As long as abortion was a settled issue thanks to Roe v. Wade, my family avoided discussing that particularly divisive issue. But now that it looks like the Supreme Court is going to overturn its own ruling, I'm already dreading the fights that may break out when my family gets together this summer. Any tips on how to navigate that debate?
Thanks for reaching out. This is a sensitive issue for so many. The first thing I would say is, if these recent events are throwing you off balance, make sure to take care of yourself. Let yourself feel the feelings in a safe and non-harmful way and connect with those who support you.
And as always, it’s not my place to tell you what to talk about, but more how you could approach what might be challenging conversations. The first thing to do is ask yourself what you want to accomplish if you engage in conversations about this issue. Do you want to convince those with different views that they are wrong? Do you need to win this debate? Do you expect to change their minds? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I would say fasten your seatbelt, because that can only lead to a bumpy ride. You can’t ask someone who identifies as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” to change who they are. But you can invite them into a deeper, more vulnerable discussion about what their truth is on this issue.
The purpose of doing this is to cut through the static of the polarizing and intractable stance of the “this or that” position surrounding this issue. By setting up a binary choice, devoid of any nuance, our rhetoric implies that all “pro-lifers” want to take away the rights of women and that all “pro-choicers” want to kill babies.
But life, and its day-to-day issues, are more nuanced than that. Until we break the gridlock that this polarization creates, we will continue to fight out the issue, never getting to resolution. And instead of getting somewhere meaningful we simply exhaust ourselves, our resources and our sense of hope. And why do I think this is so important? Because while we polarize and demonize one another, the problems persist or increase, creating the conditions for opportunistic harmful forces to gain power, which is exactly where we have landed.
Instead of doing the deeper, messier work of finding collaborative ways to address and reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country (which I would imagine most people would get behind), we think that creating laws will solve the problem. We fail to see that simply establishing a law doesn’t make a “problem” go away. Abortions have been a reality for hundreds of years, whether legal or not.
People don’t change, they transform – their viewpoints, habits and patterns. And transformation is a slow process that requires trust, safety, respect, compassion and patience. Therefore, entering into conversations while being balanced and centered in your truth, with an open heart and mind, is essential and can be a catalyst towards those transformations.
There is plenty to say about this extremely challenging and volatile issue, Confused, but here are some tips I can offer from the Fierce Civility approach. The goals are for people from polarizing sides to find healing and reconciliation in order to consider new, collaborative solutions that could foster lasting changes that benefit all:
- Ask yourself and the other side, what are the intentions for this conversation? Only have the conversation if all agree to really hear one another, truly listen and be curious.
- Set up mutually agreed upon guidelines in order to create and maintain safety and trust for both parties. Hold each other accountable.
- Taking turns, gather as much information as possible — facts, data, as well as each person’s interpretation of the facts and data. The purpose of sorting through the confusion and differences can establish common ground and deepen connections. The strategy is to find where everyone’s truths align, and, from there, do the courageous work of sorting through the differences.
This requires mutual respect, patience, skill, a regulated nervous system, and establishing safety and trust. When presenting our truth, we are not only presenting facts. We are also offering our perspective colored by our beliefs and life experiences. Oftentimes, the causes of our opposition reside in the feelings, unmet needs, trauma, assumptions, expectations and interpretations of the facts.
After this investigation, you may discover that there you are more in alignment than you thought, and perhaps you both actually want a similar outcome. That it is possible to minimize the number of abortions by empowering women to step into their personal agency, and educate them on sex and reproductive health. This has been an effective strategy for lowering the number of abortions in other countries.
I believe that the work of our time is to ally those who identify as “pro-lifers” who do respect the rights of women with “pro-choicers” who can show understanding to those who believe that a fetus is sentient. Doing this, we can find common ground and work together to come up with new solutions that meet the needs of all involved. And just as important, join forces to confront those who do want to take away the rights of others.
As you’ve pointed out, Confused, this is one of the more challenging issues we face. But I believe if we find balance, stand in our truth, and listen to each other in order to find new alliances in surprising places, there is hope,
Joe is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist and conflict resolution specialist, Joe Weston, is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.
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