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Listen carefully to those who disagree with you

- Wits University

Professor Harvey Dale from New York University receives an honorary doctorate from Wits University.

Have the courage to hear – indeed, to listen carefully – to the views of those who disagree with you.

Professor Harvey DaleThis is the message that Harvey Dale, a Professor at law at New York University for more than 40 years, offered the graduands of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management at the University of Witwatersrand at their graduation ceremony on Tuesday, 28 March.

Harvey, who received an honorary doctorate in law from the University, told graduands that they must “escape from the cocoon” of avoiding the views of those who disagree with them.

“In my youth, information often came from newspapers and magazines, many of which were exemplary in providing balanced and curated information,” he said. “Today, information is readily available from a multitude of sources on the internet and through social media, and it is tempting to select sources that agree with your pre-existing beliefs and biases.  

“Have the courage to hear – indeed, to listen carefully – the views of those who disagree with you, even those whose views or voices are disturbing you. So, you must have the courage to escape that cocoon, to search out and ponder ideas that may seem discordant, to be ready always to have your beliefs challenged and tested.”

The 80-year-old Dale, Dale is a recognised expert and leader in the field of nonprofit law and has advised groups in Australia, China, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa regarding legal issues affecting nonprofit organizations and the formulation of laws governing these organizations. Prof Dale holds a BA from Cornell University and a JD Cum Laude from Harvard Law School, and is a member of the American Academic of Arts and Sciences.

It is Professor Dale’s role in the founding and development of Atlantic Philanthropies that has had a particular impact on South Africa and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Atlantic became involved in South Africa largely on the initiative of Professor Dale who was particularly interested in how Atlantic could promote black lawyers, of which there were very few in the early 1990s, to advance the far-reaching rights of the newly-approved Constitution. To this end Atlantic funded the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University on projects relating to black lawyers, as well as training of judges on human rights issues.

Between 1991–2013, Atlantic invested $355.5 million to seek justice, promote better health care and greater health equity, and deliver services that support transformative social change, foster human rights and dignity in South Africa

Dale encouraged graduands to strive to respond to orthodoxy with gentle skepticism.

“You must struggle to avoid the great sin of intellectual certitude,” he said.