The topic of abortion has been the topic du jour for at least the past week, and I am probably just as fatigued about the topic as most others. That said, the reason for the fatigue has mostly to do with the lack of civility in most discussions on the matter. It seems like people lack the ability to to understand that it is perfectly alright to disagree. So I’m writing this in the hope that maybe at least someone might attempt to be a little more civil.
Most of what I am about to say applies to just about any other contentious topic, but abortion seems to be the most contentious of them all, especially in the political realm of things.
Here’s the deal. You need to decide your goal. If your goal in discussing this topic has to do with anything other than trying to persuade, then there really is no point. If you have no desire to persuade anyone, then you may as well ignore this article and go live a happy life in your little comfortable world of ignorance where no one ever challenges your beliefs. Your goal needs to be to persuade; not to tear down, rip apart others’ arguments, or to beat a person into submission. None of that ever works. Do you want to strengthen your cause and have it grow, or are you content in potentially being wrong for the rest of your life?
This is probably the hardest part for people to accept.
In order to persuade someone, you have to be willing to be persuaded. There really is no way around it. No one wants to listen to an arrogant person that refuses to consider anything other than their own view. It shuts a conversation down before it even begins. It puts everyone on the defensive and removes rational discourse from the table. Abortion is one of those topics where almost no one has come to their beliefs without really considering the various aspects of their thinking a great deal. Probably more than most things you could discuss. So, if you aren’t open to changing your mind and showing good faith, you aren’t going to get anywhere in changing anyone else’s mind.
A good general mindset to how you view the world and its philosophies and your most sincerely held beliefs, should always include at least three elements. Firstly, you should always be willing to be wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, and it will allow you to make bold decisions that might otherwise stifle your progress as a human being. Secondly (and much more difficult), you must be willing to admit when you are wrong. Holding on to incorrect beliefs doesn’t make any sense, and it’s harmful to you. Thirdly (and most difficult of all), you must actively and continuously seek out where you might be wrong about things. Otherwise, there is no progress in your thinking at all.
With regard to abortion in particular, there are two phrases and accusations that are unproductive to communication, but seem to be the most used in every conversation I have ever seen or heard on the topic. Using these phrases and accusations are a certain way to close a person’s mind and create a divisive and useless dialogue. People hold onto these in a stubborn and dogmatic way, and they are hard to lose. So, again, I ask: Are you interested in persuasion or are you interested in alienation?
- “Abortion is murder.” You probably truly believe this statement if you are pro-life, but you’re making a mistake in how you characterize the pro-choice movement. I have never met a single person who is pro-choice who is interested in the slaughter of innocent children. You may believe that that is the end result, but it’s a fundamental mischaracterization of the beliefs held by those who are pro-choice. You won’t get anywhere by accusing them of seeking to murder children.
- “My body, my choice.” Just like I have never heard anyone pro-choice being for killing babies, I have never met anyone who is pro-life who is actually interested in having control over other people’s bodies. This is also a mischaracterization. You might think that that is the end result, but it doesn’t have to do with the pro-life desires or what they are trying to achieve. If you don’t want to close a pro-life person’s mind and shut down the conversation, you have to turn lose of this idea. They do not want to control you or your body.
It is not my desire to argue for either side in this article, and I hope both sides will strongly consider a more open approach.
But I do have to mention something here.
There has been a lot of talk on the pro-choice side that only those who have a uterus can have an opinion on abortion. If you want to persuade everyone who votes, then you had better include men as well. I understand that your belief may exclude those without a uterus from having say on matters about your body, but they do still have a vote, and in any kind of system that requires voting that makes sense, everyone must be allowed to have a vote. It would be akin to (just before the Civil War) slave owners in the South saying those without slaves in the North shouldn’t have a say over slavery.
As far as close-mindedness goes, both sides of the abortion debate seem to be pretty equal. You can have no control, nor should you want it, over how another person responds. So the best you can do is try to take this topic on with an open mindset yourself. Maybe the other person will respond in kind, and maybe they won’t. But at least you tried to keep things civil. Otherwise, just walk away knowing that not everyone will agree with you (nor should you want everyone to agree with you).
Productive conversations about contentious topics are a very good thing. Maybe you’ll change your mind, or maybe you won’t. The take-away from this article I hope you will receive is that 1) you have to be willing to be persuaded no matter what your beliefs, and 2) there is great good in hearing opinions that are not the ones you hold.