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The courage to be wrong

| Monday, February 12, 2018

I’m writing in response to my friend Nicholas Marr’s column from Friday, which “challenged” Dolores Huerta’s status as a role-model for Notre Dame students based on her pro-choice belief. First, a clarification. Nick correctly notes that Dolores is a pro-choice, Catholic mother of 11, but he neglects to explain that she was also pro-life for many years. In fact, it wasn’t until late in her career as a civil rights leader that Dolores changed her stance on abortion and become pro-choice. Consequently, her “radical pro-choice stance” was a reasoned judgement, not a lifelong conviction, and in light of this detail, I would like to argue that Dolores is actually the epitome of “a leader that Notre Dame students should emulate.” Additionally, I would like to personally invite Nick to change his mind after learning more about Dolores. As John Maynard Keynes liked to say, “When the facts change, I alter my conclusions. What do you do?”

I believe Dolores is worthy of our emulation because she embodies virtues all “transformative leaders” must possess. Sticking with the abortion example, she has been open-minded enough to seek out opposing opinions and humble enough to change her mind after discovering she might be wrong. This comes through clearly in the documentary about her life (which was shown on campus last weekend). It explains how Dolores spent most of her career as a pro-life leader working to win fair rights for American farmworkers. During this time, she had to work mainly with men, but after years of sustained passion and patience — two more virtues we should learn from Dolores — she eventually grew close with Gloria Steinem and other feminist leaders. As a result, she heard new arguments in favor of women’s right to choose, and although it is never easy to do, Dolores changed her mind. In my opinion this is immensely admirable, because being brave enough to listen to dissenting voices, open-minded enough believe we might be wrong and humble enough to change our minds when reason says we must is key to both transformative leadership and democratic civility.

But Nick already knows this. As his Observer bio explains, “He knows there could be opinions other than his own, and he encourages them to be directed to [email protected]” So, I urge him to pull one from Dolores’ playbook, emulate a great leader and consider the possibility that his opinion about her might be incorrect.

He may very well disagree with her rethought stance on abortion, but I don’t think role models should be people whose particular views we are forced to accept in their entirety. Rather, they should be people whose virtues we admire, and people who have made monumental personal sacrifices for the sake of a greater good. Dolores has done these things quite well, and she has also been brave enough to pivot her direction a few times along the way. So, whether or not we agree with her entirely, we ought to treat Dolores as an exemplar of humility, open-mindedness and intense commitment to good — all virtues each Notre Dame student should try to embody.

And, instead of picking her apart for a single stance that challenges our own, I politely request that we recognize virtue where it exists and that we attempt to emulate it in ourselves. The first step toward honestly being able to believe we are right is always listening as if we must be wrong. So, rather than boldly discounting Dolores to begin with, we ought to hear her out with open ears and humble minds. Who knows, what she has to say might just make us want to change our opinions too.

Matt Williams
Feb. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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