* Guest Post by Mary Jacksteit
It has been my experience that when people can voice, and others can listen to, their personal experiences concerning abortion, the conversation takes on compassion and care that does not stifle profound disagreement, but humanizes it. At this point – when people see each other for what they are, human beings – what I’ve seen is that something like “good will” (literally, a will to be good) begins to grow. The people in this conversation begin drawing upon the best of themselves not the worst, accessing their hearts and minds in a way they don’t seem able to do when they are furious, afraid, or dismissive. They don’t change their mind about abortion, but they change their perspective about others, about what drives their decisions, and about the genuine possibility that some values and goals are actually shared. Their thoughts and feelings are let loose from assumptions and stereotypes. They can imagine what they could not before, and can see themselves – strong advocates, committed activists – as capable in new ways.
As described in the paper, this change creates new relationships which carry the potential for ideas and actions that everyone considers valuable. As important, it offers a way for living in the presence of a deep disagreement in a way that both maintains the integrity of strongly held beliefs and upholds the respect for the basic human dignity of all people which is the aspiration of American democracy. Stories of personal experience expand our minds and hearts, and we need this expanded thinking and feeling in order to handle powerful debates like abortion that have the potential to draw us to simple answers and drag us down that moral abyss where the ends always justify the means.
No one can feel secure – about themselves or about the ability of society to cope with challenging issues – in that kind of environment. The brake on descending into that abyss is the capacity to, in some way, come to understand what’s going on with a person whose views we loathe, fear, or want to avoid, and to experience something familiar, even empathy. I think Aspen’s instincts are correct that a “Pro-Voice”movement– that lets people be publicly heard about their direct experience of abortion — many people, regular people, people with varied experiences and not just pre-selected story lines– has the potential to challenge the public debate and spur new conversation about abortion and about how our society should deal with it.
Mary Jacksteit is the Former Director of the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, a project of the Search for Common Ground. She is a Conflict Resolution Professional.