Making waves: the value of dissent

   Photo:  When I was President of WSTLA with the board 2007/2008

 Photo:  When I was President of WSTLA with the board 2007/2008

In 2007, when I was President of WSTLA, I wrote an article called the Value of Dissent.

The focus at that time was AAJ and my perception of  its systemic problems in advancing diversity.  I was not liked by AAJ leadership for being aggressively outspoken on the issue.

Seven years later, I am now not liked by WSAJ leadership for being aggressively outspoken on the issue of lawyers directly soliciting clients (which I abhor).

Another past president of WSTLA told me: sometimes people have a hard time with a woman who speaks out."  He wasn't the only person who has shared this thought with me.

Regardless of why organizational leadership particularly dislikes when I  speak up, here is an excerpt from the article WSTLA printed when I was at its helm:

The Value of Dissent

How colorless our world would be if we all had the same opinions...

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).

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.