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Time to have the courage of our unpopular convictions

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HOWARD FELDMAN

It was the epitome of an unpopular opinion. And I loved it. Not because I hate dolphins and want to see them wedged tightly into a tin of Pick n Pay no-name-brand tuna, but because it took courage for the listener to express a view that is (for good reason) unpopular. After all, what kind of psychopath doesn’t like dolphins?

I was so impressed with the idea that I decided to introduce the concept to my show at 07:25. I chose this time because this is when children are in the car, and I wanted to encourage parents and children to express a thought that they know might be unpopular, but they felt was worth saying. I knew also that expressing a “unique” thought is much like yawning. Before you have had time to uncover your mouth, half the room has joined you in your need for oxygen.

It began predictably with listeners saying that they enjoy pineapple on pizza, that there is no difference between Pepsi and Coke, and that pink and white marshmallows taste the same. One brave listener claimed to enjoy reading in Times New Roman font, and another mentioned that he hated The Carpenters. It swiftly moved to Trumpian politics, and then back to South Africa.

What I didn’t anticipate was the resistance to the very idea of the three-minute slot. One listener called it “negative” in what is normally a positive show, and others said it created divisiveness so early in the morning (the assumption being that divisiveness after 09:00 is perfectly acceptable). It’s this view that I found to be the most interesting and valuable. Why? Because we seem to be so far down the road to conformity and fear that the expression of a view that isn’t the same as the crowd isn’t seen as unique and interesting, but negative and problematic.

Galileo got himself into more than a spot of bother when he suggested (back in the day) that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around, as the church believed. History is bursting with examples of “mavericks” who refused to be echoes of the masses. Many paid a terrible price for their thoughts.

Jewish oral law, specifically the Talmud, has taught that debate and robust argument, alternative views, and rational reasoning is one of the quintessential aspects of being human. And, although a dissenting opinion might be discarded, it’s valuable to hear, even if it’s simply to confirm why the majority is correct.

And yet all this is at risk in a global, social-media driven society that worships hashtags and catchy sound bites over substance. This week, the queen of this medium, Kim Kardashian, was forced to change the name of a new brand of clothing from Kimono to Skims because she was accused of cultural appropriation from 14th century Japan. And, because the Pavlovian phrase was used, the masses rose up against the monarch who had to capitulate before serious damage was done. The fact that she has been left with two million garments that are unusable because it has the brand name Kimono on it doesn’t bother the warriors, because there is no phrase that can be associated with it.

That’s why it’s important for us to have the courage to voice an opinion that’s unpopular. It’s vital that our children hear the message, and that we support them when they do. Very rarely do we die from hearing something we don’t agree with.

Even if it’s about dolphins.

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