by Lily Mitchell
“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” -Ed Murrow 1954
Wisdom is to be found in strange places and we need to be sensitive to recognise it when we come across it. I was intrigued by the above quote because I am fascinated by the area of feedback and criticism in business. The bells rang in my head and I could not forget the words.
But my intrigue grew when the person who used the quote was Tokyo Sexwale. He was presenting an address ‘Towards a Common Future, Public Conversations on Leadership’, to a packed Great Hall, for the Platform for Public Deliberation at the University of the Witwatersrand, June 2007 (for the full address see http://www.public-conversations.org.za/). In the address he urged the audience to see the film ‘Goodnight and Good luck’, a 2005 Oscar-nominated film, co-written and directed by George Clooney and colleague.
The film is about news journalist, radio and TV presenter, Ed Murrow. He was born in rural North Carolina of British stock, studied drama, and became a news journalist who put investigative journalism and hot news on the map for America.
Ed had joined the CBC news broadcasting company and was posted in London just before the war. So fortuitously he spent the war years in Britain and published news broadcasts to neutral America, brutally describing the war as was seen and also how he saw it, in a program called This …. Is London. People in London at the time never knew each day whether they would see each other again and would part by saying “So long and good luck”. Ed borrowed the phrase and re-manufactured it as ‘Goodnight and Good luck’ which became his signature to end his shows, and also, naturally, the title of George Clooney’s film.
Ed’s programme See it Now, presented when he was back in America, continued to receive acclaim because of the high standard of journalism and confrontation of issues.
In 1954 Ed courageously objected to the unfair, controlling, anti-communistic projects of McCarthy and resulted in his famous quote “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty”. It is obvious, in reflection, that if you have the energy to dissent, you really care and are loyal to the greater cause, which in Ed’s case was the US.
Tokyo Sexwale said “Let me conclude by quoting from a film called “Good Night and Good Luck” which provides us with insight into the United States’ experience of a society which was grappling with its own fears during the era of McCarthyism.
From the film I quote: “It is necessary to investigate before legislating but the line between investigating and prosecuting is a very fine one. (Don’t overstep it). We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not truth, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.
We will not walk in fear of one another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine. And remember that we are not descended from fearful men (and women), not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. This is not time for men who oppose (McCarthy’s) methods to keep silent or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We proclaim ourselves and indeed as we are the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”
He concluded his comments by quoting Cassius from Shakespeare’s rendition of Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in our selves”.
These are stirring words for any but particularly so for someone who could play a role in South Africa’s political future and may enter the Presidential Race.
The words are stirring for us in our work places, with our colleagues and in our relationships. Let’s examine the workplace.
In organisations, if dissenting opinions are always withheld – only one opinion reigns on an issue and there is no development of ideas. The ideas get stuck in ruts and there is little movement without challenge. Witness our HIV-Aids programmes and leaders over the past few years and months in particular. It is a time when creativity and development is crucial to fight the biggest slaughter of people in Africa. South Africa plays a role model for the rest of Africa. Yet in spite of movement in some areas, we seem stuck in the policy formation, and most importantly of all, in implementation to fight and prevent the slaughter of our people and their children.
So it is intriguing that in an atmosphere in South Africa where leaders, who have views which are contrary to mainstream South African policy yet in line with world views, their dissent is taken as disloyalty.
This happens in the world of work more often than not. If ‘the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves’ what do we do? How do we get around the problem of challenging the status quo, making advances and not suffering for it? Ed Murrow’s solution was to be courageous, ask questions, uncover facts and present them. But sometimes facts are not sufficient.
One clue to understanding this is to question and examine the assumptions which underlie the opinions and that of the opinion holders. It is a common feature of today’s society that we live in a competitive world. We want others to share our opinions. We argue, debate and the assumption is that if you take my opinion as the one to follow I have won, if I take your opinion as the one, I have lost. We play win-loose games. But in essence we both loose.
How can we both win? How do we play win-win games? In the first place, there needs to be a safe place for the discussions to take place. All points of view need to be expressed in an environment where there is no fear and retribution for the ideas but recognition of the contribution. Secondly, we could approach the difference of opinions with a different assumption. The assumption could be: ‘This is an opportunity to develop something new in a creative, constructional and resourceful way’. If I listen to your views and present my views, what can we build from both sets of views?
There is usually merit in both perspectives and usually in any issue there are more than two perspectives so we could increase our resources and use many views. So instead of entering the game of win and loose at all costs, just maybe, we should enter the ‘workshop’ and ask what we can create out of the pieces of the puzzle that we have. Something that is superior to both or many views can emerge and provide that intriguing piece which adds to our understanding and provides a fuller, more meaningful picture.
Thus our energy becomes creative rather than be misused in trying to win a useless battle. Sometimes, as in Ed’s case and other fighters for justice, there is a battle to be won and you can win the battle – using intelligence, courage, and facts.
Goodnight and Good luck!