I received an email from a follower I’ll call “Mike” who wanted some advice on how to initiate a dialogue about abortion with his pen pal. I thought some of my tips might help you if you’re trying to figure out how to use relational apologetics.
I’ve removed some of the details from Mike’s email to help protect his identity.
Since you spend a lot of time writing about how pro-lifers ought to communicate their views when conversing with others, I thought I’d email you with a question I had. I’ve been emailing a pen pal of mine for a few months now, and we mostly talk about our own lives and mutual interests. We’ve never discussed the abortion issue before, and it’s not something I really want to bring up, but I also want to be able to discuss other topics without worrying about whether or not it will eventually lead to a full-blown abortion debate.
Funnily enough, we’re both interested in bioethics, and she’s asked me what bioethical issues interest me the most. I’m not really sure if I should use this as an opportunity to mention my views as a pro-lifer and consistent life ethicist.
Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it.
I’d use the bioethics common ground to tread a little into abortion waters. Say that the bioethical issue you’re most interested in is the ethics of abortion, and that you’ve actually been a little worried that mentioning that might make things awkward. Say that you’d be really interested in her take on that if she’d be willing to share it. Say that you’re not one of those obnoxious pro-lifers that shouts opinions at people. You’re interested in both sides learning from each other and having respectful dialogue. You would especially like to do that with a friend since it gives more opportunity for learning from each other, since you can both research each other’s statements and then go back again for clarification.
And then let her take that where she wants to. If she doesn’t want to get into it, respect that. She may love debating that stuff though, and now you have a great launchpad into that topic.
Question: Do you have any advice for Mike? Post it below in the comments!
That’s a great question. Far too many times I’ve been at a pro-life outreach event and I’ve seen female colleagues and volunteers being treated with noticeable condescension from male students, especially if these females are on the shorter side. Sometimes I’ve walked up and joined the conversation and immediately received noticeably more respect. This is horribly unjust. I’ve particularly noticed this appalling behavior from male students that study philosophy. They assume women haven’t thought about it as deeply as they have, so they take on this completely unearned role of a teacher.
I know women can call people to a high standard of etiquette in dialogue, but they probably have to be especially careful to not come across like they’re just personally offended. We call people to being polite and reasonable because good dialogue isn’t possible without it, not because our feelings are so sensitive that we can’t handle someone being rude. Be extra clear that their behavior is unacceptable because it shuts down rational dialogue; it isn’t that you’re some sexist concept of a poor sensitive woman that can’t have a conversation without getting emotional.
That’s about as much insight as I have on this point at the moment, being a man. I’d be really interested to hear from women: how do you deal with this problem? Do you have any practical techniques to offer?
We’ve been talking about language in the abortion debate a lot lately. It’s a subject I’ve written on several times before as well. If we want to be as persuasive as possible, it’s not only our arguments that matter, but the words we use that matter as well.
It’s not always easy for a pro-life person to go from using the label they’ve always preferred to a different one though. When we talk to people we form habits, and getting out of habits is always difficult.
I want to tell you the brief story of a woman named Rhonda who decided to change one of the labels she used to favor.
The way our society uses the word “shaming” is complicated. In this post I discuss three different types of shaming and how they relate to abortion.
My views on this topic are the kind that if you only get a snippet of it out of context, there are many ways to misunderstand it. I don’t think my view is offensive, but my view improperly understood is definitely offensive several times over. It’s always good to read someone’s entire explanation instead of just part of it, but there are some topics where that’s more essential than others. This is one of the more essential cases. If you just want to skim, or you are not committed to trying to understand what my view actually is, then please don’t read this.
It is one of the questions I’m asked the most often. We’ve all experienced it. You’re talking to someone about abortion or something else and it’s just not going very well. You start doubting whether any good will come from letting the dialogue continue.
If you do decide to end the conversation, you have to figure out how to graciously bring the dialogue to a close, which can also be tricky.
How do you know? What factors should you consider?
Before ending any conversation you should ask yourself, have I used the “three essential skills of good dialogue” today? Steve Wagner at Justice For All believes the three essential skills of good dialogue are:
Asking good questions.
Listening to understand.
Finding genuine common ground when possible.
You can hear me explain the three essential skills in the video below, from 4:41 to 17:43.
If you haven’t used the three essential skills, that very well may be why the dialogue isn’t going well. I’d encourage you to say, “Can we take a moment outside of the debate? I think it’s really important to listen well and not just be thinking of your next argument, and I haven’t done a good job of that today. I want to ask you to do two things. Forgive me for being ungracious to you and not listening to you well. Secondly, I’d like to ask you to give me another chance. Tell me what you believe, and I promise to try to really hear you.”
But what if you have used the three essential skills? Are there some dialogues that are not worth continuing? Yes. Is it easy to tell which conversations you should bring to an end? No.