An alternative interpretation

Sat 24 October 2009

Gerfried Fuchs (rhonda) is a prolific Debian Developer, who maintains a number of Debian packages, some of which I use daily. She also participates in the Debian/Ubuntu Games Team, which has a mission to unite the two projects when it comes to the common purpose of gaming. To that noble end she's considering joining MOTU, but is reluctant to keysign the Code of Conduct, finding an aside within unsavory. She worries:

Anyway, there is this one part with the that CoC that itches me. It's not that one has to sign it with their GnuPG key, but related to it. Making it a requirement to sign it gives the document a much more official character, actually gives it the feeling and impression of a contract and I expect it is meant to carry that feeling. Though, there is this one part in it that I consider off for such a document:

Nobody knows everything, and nobody is expected to be perfect in the Ubuntu community (except of course the SABDFL).

Given that the acronym SABDFL refers to Mark Shuttleworth it means that one has to expect him to be impeccable—which I am sorry but cannot sign.

As best I can tell, her worry is that it declares leadership is infallible, and that any lighthearted humor undermines the serious tone a contract must bear. But jokes can place a lot of meaning into a few words; many legal briefs use them to great effect. My personal interpretation of the aside in question is that we hold SABDFL and leadership to higher standards than the rest of the community, and that we expect the utmost behavior from SABDFL. This interpretation is supported by the Ubuntu Leadership Code of Conduct. I think this particular document does not and has not received the attention the normal CoC has enjoyed; I encourage people to read it now. The aside, I believe, calls to attention the expectations the community has of its leadership.

It also serves as a reminder that SABDFL has considerable power, financial, social and structurally. Without communicating these expectations, there would be to great power without great responsibility. Being able to take SABDFL to task for mistakes the stabilizes the community when an error is made by its public face, and places community checks on his power.

So Gerfried, I'd encourage you to read the Leadership CoC and the governance documents, and then read the CoC again in their light. Perhaps you will then find this aside reasonable, and perhaps you will find more to object to. Either way, you'll discover more about the attitudes of the Ubuntu community you work with, so I think it's worth your time. And if you change your mind, I'd be glad to cheer you on your way to MOTU.

UPDATE: shortly after writing this, the Ubuntu Community Council chose to revise the document. The statement in question is removed, but I still encourage people to understand the community structure of Ubuntu and the expectations we have of leadership.

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