We are at a convention banquet and it is my last official appearance as President of my state trial lawyer association. Gerhard – the Executive Director – is going to say a few words. I’m sitting up on the podium along with other officers looking at the audience of smiling faces. This is a tradition. Time to pass the gavel. And Gerhard starts off: “I have to admit, I was kind of dreading having Karen as President.” The audience gasps. Not sure. Is that a joke?
I’m laughing. It isn’t. He definitely was worried about me being the “face” of the organization. Sure I’m competent, but I also am hmmmm unpredictable. Mainly because I don’t like scripts, speak my mind, and can be a bit irreverent. He then goes on to say very nice things. But still, afterwards people come up to me worried that I may have been offended. Hahaha not hardly.
One of my goals as President was to keep Gerhard constantly entertained. Each month I wrote a column for our newspaper. He retained the right to edit it. So, of course I would turn in the column late so he had to be quick. Several times I managed to turn it in so late that he couldn’t do anything. One of his favorites was probably the time I "threw punch" out our national association (AAJ) for failing to have a diversity plan. I actually made some folk very angry. The article called “DISSENT” had a photo of me with duct tape over my mouth. AAJ’s ED called up Gerhard and asked why he let me publish the piece. Hah! Why indeed. The following wonderful quotes came from that article.
In the forward to A Mathematician's Apology (Cambridge University Press 1940) Prof. G.H. Hardy says:
It is never worth a first class man's time to express a majority opinion. By definition, there are plenty of others to do that.
Progress is made, not by comfortably agreeing with the conventional wisdom, but by having the courage to say what no one else is saying and to say it with clearly articulated reasons that motivate people to change their opinions.
Perhaps the greatest value of dissent is "that the sponsoring and protection of dissent generally have progressive implications" for social change because "[d]issent communicates the fears, hopes, and aspirations of the less powerful to those in power." Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America. Steven H. Shiffrin. (Princeton University Press 1999).
There is a reason why law students are taught to argue both sides of a case. Lively debate is considered a fundamental touchstone to the truth finding process necessary in a democratic society. An organization that shies away from embracing the expression of dissident opinion, no matter how insulting, is an organization that risks being undermined and weakened by its own self satisfaction.
But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
John Stuart Mill, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1947) at 15. Quoted in Justice Brennan’s opinion in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964).
My friend Ron Ward, a true hero for the cause of diversity, sent me this quote:
".....If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder or lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
FREDRICK DOUGLASS, West Indian Emancipation Celebration at Canandaigua, New York, August 4, 1857.
Speak up. Be heard. Make a ruckus every now and then for something you believe in.