Don’t Be a Bully

I don’t know Brendan Eich. I don’t know much about him other than (1) Mr. Eich created JavaScript and (2) made a contribution to support proposition 8, aimed at taking away the right of gay couples to marry in California and voiding the marriages already taken place, including my own.

When the news about Brendan Eich’s contribution became public a couple years ago, the reaction within my community – the web development community – was pretty strong and one sided, deriding and marginalizing him. Brendan Eich didn’t do himself much favor with a blog post full of grand standing and lack of empathy. I did agree with his basic argument though.

Being a bully is never a productive strategy. It might be satisfying but it is counterproductive and shows the same lack of empathy that is at the root of the issue on the other side. If you limit your social and business circles to people who only share your exact social ideal, you are actually taking part in sustaining the status quo. There is nothing more powerful than an open dialog.

With his appointment to Mozilla CEO this week, the story got resurrected and many people I love and admire expressed their disagreement with the promotion solely on the base of his contribution. This is unfair. From all accounts, Mr. Eich has never applied his (assumed) personal belief to his work or to others, and pretty much everyone who chimed in has no real first-hand experience with Mr. Eich.

I don’t participate in parades or demonstrations. I am not very active beyond voting and making political contributions. But I am confident that by living my life in the open, by engaging those around me, I am making a positive impact on the lives of other gay people. I constantly invite my friends and coworkers to my house for dinner with their family, exposing them to what is often their first same sex family experience. I seek people and share my personal experiences, explaining why their positions are hurtful.

I strongly disagree with the claim that one can donate or vote to something like proposition 8, and be ignorance-free, hate-free, or bigotry-free. Try walk a mile in the shoes of most gay people, especially during their teen years in a society that still sucks today with its treatment of gay people and tell me you still stand behind that claim. But that’s also my point – it is very much my responsibility to share my feelings and experience with those who disagree with me in hope of seeding this understanding.

It is sad how many people lack true, actionable empathy for people who are still today being beaten, abused, derided, mocked, disowned, dismissed as an abomination, lynched, or executed. That even those who support gay rights are not sufficiently open minded about the wide range of gender expression that doesn’t fit their norms.

Instead of posting comments on Twitter aimed at specific individuals, consider sending those you disagree with an email explaining to them in  personal tones how their actions hurt you and impact your life. There is nothing more powerful than a personal interaction to change minds. I’m not saying you can change everyone’s mind, or that everyone would be open to engage, but you should at least try.

You don’t get to take the moral high ground unless you actually climb there first.