Building Rapport with a Benevolent Dictator

Employ this dialogue tactic to build rapport with a pro-choice person and increase the likelihood that your conversation about abortion will be successful.

Many conversations about abortion succeed or fail because of your rapport, or lack thereof, with the pro-choice person. Even a perfectly articulated pro-life argument will just glance off of a combative pro-choice mind, so people who are skilled at dialogue use wisdom to build rapport and make the tone of the conversation friendly.

This post is about something that I regularly do to build rapport. It may sound implausible that something so simple works so unbelievably well, but I’ve done this dozens of times, and it usually makes a huge difference in my conversations.

Building Rapport with a Benevolent Dictator

Instead of simply asking, “Do you think this or that should be legal?” I’ll say something like:

Let’s transport ourselves to an alternate dimension. We no longer live in the United States of America, we now live in the Benevolent Dictatorship of Joe [insert their first name here]. Joe makes all the rules. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Four Practical Tips for Responding to the Burning Fertility Clinic

A pro-choice argument in the form of a series of arrogant tweets recently went viral. You would think that with all that bravado, there would have been something new or interesting, but, no, it was just the same argument that has been around for decades. Disappointing as the argument was, I did find it interesting that, the last time I experienced this argument on a college campus, the person making the argument had a similar aggressive tone.

For some reason, pro-choice people tend to think this argument demolishes the pro-life view, so it’s important to be ready to respond to it efficiently (meaning you need to focus on just a couple of disanalogies, not all of them) and persuasively (meaning you need to convince them that you aren’t just weaseling out of a problem with your view).

Timothy Brahm responding to the burning fertility clinic argument.

Tim talks with Ann (mostly obscured) with two pro-life volunteers watching.
Photo credit: Justice For All. Used with permission.

Here’s what I did at a Justice For All outreach at UCLA in May of 2016. (You can find much of what I did in Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen’s book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, which I highly recommend. Robert George also wrote this excellent article recently.)

Ann: So if life begins at conception, what would you do if you were in a burning fertility clinic and you had to choose between saving a born baby and ten frozen embryos?

Tim: That’s a great question and I’m happy to answer it, but it’s a good example of the principle that it’s easier to ask a hard question than it is to answer it. Are you willing to give me a few minutes to answer, or are you just trying to trap me?

How Your Brain Tricks You into Thinking the Other Side Is Stupid

Two Practical Tips for Better Social Media Conversations

Sometimes your brain plays tricks on you. For instance, when you look at a stick in the water, it looks bent, even though it isn’t. Or, when you’re driving on a hot day, it looks like there is water on the road at the horizon, even though there isn’t. If you want to have true beliefs, it helps to know when your perception is untrustworthy.

In general, people believe things about political issues based on what seems to be true to them. Many different factors influence what seems to be true to us, some of them more than they should. We all have biases, incomplete information, and sometimes faulty arguments that influence what seems to be true to us. But just like it seems to be true that the stick in the water is bent, sometimes what seems to be true politically isn’t actually true.

How to Turn the Tables on Four Pro-Choice Arguments

Imagine you and a good friend decide to play a game of chess. As you sit down, your friend takes your queen off the board and puts it back in the box with no explanation. You say, “Uh, what are you doing?” Your friend replies, completely unironically, “Only I’m allowed to have a queen. You’re playing white, I’m playing black, so you get to go first. It basically evens out.” Inexplicably, he genuinely believes that giving his side of the board an extremely unfair advantage is actually fair, and he has managed to rationalize to himself that it’s fair.

Turn the Tables

How would you convince him that it gives the black side too much advantage? I’d just rotate the board 180 degrees and tell him, “Okay, if you think it’s really fair to both sides that whoever gets to go first doesn’t get a queen, I’ll just play black now. Your move.”

I think of this as forced empathy. In the analogy, your friend isn’t doing a good job of fairly evaluating the relative advantages of going first and having a queen. By turning the tables, you force him to get into your shoes and respond to his own arguments. You could tell him, “Hey, I know it might seem tough to not have a queen, but you get to go first, you get all the initiative, so just make good use of it and you’ll overcome the problem of not having a queen.”

Forcing someone to argue against their own unfair arguments is the most efficient way to help someone to realize that their arguments are actually unfair.

Many, many pro-choice arguments are actually unfair arguments. They’re cheating. They’re giving the pro-choice person an unfair advantage in the conversation. The problem is that oftentimes they don’t know they’re cheating. These arguments are often driven by unfair rhetoric that the pro-choice person has actually bought into.

People become emotionally attached to rhetoric. They hear a vacuous phrase and it just clicks. It feels so right to them. In order for them to change their minds, they need more than just a counter-argument. They need to understand that their rhetoric is empty. The best way to do this is to rotate the table 180 degrees and make them get into your shoes.

Here are four examples of unfair pro-choice rhetoric, and the ways I turn the tables.

Sometimes It’s Not about the Argument

There’s a stereotypical story of married couples that you’re probably familiar with. The wife has had a bad day, so she goes to her husband to tell him about it. Her husband, being wired to fix problems, shows his love to his wife by offering solutions. The wife gets frustrated. Why is she frustrated? Because she doesn’t want her problems fixed! She wants sympathy! Click on the video below for a short, hilarious example of this stereotype.

Part of the stereotype is that the desire to have your feelings affirmed is a “woman thing,” but it’s really not. It’s a human thing. No one wants to be perceived as stupid or irrational, so it gives us a feeling of safety when we are told that our feelings are reasonable, understandable, and even appropriate.

This year I decided to try to constantly affirm the feelings of pro-choice people in my conversations without being dishonest. It is the best change I have made to my approach to dialogue in a long time. People don’t change their minds if they feel combative instead of emotionally safe, or defensive instead of receptive. [Tweet that!] Actively affirming the pro-choice person’s feelings is an incredibly effective way to help them know that they are safe to honestly question their beliefs. For some people, I’d even go so far as to say that having their earnest, deeply held feeling acknowledged is a prerequisite to them being able to actually argue about the issue.