The miracle of dialogue creates a greater good

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Ken Trainor

? To make sense of this installment in "The Great Abortion Dialogue Experiment," please read Greg Black's accompanying letter, then come back to this column.

Is dialogue on such a thorny issue as abortion worthwhile only if we can be sure it will resolve the dispute? Dialogue isn't a debate, where one side or the other will be judged the winner. If one side wins and the other loses, the conflict, and the division, continue.

In fact, it may well be that dialogue can only take place if both sides first suspend any expectation of "resolution." I think most people "of good faith," as Greg puts it in his letter, would acknowledge that having any dialogue whatsoever on abortion is a minor miracle. The next step?#34;resolution?#34;may come into view only after dialogue takes place. That is, the qualities necessary to conduct dialogue may in turn create the conditions for resolving the dispute.

Greg says "persons of good faith recognize the depth of everyone's conviction on this issue." Not in my experience. Just the opposite. I find suspicion and incriminating assumptions deeply ingrained on both sides. And I've never had the sense that either side was capable of articulating the "good" that motivates the opposing side's position.

Both see hidden agendas where there may be none. Pro-choice people frequently assume that pro-lifers really want to subjugate women. Pro-lifers often assume legalizing abortion is just a cover for permissive attitudes about sex. Other assumptions on both sides may need to be exposed before real progress can take place.

In articulating each side's "good," I don't expect either side to see the other's as morally equivalent. I'm simply asking that you suspend moral judgment long enough to understand the other's position without dismissing it. That is miracle enough in these polarized times.

Understanding a point of view with which you disagree is not an act of surrender, but it does alter how you talk to your opponent. In fact, it's what makes communication possible.

For instance, I didn't realize how important it was for pro-lifers to nail down the exact moment when life begins. Is it the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg? Is it the moment the fertilized egg implants on the wall of the womb? Some other moment? Even pro-lifers and the medical establishment can't agree.

I happen to think that smacks of playing God, that there's something Frankensteinish about such a discussion, but I understand now how important it is to pro-lifers.

I had a similar experience recently traveling through the South. As a northerner, I always assumed their devotion to "state's rights" was merely a smoke screen for justifying slavery?#34;and later, racial discrimination. And it has been used for those purposes, but it is more than that. In fact, it is impossible to understand the South, and southerners in general, unless you recognize their devotion to state first, and country second.

I happen to disagree with that emphasis, but I understand it now because I finally listened.

Greg Black says his "good" (the unborn's right to life) outweighs the pro-choice good of "reproductive freedom" as I defined it. Only I didn't define it. I merely alluded to it. A better term might be "relative reproductive control," but either way, I'm probably not the best person to present the case, being male.

Regardless, is it possible to listen to and understand the other side's "pre-eminent good" even if you disagree with it?#34;even if you don't even consider it "good?"

Doing just that, I maintain, is the leap of faith that makes dialogue such a miracle when it occurs?#34;and results in an even greater good.

A common good.

Next time, I'll finally get more specific on what I think could take us a long way toward defusing this moral crisis.

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