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Dear Schmuck

May 3, 2013 9 comments

[For the benefit of everyone involved -- the reader, the subject, the blog, and of course yours truly -- I decided to wait a few days to write this blog post in order to allow cooler heads, specifically mine, to prevail. As many of you know, I can be mercilessly unkind when annoyed or provoked, and with the glorious burden of being able to use the English language like a Ginsu knife, I learned long ago not to shoot from the hip, so to speak, in order to keep any incensed writing from including body counts. However, to set the stage here, a person who visited the CrunchBang booth at Linux Fest Northwest over the weekend -- clearly new to attending shows and new to the Free/Open Source Software paradigm -- could stand to use an attitude adjustment. Whether or not the person in question reads this is not as important as getting this out there.]

Dear Schmuck:

First, let me welcome you to Linux Fest Northwest — the second best show on the U.S. West Coast (next to the Southern California Linux Expo) — and also let me welcome you to the wider Free/Open Source Software paradigm. It’s clear that you’re new in these parts and chances are this is your first show.

I also see that you’re inspired by FOSS, and that’s outstanding. I’m truly glad for you. From your enthusiasm and the gleam in your eye, I can tell that you’re on a mission; it’s the same mission in which everyone in the room is involved to varying degrees; otherwise, we would be spending our weekend elsewhere. Clearly I’ve walked a mile in your proverbial moccasins — and I sheepishly admit that when I started on the FOSS path I acted from time to time like the quintessential douchebag at which you excel at this very moment (more on this later) — so let me point out a few things that could help you going forward.

Bear in mind that what I’m suggesting are things that just might make your life in FOSS circles a little more pleasant and, more importantly, just might make you a little more bearable to the people around you, both inside FOSS circles and in the wider realm of life. It may not seem like it, but I’m trying to help you here, so listen.

First, this is how conversations work: You say something, then you stop talking and listen to the other person as he or she offers a response. Let me repeat that: “You stop talking and listen to the other person as he or she offers a response.” You’re truly allowed to stop talking. Honest. Streams of consciousness are nice, but in a conversation — again, when one person says something to another and the first person allows the second to respond — you allow the person you’re talking to (not talking at) to respond to what you have said.

Got that? Good, because there’s more to this: A significant part of the conversational process involves allowing the person with which you’re conversing to, at the very least, complete a sentence. You didn’t notice this, obviously, but in our entire exchange, I was unable to complete a sentence thanks to your constant interruptions. You truly need to work on that.

Second, I understand your desire to promote your FOSS product and I also understand that you are immeasurably proud of it. Good for you, Sparky. However, rather than putting down comparable products with faulty arguments, you might want to listen to people who have used the product you’re blasting to a.) learn more about the products you’re criticizing, and b.) maybe learn something, period. “People who have used the product,” in this case, would be me, and I’ve used the products in question for years. If you were to listen, I could provide you with some insight into the other products; products again with which I have first-hand experience. But rather than do the smart, logical thing, you choose to remain a bloviating advertard parroting marketing jargon. I could have told you how full of shit you were, but I didn’t because I thought it would sail past you like a puck past a helpless goalie after a Sidney Crosby slapshot. Just like everything else I had said between all your interruptions up to that point.

As an aside, I told you I was familiar with your product after going to your website several months ago. I haven’t been since, and what I didn’t tell you was that your website, well, blows goats. You might want to use — what do you call it? — correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Why focus on this triviality? Because if you can’t be thorough and precise with your web presence, how can I trust you to be thorough and precise with the quality of your product?

So here’s a quick recap:

– Shut the hell up and listen to the person/people you’re conversing with, and

– Your product isn’t perfect, other products have features yours doesn’t, and as hard as it might be to admit to yourself, you don’t know everything. In fact, you know less than you think, which makes listening to others that much more important.

Again, I’ve walked a mile — hundreds of miles at this point — in the proverbial shoes you’re now donning for your travels along the FOSS path. I, too, started out “filled with the Holy Spirit,” the divine inspiration that Catholics and other Christian denominations refer to when enraptured by the missionary zeal of spreading “the word;” in our case, the Free/Open Source Software paradigm. And I would have saved myself a lot of profuse apologies, needless backpedaling and multiple hurt feelings had I been told all this by someone else when I had started out back in 2006 when I “knew everything” about FOSS.

So you’re welcome.

Despite our minuscule differences and preferences in software and hardware, in the FOSS realm there is really no “us and them.” There’s just “us” to varying degrees of participation. Understand that and you’re more than halfway there.

Hope you enjoy the fest.

Larry the Free Software Guy

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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