Every other Tuesday we publish a new episode of the Equipped for Life Podcast, available to everyone who purchases our course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations about Abortion.” Generally these podcast episodes won’t be available to the general public, but we plan on occasionally making exceptions, and we’ve decided to make our 11th episode the first one we make available to everybody.
This is the first part in a two-part series on practical sidewalk counseling tips, from the person who has impressed me most with the way he thinks about decision making in front of abortion facilities, our Operations Coordinator Jacob Nels.
Philosophy majors can be incredibly obnoxious. I should know. I was one.
Philosophy is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. In the hands of a surgeon, a scalpel can be used to save a life. In the hands of a murderer, the same scalpel can be used to end a life.
Philosophy can be used to help people to believe true things. Not all of the topics that philosophers are interested in are terribly practical, but some of them have a significant effect on how we should live our lives. To give just a couple of examples, philosophy can help us come to more reasonable beliefs about whether God exists or not and what he is like if he does. Philosophy can also help us to understand ethics, how we should treat each other.
Unfortunately, philosophy can also be used to deceive people. If you study ideas enough, you can become very adept at bluffing. One of the particularly annoying ways that philosophy majors bluff is name-dropping philosophers they’ve read, sometimes subtly (but usually not).
For clarity, name-dropping is mentioning the names of famous people you know with the intention of impressing others. It isn’t name-dropping to quote something from someone and appropriately credit them.
Name-dropping can be frustrating and intimidating to some pro-life students, so here are my three suggestions for how to deal with name-droppers.
You can’t dialogue well about abortion or anything else unless you learn to listen well. It should be obvious to anyone that if you want to listen well you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of a sentence. Something much less obvious is that you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of an important thought. An excellent listener should develop both the wisdom to recognize and the patience to allow space for a thinking pause.
There are two types of pauses that can take place after someone finishes talking: 1) a conclusion pause, and 2) a thinking pause. A conclusion pause takes place when the person has concluded his statement and is ready for you to jump in with your thoughts. A thinking pause takes place when the person hasn’t actually concluded; when he intends to continue but needs to stop to think.
The problem is that these types of pauses strongly resemble each other. When someone needs a five to ten second pause in between sentences, he doesn’t usually tell you, “Hang on, give me a second to formulate my thought.” You can’t count on everyone to be that articulate of a communicator.
The change I’ve made to the way I argue for equal treatment for the unborn, and why I made it.
It’s been almost a year since I started this blog and by far my most popular post is my explanation of the basic Equal Rights Argument that I and my colleagues at Justice For All have been using in conversations with pro-choice people. It became so effective that I called it the “most undervalued argument in the pro-life movement.”
We’re arguing that if adult humans deserve equal treatment, that must be because they all have something in common, and it must be a property that they all have equally. We try to figure out what that property is that seems to be grounding equal treatment, and then ask whether the unborn also has that property equally. If they do, then the unborn deserve equal treatment.
What is the property that human adults have equally? Originally, we were saying that it seems like we all have “humanness” in common. If someone asks why “humanness” matters, I would say something like, “I believe there’s this guy who walked out of his own tomb 2,000 years ago. He believed in the Torah, which says that God made humans in His own image, that He did something special with humans that He didn’t do with other animals, giving me a reason to believe that ‘humanness’ might morally matter.”
But as I’ve used this argument lately, I’ve noticed there’s a pragmatic problem: it’s not terribly convincing to pro-choice atheists who immediately brush off the argument as inherently religious. That’s a practical problem, but I think there’s an even greater problem philosophically: the “humanness” argument can’t account for the right to life of fictional aliens.
Remember that scene in Men in Black where Tommy Lee Jones is hilariously interrogating Frank?
Jacob Nels is the Operations Coordinator at Equal Rights Institute. One of the most important things Jacob brings to the table at ERI is his expertise in gracious dialogue, particularly with people who are post-abortive and abortion-minded. In addition to putting those skills to good use at college campus outreaches, Jacob has a regular presence outside an abortion clinic as a sidewalk counselor and has had the joy of helping many women, men, and children leave the clinic alive and whole.
Jacob Nels sidewalk counseling in Georgia
A few years ago I watched a black sedan pull into the parking lot of an abortion clinic. A man and a woman got out and walked up to the clinic, ignoring my attempts to engage them. After the man walked her into the clinic, he came back to his car for something. Raising my voice to carry across the parking lot separating us, I tried again to start a conversation with him. I said,
Jacob: Hey, man! I know this is a hard day. No one really wants to be here. I’m here if you want to talk.
Ross: I’m not for this. I don’t like it.
Jacob: What do you mean? Would you tell me your story?
To show my respect and friendship, I did something that almost always works with other men. There is a white line painted on the sidewalk that I cannot legally cross. Pressing my toes to the line, I extended my hand to the man and said,
Jacob: My name’s Jacob.