A letter from Richard Stallman
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
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.