COMMENTARY 893.2: Tyranny of the Minority

According to a survey of parents, 93 percent want schools to teach basic values like honesty and respect. The problem is, schools are left to contend with the 7 percent who disagree. In any enterprise that seeks to avoid conflict and find consensus, that small minority may often dictate policy.

Too often, aggressive objectors bully administrators into quick surrender with the threat of contentious and prolonged opposition. This has created a tyranny of the minority. The way it works is that 5 percent make so much noise that they seem like 25 percent, and when it comes to a decision, they’re treated as if they were 55 percent.

I strongly support the right of all people to speak their minds and the corollary duty of administrators to listen to and consider what everyone has to say. My concern is, we seem to have elevated the right to be heard into a right to win. We seem to be turning the basic democratic principle of “the majority rules” upside down so that “the minority controls.” That’s not how democracy’s supposed to work.

Of course, the will of the majority never should be allowed to trample basic human rights of a minority. But I’m not talking about persecution or discrimination. I’m talking about how we deal with disagreements.

Just as we must always guard against oppressive majority opinions, we must also guard against dictatorial minority philosophies. That means we need leaders who have the moral courage to stand up to those who would thwart the will of the majority with demands, protests, and backdoor politicking.

We also need more people who are willing to lose and subject their personal preferences to the will of the majority. Democracy requires respect from all sides.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 20

  1. Michael, thank you for reminding us that knowing “what is right” is not always clear. Too often I hear or read the mantra: “You know what’s right, just do it.” However, we are finite and have incomplete (inaccurate) knowledge of what is actually so (the truth). As such, we don’t always understand the real nature of the problem we are trying to solve or the injustice we are trying to resolve. Accordingly, we often don’t know what to do…. Worse, even when we do what we believe is right, we are not “in charge” of the outcome of our actions; and we often do not get the results we want. It’s a tough challenge. Humility enables us to admit that this is so and (with optimism) to keep trying to do the best we can.

  2. I can’t help but wonder if you are arguing against something of a straw man. I’ve never heard of a minority of 7 percent (or so) of parents preventing a school from implementing a character education program (or any other program) that was supported by the vast majority. Have you seen this specifically happen before?

    1. I have. As principal of a mid-sized elementary school I listened to a vocal three parents who didn’t want a Halloween Parade. They cited all kinds of reasons why. So I didn’t have one and disappointed the many who wanted one but didn’t speak up.

  3. I agree with Mr. Josephson. I also see a trend where people today cheer the guy running away from the police, revere the vile, defile that which is right. The Good Book say that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. That’s where we are when we call good bad and that which is good we revile against it.

  4. Dear Michael,

    This topic is timely with the approach of school starting and the variety of community groups re-engaging for the betterment of our youth. Of course, the entire community benefits when the youth flourish; yet the overly vocal few can disrupt programs and positive growth curriculums when allowed by weak leadership.
    Leaders that achieve consensus with Golden Rule foundations seem to become more rare. City managers for example, now always a multiple group amazingly; all too often advocate for protecting their staffs rather than serving their local residents. How the residents allow corruption to continue while looking the other way is sadly amazing to me.

    Yet America still stands strong and vibrant. Thank goodness for folks and institutions such as yours that SERVE AND SAVE our children’s futures. Our son’s Seminole Baseball team is gloriously “ROCKING OUT” and having big fun this summer; just now moving up to the Age 9 level and being allowed to bunt and steal bases !!! Their travelling tournaments are seriously an AMAZING YOUTH DEVELOPMENT , absolutely inclusive for all folks , great American success story. Thanks for the platform to tell the story !!! :):):)

  5. Hi Michael. I enjoy your comments, but sometimes, as you might guess, I worry about a few of them. Like: do you ever wonder why Benjamin Franklin said ‘a Republic, Madam, if you can keep it’. Or Thomas Jefferson was so adamantly opposed to forming a Democracy?
    Who, today, knows the difference in a Republic and a Democracy? Evidently almost no one. Maybe you could comment on that.

    1. Hi Jim, it is not an issue that energizes me so much but maybe that’s my ignorance. Why don’t you post your thoughts on this so others can see them. (If you are my Jim Middleton married to my Vicki, I wish you both the best.I miss you guys.)

  6. I think that we can all look beyond just schools to see how the tyranny of the minority can disrupt the smooth functioning of an organization and thwart the will of the clear majority.

  7. Pingback: Beautiful Feet & The Tyranny of the Minority

  8. Michael,
    I can’t help wondering how many of the 93% of parents who want schools to teach basic values like honesty and respect, abdicate such instruction at home. (if not intentionally, then by default) And how many of the 7% think families should be shouldering the burden for teaching values. I need a bit more info on these numbers and the reasoning behind the responses.

    But experience tells me that, if both schools and families don’t work together, we shall surely fail separately.

  9. Many years ago, in Greeneville TN, I heard these words from Michael Josephson.
    “Does the majority rule?
    Or the minority dictate”?

    It is just as true today as it was back then. We witness it every day.

  10. personal to Michael: Yes, I’m the same Jim Middleton. I told someone on your staff several months ago that Vicki had died. It’s been a year ago now. I thought you knew, and I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you directly. Vicki had an aversion to doctors, and refused to go to one to investigate some abdominal pains. They got worse, and eventually I practically forced her to go to an emergency room. She was riddled with cancer, and died a week later. She wouldn’t have been a good patient, so in that sense it was a blessing. But if that’s a blessing I don’t want any more of them.
    Regards,
    Jim

  11. Thanks for really making me think with this commentary! I find that (in my job) we do often listen to the minority and make changes to processes to suit them. Not always wise.

  12. Michael,
    You are indeed right about how a small minority can in fact steer the ship, but your reason for this needs a little more explanation; the truth is in schools, businesses and our government, leaders are afraid of law suites and therefore bend to the will of the one who threatens them which happens everyday. It is appalling when a person can lose their job over something that they said twenty years ago simply because a part of our society mainly the media cast the first stone; which if we did our own research on those that who did so we would be floored by what we would find. The minority in our society does in fact want to bully everyone else to live like they do and that is not freedom we have to stop putting our heads in the sand and say enough!!! lets make America great again
    George

  13. I appreciate all the comments but I read only generalities and no specifics. Without the latter, real communication is fruitless. Be specific and generous with facts. That is how you sway people and show your intelligence and position.

    Peace to the world…comes only through honest, specific communication.

  14. this reminds me of the whole problem of the so called no child left behind law. the vast majority of parents, students and teachers were against it. i was to young then to know how it got pushed in. for those who dont know it literally says if the schools programs are to hard for the minority of students, they lower the standards. i remember going through highschool and watching as, the higher my grade got, the easier the programs got. not because i grew older and smarter, but because the standards got lowered because of the small 5% who complained they were being treated unfairly, and rather then putting more effort in, or any school leader getting the courage to say they in fact did fail and needed to relearn everything, and rather then giving them a proper education, the school board lowered the standards to meet up with them, thus dragging the rest of us, the 95% back.
    ironically we did learn values like honesty and respect how ever….

  15. I know exactly what Michael is talking about. Every year, we do Hispanic Culture Month and Black History Month in our Fine Arts classes. It is not unusual for a few parents to object angrily and vehemently and seek to stop those recognitions. Racial and cultural education helps students understand each other and to be more tolerant which is an important part of education. And we don’t take away from instructional time for the core subjects to do it. By the way, we are a very conservative school with traditional values.

    1. Does your school have a gay history month? If not, is that because a minority complain it undermines Christian rights? Or maybe it is a vocal minority of gays imposing on the majority? Just wondering.

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