Have you ever had a really ugly fight with someone close to you, only to realize after the fact that it was all based on a simple misunderstanding? It’s very frustrating, especially because all of the pain of that fight could have been avoided if just one of the two parties had been better at clarity.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a personal issue with a loved one, a writing assignment for a class, or a dialogue about something controversial like abortion, the ability to communicate clearly is paramount to success. While no one can become good at clarity overnight, I have two very simple, very effective tactics to offer. These are not ground-breaking, in fact I regularly notice good communicators that follow these guidelines. I just haven’t noticed anyone point these practices out as generally helpful.
While it would be nice if both parties worked equally hard at being clear and with equal skill, no one should expect that. So my attitude in any conversation is that clarity is completely my responsibility. That doesn’t mean it’s actually my fault any time there is a misunderstanding. But I should work hard to make sure I understand the ideas she is trying to express, just like I’m going to work hard to help her understand my ideas.
#1: Make sure you understand her by repeating what she said back to her in different words.
The more conversations I have about abortion, the more aware I am of the vast cultural gap between pro-life and pro-choice people. You would think two people that speak English fluently would be speaking the same language, but that really isn’t the case sometimes. Words and phrases have different connotations to different people depending on the family they grew up in, the culture they identify with, the experiences they have had in the past with those words and phrases, and who knows how many other factors. So any time I think there’s a good chance she could mean different things by something she said, I’ll say something like:
“I want to make sure I’m understanding you. Let me repeat back to you what I heard you say, so then you can correct me if I’ve gotten it wrong. It sounded to me like you said…”
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.
We have a new staff member! We’re so delighted to introduce Kim Bagato to you, although if you’re in the Central California area, you may have already been blessed by Kim’s work at KRDU or Salt Magazine. Today is her first day at taking administrative tasks off of Josh Brahm’s plate so that he can focus on what he does best: growing the organization, leading the staff, speaking, writing and raising the funds we need to accomplish our goals.
A woman in Indianapolis was jailed this week for feticide. This is the story of a pro-choice redditor who looked into the details of the conviction and discovered that many media stories about this case are withholding crucial details.
Wikipedia describes reddit as “an entertainment, social networking and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.” I can’t personally recommend it to anybody due to some of the content that you can find there, but I’ve subscribed to several of the news sub-groups (or “subreddits”) and the small pro-life subreddit has been very supportive of my work.
News stories related to the abortion debate rarely show up on the front page of reddit, a website whose average user has very liberal views on abortion. This week’s story about the Indianapolis woman jailed for feticide was an exception though. I’ll summarize that story and then tell you of the pro-choice redditors who modeled honest reasoning and exposed WNCN’s treatment of the story that leaves out critical facts.
You can read how WNCN handled the story in a piece that was shared 68,000 times on Facebook, but the gist is that a 33-year-old woman named Purvi Patel has been sentenced to 26-years in prison on charges of neglect of a dependent and feticide. In states with feticide laws, it is illegal to kill an unborn fetus without the assistance of an abortionist. In other words, for nearly all intents and purposes an unborn child is treated like a person under the law, but an exception is carved out for abortion.
Patel is accused of taking abortion-inducing drugs illegally, causing her 23-25 week fetus to die. There is contradicting evidence on whether the child was dead before birth or shortly after birth. Patel threw the child’s body into a dumpster afterwards, but eventually went to the hospital due to severe bleeding. She was eventually arrested after she admitted to lying to hospital staff and there was enough evidence that an investigation was called for.
Photo credit: St. Joseph’s County, Indiana, Police Department
Since I started working as a pro-life advocate in 2011, I have deeply struggled with how to have productive conversations with moral relativists. I could “win a debate” with them, but I have a loftier goal of actually changing their minds, and I was nowhere near meeting that goal.
For a while my strategy was to ask moral relativists really uncomfortable questions, such as “Is slavery immoral?” But this strategy almost never worked.If they believed morality is subjective to the individual, they would say, “No, I just don’t like it.” If they believed morality is subjective to the culture, they would say, “It’s wrong now, but only because our culture came to decide that.”Strangely, no one ever seemed to be uncomfortable after giving those responses.
Next I tried pointing out the logical inconsistency of them on one hand claiming there is no objective morality, and on the other hand implying I had moral failings for disagreeing with them about something like abortion.That also did not seem to help, either because they could not understand the logic or because they chose to ignore it.One time I even pretended to steal a guy’s bicycle, but he found that to be more cute than persuasive.
Last fall I tried something different when I met an alternative version of me.
Lately at Equal Rights Institute we have been emphasizing the importance of showing compassion to people, listening to them, and loving them. Several of our followers have responded to this emphasis by asking, “Are you guys wimpy about the truth? Do you just go around giving hugs, making friends, and avoiding the hard stuff?” I think that’s a question worth answering.
Here’s the problem: navigating conversations about abortion is tough, because balancing truth and love is tough.
Pro-choice people need to be told, challenged by, and sometimes even confronted with the truth. But we are not telling them the truth just to make ourselves feel like we’ve done our pro-life duty. We want to share the truth with them in the way that is most likely to get through to them, and sometimes that means being patient. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time just listening to someone, partially because I think that will help them to be more receptive to truth later.
I could just lead every conversation by saying, “Abortion is sin, it kills a helpless baby, you’re a sinner, you need Jesus, and you’re going to hell if you don’t have Jesus.” I think those are all true statements, all of which I’d like to get to during the conversation. The reason I don’t lead with that is not that I’m afraid of the truth or that I lack conviction, but because it’s foolish and short-sighted to just blast people with the truth, with no thought to how they are going to respond to it. [Tweet that]
To quote my brother Josh Brahm from his speech at the Students for Life conference this year:
“Can we stop treating people like formulas for a second and remember that they’re people, and that people have different needs? . . . Every conversation is a series of difficult judgment calls amidst prayer without ceasing. And I don’t think I always make the right calls. But I certainly don’t think I should run every conversation from the same script.” [Tweet that]