Editorial warning: this is a messy, stream of consciousness kind of post. 🙂
I was listening to a podcast called Becoming Wise today, in which a scientist who is also a Jesuit priest recounted a memory:
When I was a little kid, about nine years old, I remember a rainy Sunday afternoon, and you couldn’t go out to play, and you were stuck in the house, and my mom came out with a deck of cards, and dealt them out, and we played rummy together. Now, my mom can beat me at cards because I’m 9 years old, but that’s not the point of the game. The game was her way of telling me she loved me in a way — she couldn’t just say, you know, son I love you, because I’m 9 years old, I’m going to squirm and go ‘aww mom,’ and run away — in a way, being able to do science, and come to an intimate knowledge of creation, is God’s way of playing with us. And it’s that kind of play that is one way that God tells us how He loves us. So, is it invented? It’s as invented as the card game. But is it an act of love? It’s as much an act of love as the card game.
I had a lot of thoughts about this story, including stuff around gendering deity, the notion of deity itself, is 9yo deflection of love innate or taught by the patriarchy, etc. Take all that as a given if you can (I know: distracting).
Today, what really got me thinking from this story is the notion of how science, as an act of understanding the universe, can also be an act of love. Because what is love, but an effort toward acceptance and understanding someone/something? And then I got to thinking about my work, which centers on community organizing.
There is this huge community of people who use WordPress, and my work for the past 5 years has been to facilitate that community’s growth and health. Community is vital to the WordPress open source project — to any open source project — because WordPress is developed through a collaborative effort among hundreds of volunteers all around the world. Community fosters collaboration, which then fosters the growth and development of WordPress.
Collaboration is an act of love. Working with a group — sometimes even when you don’t 100% agree with everything the group’s doing, but flexing your muscles of acceptance and understanding, and adding your effort to the effort of many — working together for the common good, that shows trust and love.
Likewise, it’s an act of love to welcome criticism — to welcome reports of negative experiences — more ardently then we welcome praise. Praise just tells us that what we thought was right, was right. Which is good — “works as expected” is always nice, right? — but that positive echo chamber doesn’t lay open more roads for improvement.
Community is an act of love. The act of talking about how you use this software, WordPress, that we all share, of telling people the problems that you face, of sharing your solutions to those problems, or lack of solutions — that is a vulnerable act, and humans rarely make themselves vulnerable unless they feel safe. But when you feel you know people in the group, when you feel close to people in your community, you are more likely to feel safe and make yourself vulnerable. By growing closer, we are stronger, and more able to become closer yet again.
Adding new people to our community is an act of love. It can be frightening to include more people, to make the circle bigger, to factor in more experiences and more ways that our solutions and tools could be imperfect. Humans survived a long time by defending their groups against “the other,” not embracing difference. Groups are safe, and opening your group to different people causes change, and change is not safe.
But without an open and actively opening community, our project, our WordPress, stalls out in an echo chamber. So the work is collaboration and community, but the master’s work is to constantly question your assumptions, to every day question if you have made your community as welcoming and as open as it possibly can be. To question yourself constantly: have I missed something? Is there another perspective, a group of people for whom this event or experience would not be pleasant or useful? How can I welcome those people and perspectives?
The way we design (or try to design) WordPress, should also be the way we design community: so that the experience is effortless and welcoming for everyone. And the way that we show our love and our willingness to collaborate is by constantly questioning whether we’ve done enough, listened enough, opened our minds and communities enough.
The work is never done, and isn’t that marvelous? There are, and will be, so many ways to improve how we show our love for one another.