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Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

Neuroscientists at M.I.T have been taking image scans of people’s brains to find out more about the empathy of people who are in conflict with one another.  Given that empathy fails regularly, researchers Emile Bruneau and Rebecca Saxe asked themselves:  “Can neuroscience help people overcome their longstanding hostilities?” 

The answers they’ve found so far are shared in two recent videos,  “World Pieces: The Neuroscience of Conflict” and “Finding Empathy“.

Emile Bruneau reminds us that “people fail to empathize with each other when they are in direct conflict.”  He offers an alternative definition of empathy from your typical “stepping into someone else shoes and thinking from their perspective” to “stepping into their shoes and thinking from your own perspective.”

Rebecca Saxe points out:

“If you want to understand how people change their minds, the answer will be in how they change their brains.”

Key points that help bridge transforming oppression work with conflict transformation processes include:

  • People in conflict are not as sympathetic towards the suffering of their adversaries. ..If we’re going to heal old wounds, the first step is to bring empathy back online.
  • People treat each other differently depending on how much power they have…People with more power tend to have less sympathy to other people’s  suffering.
  • Asking people to leave their histories at the door and come together to work on common goals as individuals tends to work better for the dominant group.
  • In one study, people from a targeted group were more favorable to the dominant group, after given a chance to be heard.  The dominant group showed more empathy towards the targeted group after being compelled to listen.

Emilie poses the most important question to drive future research:

“Can we train ourselves to empathize more with someone from a different group?”

We highly recommend you watch both; and consider the questions:

What are the implications of these findings for the U.S. abortion conflict? And, what kind of research questions should  the Pro-Voice movement ask so that we can learn more about how to transform the abortion conflict?

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Exhale is a community of people with personal abortion experiences and when it comes to storysharing, we advocate that:  1) women who have had abortions must have the ability to control their own narratives in our public discourse; and 2) that we must have authority and decision-making over when and how our stories are used by advocates.

Thaler Pekar has been writing about the ethical sharing of stories in a series of blog posts; and her insights offer critical thinking for our community members and the advocates who seek to have access to our stories.

In a two-part series in PhilanTopic, Thaler outlines the concept of Ethical StorySharing, in Part 1:

Because stories are powerful, and because they are wholly owned by the person who shares them, we have an ethical obligation to use story in ways that do no harm. Whether we are asking for stories to better understand an organizational challenge, to use in our organizational communications, or for an advocacy campaign, our goal should be to empower, not exploit…

The need to refrain from treating story as a commodity goes beyond nonprofit and advocacy work; it should inform all your work with narrative. True narrative intelligence respects the sharer of the story and recognizes that his or her story is a unique part of them that cannot, and should not, be taken and shared without permission.

In Ethical StorySharing, Part 2, Thaler gives more advice to advocates who seek to work with stories:

Thinking about the stories you’re not hearing is critical to the ethical use of story. Do you have a responsibility to seek them out? Also, do you plan to label and publicly present the stories you do gather? And if so, how will the context affect the way the audience perceives those stories?…

Or you may be working with a stigmatized population, in which case you have a special responsibility to protect the sharer of the story. For example, you have an ethical obligation to share any knowledge you may have about what could happen to the person, personally or professionally, if they decide to share their story. Might you need to provide for the person’s safety? Does the person sharing his or her story understand how s/he could lose control over the context in which the story is shared, especially in super-public places like YouTube?

In “Working with Stories,” on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Thaler writes about the concept of empathetic engagement, first described by Sam Gregory of WITNESS:

Develop and engage a keen sense of empathy. Consider what people physically and emotionally need in order to share their stories. Make certain that people are in no way coerced into sharing a story, and explore and protect against any possibilities that the teller may be stigmatized, or even harmed, because he or she has shared a story.

Remember that each individual wholly owns his or her stories. Personal stories are not commodities, to be taken from one person and given to another, in exchange for reimbursement of some sort…Remember, too, that the audience is a partner in the story sharing. Create conditions favorable to the listener fully receiving and making sense of the story.

Understand that story begets story. Story is a contagion: By sharing a story, you will elicit stories in response. Keep this in mind, creating both the time and physical requirements that respect and enable a flow of stories.

In order to hear the real range of people’s complex experiences and emotions, you must avoid communicating that only certain stories are acceptable, welcome, and valued.  If you are too descriptive about the types of stories you want to hear, you may not hear anything at all.

Sagely, Thaler writes:

Refrain from starting a narrative project with a predetermined sense of the stories you will hear. When stories are elicited with honesty and benevolence (and they must be!), you will most likely be surprised, delighted, and frightened by what you hear. Commit yourself to the journey, not to the product.

