Labour Views: Why Dissent Matters

July 21, 2017

Why does dissent matter? Because some people see things the rest of us miss. Dissenters express opinions that differ with those commonly or officially expressed.Dissenters often disagree with the methods, goals, and decisions of dominant voices.

We all know one important thing about life. Some of our most fiercely held beliefs will turn out to be completely wrong.

Nelson Mandella was a dissenting voice in apartheid South Africa. He served 27 years in Jail. His crime? Standing up to the government that was committing egregious human rights abuses against black South Africans. He was released from prison in 1990 and went on to lead the way for the abolition of apartheid in 1994. He was elected as South Africa’s first black president that same year. His most astounding accomplishment after suffering years of abuse was to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which focused on healing the country’s wounds from human rights abuses using truth-telling and forgiveness. He walked among us as a man for 95 years but will be remembered as a hero as long as there are history books to be read.

Our world has been saved by authentic dissenters: people who have been attacked, bullied, ostracised, jailed, and sometimes, when its all over, celebrated. We need to know what they know. They don’t dissent because they have been told to. They dissent because they have to.Suppressing dissent is bad for the dissenter but worse for the rest of us. Listen – and decide – before you shut them out.

Dissenters are everywhere. Some people dissent because they are assigned that role and it is an expected part of the job – for example, appellate court judges. And a few a few dissent because they have to: their conscience leaves them no choice but to speak up.In addition to these lone wolves who have left the pack, there are mass protest movements where dissenters against one thing or another come together in a common clause and clamour for public attention. What unites them is that they challenge received wisdom and the status quo. Dissenters are important. They force us, sometimes uncomfortably, to look at the other side. Without them, we could easily go down the wrong path. With them, we mat still go down the wrong path, but there’s a better chance that we will change our minds and get it right.

Dissent is noisy, messy, inconvenient, costly, often misplaced, sometimes laughable, usually bad timed, and almost always time – consuming. Many dissenters are self – interested misanthropic. We often pay lip service to dissent, just another box to be checked off, But the price of not listening is far higher than its costs, even when the dissenters are all wrong. Some dissenters have truly important things to say.

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