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RMS addresses the free software community

Hacker News - Mon Apr 12 15:06

Published on Apr 12, 2021 10:24 AM

Ever since my teenage years, I felt as if there were a filmy curtain separating me from other people my age. I understood the words of their conversations, but I could not grasp why they said what they did. Much later I realized that I didn't understand the subtle cues that other people were responding to.

Later in life, I discovered that some people had negative reactions to my behavior, which I did not even know about. Tending to be direct and honest with my thoughts, I sometimes made others uncomfortable or even offended them -- especially women. This was not a choice: I didn't understand the problem enough to know which choices there were.

Sometimes I lost my temper because I didn't have the social skills to avoid it. Some people could cope with this; others were hurt. I apologize to each of them. Please direct your criticism at me, not at the Free Software Foundation.

Occasionally I learned something about relationships and social skills, so over the years I've found ways to get better at these situations. When people help me understand an aspect of what went wrong, and that shows me a way of treating people better, I teach myself to recognize when I should act that way. I keep making this effort, and over time, I improve.

Some have described me as being "tone-deaf," and that is fair. With my difficulty in understanding social cues, that tends to happen. For instance, I defended Professor Minsky on an M.I.T. mailing list after someone leaped to the conclusion that he was just guilty as Jeffrey Epstein. To my surprise, some thought my message defended Epstein. As I had stated previously, Epstein is a serial rapist, and rapists should be punished. I wish for his victims and those harmed by him to receive justice.

False accusations -- real or imaginary, against me or against others -- especially anger me. I knew Minsky only distantly, but seeing him unjustly accused made me spring to his defense. I would have done it for anyone. Police brutality makes me angry, but when the cops lie about their victims afterwards, that false accusation is the ultimate outrage for me. I condemn racism and sexism, including their systemic forms, so when people say I don't, that hurts too.

It was right for me to talk about the injustice to Minsky, but it was tone-deaf that I didn't acknowledge as context the injustice that Epstein did to women or the pain that caused.

I've learned something from this about how to be kind to people who have been hurt. In the future, that will help me be kind to people in other situations, which is what I hope to do.