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Consultation – Paralysis, or Key to Effective Decision Making?

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It’s local election time in South Africa. Politicians are once again peddling their promises. One such politician the other day kept on referring to the fact that we live in a multicultural society, and that therefore, decisions can only be made after listening very carefully to all sides.

This principle needs to be lauded and praised. After all, consultation of this nature, particularly in a multicultural society, is at the heart of democracy. But there are difficulties. When consultation leads to paralysis in decision making, it’s in danger of losing its innate value. 

The consultation going on around the Muslim Marriages Bill is a case in question. The  South African Justice Departmernt, a while back, once again extended the deadline for comments on the Muslim Marriages Bill. Now this would’ve have been wonderfully consultative and accommodating, if the first draft hadn’t been published 10 years ago – yep, you heard right, 10 years ago. And after all, it only centres around that nasty bit of business of women being given equal rights, and this in a country who now has one of the finest constitutions in the world, after an extremely painful history of oppression and injustice. 

Of course the ultimate test in all this is whether the supreme authority over the lives of Muslim women and children will be vested in fundamentalist clerical bodies, or in the constitution of our land. 

When does consultation cease and decision making kick in? Can listening to all sides eventually cause deafness to everything? Perhaps there’s a tinge of truth in the words of Oscar Wilde: “The man who sees both sides of a question is a man who sees absolutely nothing at all.” Or is that stretching it a bit?

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About Don Scrooby

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Oscar Wilde’s stretching it more than a bit. Witness the blindness of those who watch only Fox News – how many of them are (or were until last week) absolutely convinced that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., as compared to those who took care to listen to both sides of the story?

    And if Oscar Wilde was right, than Ms. I-read-lots-of-papers-that-I-can’t-name Sarah Palin really CAN see Russia from her front porch! No, she didn’t really say that, but you get my meaning.

    Perhaps most accurately, though, would be the example of the North Koreans who NEVER receive more than one side of the story – do they, then, see more than those of us who have access to mainstream media?

    Without listening to or reading both sides of the story, someone cannot make a proper judgment as to truth or falsity.

  • Don Scrooby

    Agree with all you say. The issue for me is that once we’ve listened to all sides and formulated what we perceive the truth to be, there’s the lack of moral courage in expressing it in practical terms.

    Often the more we listen the more we discern the possible repercussions ultimately leading to a kind of paralysis. Sadly, we tend to major on the repercussions – the example I gave.

    I’ve noticed how we here in South Africa go through a process of listening to all sides, which is the right thing to do, and we’re very good at it, but the more we see the possible conflicts the more we tend to steer away from it. It’s a lack of strong leadership and moral courage.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    You’re from SA? This is off-topic, but Chris Rock once spoke of the hardships of marriage. He pointed out how Mandela was able to endure twenty-seven years of imprisonment, torture, and privation, but after he was released he could only endure six months of marriage before asking for a divorce….

  • Don Scrooby

    Interesting. I suppose when you’ve gone through twenty-seven-years of that kind of imprisonment, you don’t have much energy left for a relationship that continued to become more and more complicated and painful. After all, he had to see the nation through incredibly dangerous times and had the presidency to deal with.

  • Don Scrooby

    Thank you.