Disagreeing with the majority is a right we hold dear and one of the many things we will celebrate next week as we observe the Fourth of July. Rights and benefits we take for granted today would not have been possible without strong disagreement in the past. Slavery, women’s suffrage, religious freedom, and the right to unionize are just a few of the ideas that people fought and, in many cases, died to defend or eliminate.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court established the right of same-sex couples to marry, validating what many states had already decided in recent years. I am sure the debate is not over, but the law is settled. What began as a concern of a minority of citizens a relatively short time ago now appears to be the prevailing national sentiment.
The right to dissent is not confined to issues of national importance. We frequently hear complaints from citizens about a broad range of issues that include everything from high weeds to the neighbors’ barking dog. More importantly, nearly all of our municipal laws are subject to criticism or disagreement over time. Our Council listens to these concerns and routinely makes changes in an effort to better serve the needs of the community and the desires of citizens. Sometimes these disagreements are unpleasant and personal, but they generally serve an important purpose. Our ability to voice our concerns without fear of retribution is important to the health of our city.
I believe the same principle is true for the City of Albany as an organization. I don’t think any of us enjoy being criticized or second-guessed, but we have some obligation to listen carefully and tolerate opposing points of view. Past criticism has led to a number of changes that have strengthened the organization and made it more productive. The old adage about being hard on the problem and soft on the person is generally a better path toward resolving the problem than a personal attack.
The City’s values haven’t changed much in the past decade, and I think those we have adopted still do a good job of explaining what’s important to us. Our policies and practices that reflect those values do change periodically in recognition of changing circumstances. Greater recognition of minority rights is one area where I believe we will continue to see needed change in the years ahead. I will probably be among the majority who will not agree with every new idea that’s proposed, but I will do my best to respect new proposals and look beyond my own prejudices before making judgments.
Dissent is a necessary part of a healthy society or organization, as it helps us to adapt to what’s happening in the world around us. The process of resolving disagreement is, unfortunately, often as difficult as it is valuable.