Quite often, opposing positions on matters affecting society are articulated by different groups or individuals with specific interests.
If indeed they are issues that affect society at large, then they are not about those individuals or even groups but about the larger good.
As a consequence, it is important that these tensions be managed with caution.
As a matter of fact, such tensions are not necessarily a bad thing. If properly managed, they can produce positive results.
This reminds me about G. Hegel’s dialectics. When he looked at how a particular position of a society comes about.
And going by the theories of, particularly, Darwin and Karl Marx, he came up with the conclusion that society evolves through the management of tension between two opposing positions.
His argument was that results are produced by the dynamics of an antithesis that comes up to oppose an existing thesis.
These competing and opposing positions eventually produce a synthesis which right away becomes the new thesis, which in turn attracts a new antithesis and the process goes on.
There are quite a number of opposing positions currently that are taking up a lot of energy, and sometimes one wonders whether such energy is going towards the larger good of Kenyans.
Take for instance the arguments that are being advanced by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) against the proposed new education curriculum.
That position is directly opposed to the position of the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission – which we are told is based on certain consultations – that involved key stakeholders. One would have thought Knut would be one of the key stakeholders.
Quite obviously, we do not expect a trade union to take the position of the employer.
What we expect is that their activities and the position they take is about the good of Kenyans and not about the bravado of the individual unionists.
Another expectation that society will have is that since at the end of the day the union, the ministry and the commission are about the good of the Kenyan learner, they should all learn to negotiate in a manner that does not exaggerate the differences.
This is the only way in which they can arrive at a reasonable synthesis. Such ‘consultations’, if conducted in the public sphere – media - will usually lose their meaning.
There is also another tension between the position of the government and that of the civil society regarding taxation for building affordable housing.
One would like to believe that the government is for all of us and that the civil society also means well for Kenyans.
What is the matter? Had they not sat down and consulted on this matter in order to come to a common understanding?
There will always be tensions between opposing ideas, but if either side is for the larger good of Kenyans, and the opposition is managed with goodwill and in good faith, an agreeable position will be arrived at.
Do I seem to remember that there has been another contentious and delicate set of opposites between the doctors and the Ministry of Health?
I call it delicate because it is about the lives of Kenyans.
When we are graduating students; those from the school of medicine take a special oath, which has to do with the duty of care.
It hurts when we see patients dying in hospitals because doctors are on strike.
Since it is about the life and/or death of Kenyans, both doctors and the government ought to sit down and iron out the rough edges and come up with a solution that is in favour of Kenyans.
There are certain matters that morally go beyond the opposing positions between an employer and the provider of labour. Both sides must have compassion and love of Patria before all else.
It is only in this manner that all the opposing energy from either side can make sense.
In all spheres of life, there will be one person or institution that employs and an individual or individuals who are employed.
This is what Karl Marx meant when he talked about the opposition between capital – or owners of capital – and those who provide labour.
As a result, he becomes the conceptual founding father of trade unionism.
I am not one of those but I know that trade unions are about society. When they will cease to be about the common good, they shall have lost any legitimacy they would have had.
Employers, whether private or public, are also about the good of everybody. This is the moral position that connects the two.
Each needs the other but not for the sake of themselves. It is for the sake of a higher good.
Most often the opposing sides in any authentically human-oriented public debate will each have something positive about it.
All that is required is goodwill and good faith so that the good in each side of the argument can come out.
When both sides are arguing about the same humanity and honestly listening to each other, then they will both arrive at a consensus.
If the public debates we hear are only about the individuals or groups concerned and not about the common good, then the likelihood of agreeing will be remote.
I submit that at the base of all this is the question of how patriotic the protagonists on either side are.
Next Saturday, June 1, we shall be celebrating Madaraka Day. Such celebrations should give us the opportunity to reflect on our nationhood.
They should indeed be moments when we take time out to question ourselves regarding how much we care for our nation and our fellow Kenyans.
If we all cared and were proud to be Kenyans, all arguments on matters affecting Kenyans would get amicable solutions no matter how different the opinions are.
It is the love of Patria that will determine how well we articulate issues that affect our humanity.
Fr Dominic Wamugunda is Dean of Students and Sociology lecturer at the University of Nairobi; [email protected]