How To Dialogue With Your Neighbor

“Let’s discuss abortion,” is a conversation that will likely lead no where in the US today. Perhaps twenty years ago this could lead to meaningful dialogue. Basic observation leads to the conclusion that the culture is too divided today for conversations like this to bear good fruit.

However, we still need to talk about culture. But how can we bypass the conversation killing “hot button” issues where little progress can be made and get to something deeper with more traction?

One possible strategy is to look deeper to a point where there may be unity. Try to understand someone on this deeper level.

On the abortion issue: do they believe people have souls? If not or if they do not like to use spiritual language, do they believe in human dignity? Once this point is found, nurture it for the unity it can bring. Dialogue around this point. Ask probing questions that surround the issue. The work done at this point sets the foundation for mutual respect that is needed for further dialogue.

If possible, share your thoughts surrounding this point of unity. Use your own words rather than sound bites from a well-known movement. Use “I” statements. For example, rather than saying, “I’m prolife”, explain a feeling you have, an underlying emotion you experience that makes you prolife. For me, I say, “I feel like I’d rather be safe than sorry. Even when a baby is just a clump of cells, what if it does have a soul?” This statement is not a spouting of dogma. It is not a sound bite from a prolife website. It is a real thought and a real feeling.

The conversation may stop here, and that will have to be good enough. Be content that real relationships take time, and dialoging is about building relationships.

However you may be able to follow their reasoning to a point of disagreement. If the conversation extends this far, understand what they are saying to the best of your ability. Identify points of difference early on, and ask for clarification. Repeat what you think they are trying to say, and communicate as much respect for their view as you can without compromising your own principles.

For example, if someone explains how sad it is that women have “back-alley” abortions, simply repeat this: “So you think that if abortion is made illegal, that women will seek “back-alley” abortions? You feel like this is sad because it endangers the lives of these women. Is this what you are thinking?”

After clarification comes the hard step. Try your hardest to find a point of agreement before countering their argument. For example, you could say: “I also am saddened by women who die from unsafe abortions. It is tragic” or “It is tragic to me that woman can feel so desperate.” This step is critical. Without clarity and respect, no real meaningful conversation can take place. Seek unity even on the most difficult points of conversation before presenting an argument against their view.  

The process of dialogue is not hard to understand, however it can be profoundly difficult to implement, especially in America today. Trying to find common ground with people who you think come to evil conclusions is beyond what many people can handle. Fair enough. However, finding unity is what we desperately need in America today.

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