As the global pandemic continues to spread — causing widespread sickness and death, restricting in-person human contact, creating additional responsibilities at home or financial hardships, or any of the countless other changes to daily life that have resulted in feelings such as fear, anger, boredom, or uncertainty — this virus has forced some of us to reassess our values and our place in the world. While the majority of us who participate in the Drupal community remain focused squarely on technical issues, others might find now is an especially good time to take a closer look at Drupal's Values and Principles. For those of us privileged enough to have the time and space to consider more philosophical questions, we can ask if Drupal's stated values (still) align with our values, or even consider the role of Drupal in our lives when the pandemic subsides.
This article — the first in a series of articles exploring Drupal's values and principles — considers Drupal's first principle, "impact gives purpose," which is one aspect of the first value, "prioritize impact." On one level, the first principle is merely practical. It concludes by prioritizing the "stakeholders" we should consider: "When faced with trade-offs, prioritize the needs of the people who create content (our largest user base) before the people who build sites (our second largest user base) before the people who develop Drupal (our smallest user base)." In its simplest form, this principle tells us that Drupal ranks the needs of content creators before the needs of the developers.
However, the first principle offers considerably more depth. While acknowledging the practical nature of the Drupal software, it calls on us to aspire to a higher goal: "When contributing to Drupal, the goal is often to optimize the project for personal needs ('scratching our own itch'), but it has to be bigger than that." Thus, Drupal is presented as much more than simply a good product.
The phrase "scratching our own itch" has become a platitude. It's everywhere. The Harvard Business Review called it "one of the most influential aphorisms in entrepreneurship." The phrase is well known among software developers in part because in his influential 1999 book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, (the highly controversial) Eric S. Raymond wrote, "Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch." In the Drupal community, however, we see ourselves as aspiring to much more.
As the first principle states, "Slowly, focus shifted from writing the perfect code to growing the project, and amplifying Drupal's impact through better marketing, user experience, and more."
Countless individuals and Drupal subgroups express their desire to impact people. For instance, the Drupal agency Palantir prioritizes impact that is "positive," "lasting," "thoughtful," and "deliberate." Over at ThinkShout, a Drupal agency that works "with courageous organizations that put people and the planet first," the "impact" they aspire to in their first core value "is driven by our sense of connectedness and desire to deliver meaningful, measurable results." Countless individuals and organizations in the Drupal community feel motivated by a sincere desire to positively "impact" other human beings.
Drupal's first principle is especially ambitious in describing the impact of the Drupal community: "Prioritizing impact means that every community member acts in the best interest of the project." It seems unlikely that "every community member" can or should make the Drupal project their top priority. Though it may be idealized, it's a worthy goal. We also must reiterate that people will necessarily begin with their own needs.
Contributions to the Drupal project should not come at personal expense. Imagine telling a single parent, who recently lost their job and wants to build a career with Drupal, to consistently act "in the best interest of the project." Change should come from individuals who have the capacity to help others. Part of why some of us contribute to Drupal is because we imagine another human being finding value in our work. We do not require those who benefit to give back. In this idealized form, we encourage people to participate, but we give with an open hand and no expectation of reciprocation. We contribute because we believe our actions have meaning. As the first principle states, "We derive meaning from our contributions when our work creates more value for others than it does for us."
When we look inward to examine our value systems, we probably do not want to find a heap of clichés, and phrases like "prioritize impact" and "create value for others" might sound rather cliché to some ears. In fact, on various lists of "business buzzwords," the word "impact" takes the top slot. The noun "impact" comes from the Latin impactus, which means "collision" or "striking one thing against another." The cultural and historical context of "impact" doesn't negate its usefulness, but if the real goal is to "derive meaning," it might be helpful to reconsider this principle in more human terms.
As previously noted, much of Drupal's first principle points toward bigger goals that extend beyond the conference room to a human-centered skill that good people work to cultivate: generosity. We seek to help others, both at home and in our careers. The business-friendly language in the first principle like, "maximize the impact the project can have on others," could, for at least some of us, be read as "practice generosity toward others." We seek to use Drupal for Good or even live in (with) Drutopia.
Thanks to Drupal and its community, some of us possess the fortunate capacity to help others. If that describes you, then consider in what ways you have the opportunity to be generous. Toni Morrison — the iconic writer, activist, and college professor who became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature — used to tell her students:
"When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game."
In this case, Morrison's inspirational words apply not just to students, but to countless people in the Drupal community. Many in our community have freedom and power. We have the opportunity to help others. Help other Drupalers. Help kids. Help the homeless. Help anyone in need. Maybe even help Drupal and give to #DrupalCares. If your actions produce positive results, keep going!
Ultimately, action matters more than language. Whether you feel motivated by the desire to make an impact, or you want to practice generosity, don't let up because the world has changed. Take another look at Drupal's Values & Principles and determine for yourself if they motivate you to action. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.