Finally, in “Pro-Voice and Pro-Chaos” in PhilanTopic, Thaler describes how Pro-Voice is inherently a practice of Ethical StorySharing:

Being “pro-voice” means being anti-predetermined story. The people who work with and support Exhale understand that embracing reality is the only authentic choice for those advocating for sustainable conflict resolution and a more peaceful social climate. Imagine if more advocates let go of their fear of being surprised, contradicted, or losing control and looked to solicit and share stories that didn’t necessarily fit predetermined agendas. In their representation of the complexity of reality, the resulting stories might appear to be chaotic. But the odds are excellent that out of that chaos, profound insight would follow.

To learn more about Thaler and her thinking on Ethical StorySharing, follow her on Twitter: @thaler.

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This April, Exhale is celebrating our 2nd Annual Abortion Wellbeing Month to bring attention to each individual’s unique experience with abortion, and to recognize that emotional wellbeing is possible for every person who experiences one.

Yes, as women who have had abortions we hear a lot about what we should feel about our abortions and we know what it’s like when our voices and needs get sidestepped. And yet, we find ways to give our abortions personal meaning and to feel whole. Together, we can raise awareness that emotions of all kinds after abortion are normal; and that feeling heard, supported and respected – without judgment – is important to the wellbeing of every woman who has an abortion.

Throughout the month of April 2011, let’s celebrate our wellbeing and work together to:

  • Acknowledge each person’s unique experience with abortion;
  • Draw attention to ways to support and respect women who have had abortions;
  • Promote loving connection, with friends and family, as well as between women who have had abortions.

Join us!

Connect Online: Blog for Abortion Wellbeing. Tell your friends about it. Follow Exhale on Facebook and Twitter throughout the month for more updates, and keep up on this blog for guest posts on abortion and wellbeing.

Connect In-Person: Join us on Wednesday, April 27th for the San Francisco Bay Area premiere of filmmaker Lindsay Ellis’ “The A Word,” an irreverent and deeply personal Pro-Voice chronicle of how her abortion had an impact on her life, and those she loves.

Let us know what you’re doing to support Abortion Wellbeing! Email us at info@4exhale.org to tell us about your Pro-Voice action or to offer your support.

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On the night that MTV’s No Easy Decision aired, Exhale’s talkline lit up! We had fourteen callers in the first hour after the special had finished broadcasting on the East Coast, even though it was midnight in that time zone.

Several counselors took calls that night. Lisa Green was one of those counselors. Exhale Director of Programs Jovida Ross asked Lisa about her experience working with Exhale through the partnership with MTV.

Jovida: What was it like to take calls on the talkline the night that “No Easy Decision” aired?

Lisa: I was ready to listen; I knew that I might be getting calls from women who were learning for the first time that they had a place to call. I consider it sacred space, and I felt like I was a part of something revolutionary that night. The calls I got were similar to calls I’ve taken at other times, except that they said they had just watched the show and were so glad to learn about Exhale.

Jovida: Did you watch the special? If so, what stood out to you about it?

Lisa: I cannot express how brave I think that Markai and her boyfriend are for sharing their experience, as with Katie and Natalia, the 2 other women who sat with Dr. Drew for the interview. I wanted more; more discussion and more about abortion approached in this manner. More stories from real women exploring real experiences that are not black and white, making tough choices that may not be what they imagined but doing what they believe is best for everybody involved; themselves, their families and their future. This is the kind of thing I hear on the talkline, and I have never seen it reflected in the media before.

Jovida: Did you read any of the 16 & Loved posts? If so, was there anything that stood out to you about the site?

Lisa: I loved that Exhale created this site. It was so positive and powerful. I expected that there would be a backlash from the airing of “No Easy Decision”, and I read just about everything I could about the show, and all the posts on 16 & Loved beforehand. Although there was some negative commentary online, for the most part it seemed like there was a great welcoming of hearing real women’s stories. This warmed my soul and made me feel positive and proud to be part of Exhale; for being a part of this important shift in dialogue.

Jovida: Is there anything you’d like to share about the counseling experience, and why or how it is meaningful for you?

Lisa: Listening to women on the hotline has seriously changed my life. Simple listening, simple non-judgmental listening, is so powerful and pure. I am somebody who obsesses about being perfect and this stops me from doing many things; I worry about things I say or ruminate about things that others wouldn’t give a second thought. For the most part, this does not happen with me on the talkline.  I can just listen; listen and help women to see themselves the way I do when I hear them talk about their tough choices and their strength, and listen to them work out what makes sense to them.

