I get quite irritated when I feel that people in the community want to enforce their own values on the way that the rest of the community act and behave. To me GNOME have always been a socially liberal community, not in the sense that everyone’s a liberal, but in the sense that those with more conservative inklings on an issue have respected that not everyone agrees with them and that they have no more moral right to make demands upon the more liberal parts of the community anymore than the liberal parts of the community have a right to make demands upon the behaviour of the more conservative members. As an atheist I am not especially thrilled about people putting Bible and Quaran quotes in their blogs which go on planet.gnome.org, but that doesn’t mean I feel I have the right to ask people doing so to stop.

Mission statement for GNOME

On a semi-related issue I have also been thinking about what a mission statement for GNOME should say. The issue where brought up during GUADEC and I was not to excited about the direction it seems to go. A mission statement need to contain some form of value statement in my opinion to have any real use. It needs to be something people can rally behind. A mission statement that goes along the lines that ‘GNOME is about making the most usable GUI buttons in the world’ is close to being a waste of bits to me.

So if I where to compose the mission statement it would instead be something like this:

We take free speech from granted in large parts of the world today, but ensuring that the infrastructure of communication remains free and available for all to use, free speech will start to dissipate.
The goal of the GNOME project is to provide a part of that infrastructure in a digital world, under terms ensuring that no single person, organization, company or government is controling it. To accomplish this goal we aim to make the GNOME
desktop so usable and good that the desktop becomes transparent to the user, enabling them to use it as a tool to express themselves as they see fit.

I spent a full 5 minutes coming up with the text above, so its not meant as a exact proposal, more as an example of what kind of mission statement I would feel actually conveys something. It clearly states what the difference is in values is between GNOME and other desktops like Windows, MacOSX and KDE.

Ok, enough ranting for today.