Millennials are terrified of offending people.
They are surrounded by a world of trigger warnings and microaggressions. They worry that they’ll be shouted down if they say something that could be perceived as racist, sexist, homophobic, or somehow bigoted. They also really don’t want to be any of those things. Fair or not, many have gotten an impression of pro-life activists that we are ready to yell at them or hit them with a Bible if they set us off.
Put all of those things together, and you have a recipe for dialogue roadblocks. I hate dialogue roadblocks.
Obviously, I am painting with very broad strokes. Some millennials react to microaggression culture by being even more aggressive, and some on both the right and the left have a sense of moral superiority that causes them to be extremely belligerent and not at all worried about offending you. This post is about how to improve your dialogues with the people who are worried about offending you.
Editor’s Note – 5/31/17: The Ben Shapiro video Tim comments on was uploaded to the Shapiro Facebook page on April 10th. Four weeks later we published this piece from Tim, encouraging pro-life advocates to avoid imitating some of the things Shapiro does in their one-on-one dialogues regarding rape. Two weeks after that, we captured the audio from the video so that we could use the relevant clips in the podcast version of this article. However, by the time we captured the audio, the video had been edited by an administrator of the Ben Shapiro Facebook page. As a result of that edit, one of the sentences that appears in the post below is no longer in the video.
So here’s what we’ve done. We’ve made the font of Tim’s paragraph setting up the now-deleted sentence as well as the quotation itself dark red. It was in the original video, but it’s not there now. If it was edited because Shapiro and/or his people were concerned about the tone, we would agree with that concern. Their edit doesn’t substantially affect this piece though, because the first quotation from that section is still there, and is still sufficient to warrant the critique Tim gave.
A few weeks ago, Ben Shapiro released a video of himself after a campus speech in which he responded to a question about abortion in the case of rape. It was undeniably effective and many pro-life people shared it.
I can’t imagine any reasonable person suggesting that the pro-choice student got the better of him in their exchange. But I am concerned that pro-life students may take the wrong message from the video.
Shapiro is an incredibly skilled debater, and a Q&A after a speech is clearly a setting for debate, not dialogue. A speaker’s primary responsibility in that setting is to convince the audience, not the person with whom he is arguing. My purpose in this article is not to criticize Shapiro for debating the way he does, it is to explain why it would be a huge mistake to emulate Shapiro’s debate strategy in a one-on-one conversation (and, to be fair, I have no idea how Shapiro handles a one-on-one conversation without an audience).
Here are the three ways pro-life students should dialogue differently than Shapiro debates:
I hope that as more groups purchase the Equipped for Life Course, they will be prepared to participate in more outreach events like polling tables. Having a strategic plan in mind and practical supplies on hand can help your event be a greater success. Speaking as the president of a Students for Life (SFL) group that does regular outreach, here are my ten tips:
#1: Code of Conduct Agreement
I highly recommend asking each volunteer to sign a code of conduct agreement prior to arriving at outreach so they know what sort of behavior is expected and prohibited. It can be as simple as a non-violence pledge and the information of an emergency contact. You’ll want to keep these forms in a folder or binder with you at the outreach site in case something goes amiss. It also makes it really easy to respond to angry pro-choice people that say we’re like people who bomb clinics. You can just say, “No, we aren’t,” but it’s more convincing to say, “No, we aren’t, in fact everyone from our club has signed a volunteer agreement stating that they are opposed to violence against abortion practitioners and their facilities.”
If it would help you get started, you can feel free to download the volunteer agreement ERI uses when leading outreaches and edit it however you see fit.
#2: Schedule Volunteer Shifts
You will need to have volunteers sign up for shifts throughout the day, preferably that overlap by 15-30 minute intervals so you can switch out gracefully. Keep in mind that you may run into a situation where several volunteers at a time will be in the middle of dialogues, so try to have as many people scheduled at the event as you can without creating a crowd around the table.
I asked Rebecca Haschke from Justice For All to join me for a practical dialogue tips session at the 2017 Students for Life of America conference in D.C. so that we could spend the last part of the session doing a mock dialogue!
- Josh Brahm – Tip 1: Ask Lots of Clarification Questions – 00:00
- Josh Brahm – Tip 2: Don’t Make Arguments with Question Marks – 05:25
- Rebecca Haschke – Tip 3: Listen to Understand – 08:03
- Rebecca Haschke – Tip 4: Find Genuine Common Ground When Possible – 22:51
- Josh Brahm and Rebecca Haschke – Mock Dialogue – 28:05
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.