Earlier this year, Eyal Rabinovitch wrote the paper: “Can Listening to Women Who Have Had Abortions Bring Peace to the Abortion Wars” which Exhale was proud to publish in May. Heralded as “remarkable,” “ground-breaking,” and “a great idea,” Eyal explored the opportunities and challenges that a pro-voice approach brings to the abortion conflict.
For his New Thinking, Exhale is honored to present Eyal with a “Pro-Voice High-Five” on our 5th Anniversary of expanded service. I hope you enjoy my interview with Eyal where he shares his background in conflict transformation, how he came to write his paper, and his hopes for the possibility of peace through Pro-Voice.
Aspen: Tell me about your background in conflict transformation.
Eyal: Two years ago, I left an academic career in sociology to pursue dispute resolution and facilitation work. After a decade learning and teaching about democratic societies and institutions, I’d come to the conclusion that empowered, open communication is the foundation for pluralistic co-existence across social and political difference. I wanted to dedicate my work to supporting that type of communication.
I was first introduced to the idea of conflict transformation while being trained as a transformative mediator. Conventional mediation focuses on trying to broker a deal between parties, often manipulating the process or even the people involved in order to reach settlement. Transformative mediation, rather, focuses less on deals and more on the interaction of parties. It claims that when given the forum for open and resilient communication, people have both the will and internal resources to shift away from destructive, alienating communication toward speaking openly and working productively across lines of conflict. Transformative mediation, in short, supports parties to ‘do conflict’ in ways that are constructive rather than destructive, and in the process transform the way they interact in the future.
Working as a transformative mediator, I saw firsthand that when you support people to communicate across whatever differences they have – when you help them extricate themselves from stuck conversations of dehumanization and hostility — they then have the desire and capacity to find their own creative solutions. I quickly realized that real, sustainable change – whether at the interpersonal or social levels — requires not just resolving a problem, but transforming the very way we interact when we have passionate disagreements, making those differences generative rather than destructive.
Aspen: What is the biggest misconception about conflict transformation and what do you wish people knew about it?
Eyal: I often encounter a deep cynicism from people who, when thinking about social conflicts, focus exclusively on the extremists and proclaim that ‘there’s no point in talking to those people.’ This response seems to come from the assumption that the goal of conflict transformation is to get everyone to get along and play nice with each other. And if this is not possible, the thinking goes, there’s no point in transformative work. But this misses the mark. For me, the goal of creating dialogue across differences is that when more and more people see one another as full human beings, those extremists have less of an audience. The demonizing rhetoric, caricatures, and stereotypes that fuel extremism stop resonating with people. To offer an illustration: there are still white supremacists, but there are fewer people who listen to them now than a generation or two ago, because our society has undergone a profound social transformation on race.
In other words, once we have gone through a re-humanization of our ideological adversaries, stereotypes and caricatures begin to fall flat and we begin to speak and learn across our differences in new, affirming ways.
Aspen: How did you first come to learn about Pro-Voice and what was your first reaction?
Eyal: Exhale’s founding Board President, Lisa Lepson, passed on Aspen Baker’s ‘Abortion Peace’ essay. My first reaction was “wow.” In conflict transformation work you look for the cracks of possibility, the special opportunities for ways to transcend and shift destructive conflict cycles. I knew immediately that Pro-Voice was just such a case… and I wrote Aspen an email response that was 6 pages long, and that began our ongoing conversation.
Aspen: What led you to write a paper about Pro-Voice?
Eyal: I believed I had much to contribute in terms of placing this innovative, intelligent idea into the broader context of social conflict theory and conflict transformation. I originally was going to write a few pages – I thought it would take a couple of weeks. But I saw so much potential in this case that I immersed myself in the case for nearly a year.
Aspen: What do you hope your new thinking on transforming the abortion conflict will accomplish?
Eyal: I think Pro-Voice has the opportunity to hold a mirror up to the multi-layered destruction that the entrenched and extremely escalated nature of the abortion conflict exacts on everyone involved. Perhaps the paper will help move some of the activists on all sides to be more self-reflective about their work, its effects on women that have had abortions, and how escalated conflict with their political adversaries may well be counter-productive to their own aims in the long-run. And finally, I hope it will inspire innovators to create Pro-Voice, dialogue and deliberation forums small and large for the general public – for women who have had abortions, for those who contemplated abortions but chose not to have them, for the men and significant others that have been involved in abortions, and for all people who care about the issue to begin engaging with it in a new way.
Thank you Eyal Rabinovitch for your New Thinking!