I have talked to so many women who simply amaze me with their resilience and wisdom. My favorite calls are when women come to the point where they have concluded how strong they are and they come to feel empowered. I am also always amazed that a call can begin with crying and end with laughter or taking action to seek further support.

One call that stands out in my memory is a caller who came from a very conservative family and community, who told me that this was the first time she had said the word abortion out loud. It felt wonderful to be a part of that moment with her; I got to witness her unburden herself, to release and let go of her pent-up emotion.

These moments are the heart of pro-voice. A friend of mine recently read the New York Times article [about Exhale] and she loved the idea of pro-voice and taking abortion out of the political realm. I’m proud to be a part of approaching abortion in a new way; I feel like I am a part of an emerging pro-voice movement.

I really love how [fellow Exhale counselor] Nat has phrased or defined pro-voice in one of his blog posts: That a pro-voice movement will lead to “a world where the rest of us can see abortion less as a political issue to be debated and more about abortion as an experience lived by a woman we love.”

For me, when I think about pro-voice, I find myself going back to the phrase or notion of the gray area, about breaking free from black and white thinking and embracing the multi-layered nature of most important decisions in life. Most of us live in those gray areas, our lives becoming things we didn’t imagine or living in ways that we didn’t plan for. There can be beauty in those moments. Abortion is a part of that journey for so many women. We deserve respect, and for our voices to be heard.

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Kate Cockrill, a researcher who studies stigma and abortion at UCSF, recently wrote about her attendance at the Princeton Open Hearts/Open Minds conference on the blog of ANSIRH (a Pro-Voice High-Five Awardee for New Research).   In contemplating the lack of women’s voices at the conference, Kate poses some good questions about the role of women who have had abortions in public discussion.  She writes:

If 1.3 million women have an abortion every year, then why is it that so few women speak publicly or even privately about their abortions? What would happen if women began to speak up? How would it change the debate? I think that it is safe to say that the prochoice movement is a movement for women who are considering abortions or need abortions. It is a legal movement oriented toward preserving the right to abortion.

Addressing the role of stigma in women’s silence, Kate writes:

Stigma is clearly a major culprit in women’s public silence about their abortions. To talk about one’s abortion publicly is to risk losing credibility on a variety of levels. But there are many other reasons that women don’t talk publicly about their abortions. Maybe the reason for their own abortion is not the reason they are attempting to highlight in their advocacy. Maybe they don’t want to upset a family member or ex-partner who might be sensitive to their decision. Maybe it feels like a private experience that they don’t want to explore publicly at that moment. Maybe it still feels raw. Maybe it just doesn’t feel salient anymore.

No matter the reason, speaking about a personal abortion experience publicly means taking on personal risk. Instead of asking where the voices are, we could work harder to reduce the risk that women incur when they speak from their own experience. We can and should be demonstrating and demanding nonjudgmental listening. We should encourage honesty and should support a range of experiences. We should not discriminate against some experiences while highlighting others. We should support private spaces for women to discuss their experiences with those who can listen and understand, better yet, people who have also “been there.” We should demand that all women have access to emotional care at the time of their abortion and after. In fact, I would argue that when these demands are absent from our advocacy, we aren’t really advocating for women who have had abortions.

Women who have abortions do not live in a world of nonjudgmental support. When their own abortion is at issue they can expect judgment, criticism and rejection.  So many women are very careful about who they share their experience with or who they seek support from. In fact if you do not personally know someone who has had an abortion, it’s most likely because you are not considered a safe person to tell. While politically-motivated public and private disclosure is encouraged by both sides of the debate, the real stories of real women are not adequately supported by either side of the public debate.  So, when women don’t come forward with their stories…we have to wonder if we’re partly to blame.

In relating how she experienced the conference, Kate summarizes:

Conversations like the ones I had at OHOM may not bring us any closer to common ground on the abortion issue; however, I think they do promote a common culture based on values that can be shared by either side. Curiosity. Dignity. Respect. Peace.

Thank you Kate!

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*Guest Post by Pro-Voice High-Five Awardee for New Thinking: Eyal Rabinovitch*

“Do you find most public discourse on abortion painful?” This was the opening question on the invitation to the recent two-day “Open Hearts/Open Minds” conference that invited pro-life and pro-choice advocates and scholars to Princeton University to be in respectful and open conversation with one another. Several months earlier, I had offered my personal answer (“yes… very”) to that question in the form of a essay on an organization called Exhale and the pro-voice approach to abortion it’s been championing in recent years.

In an entrenched social conflict like abortion, I argued, the extreme polarization and bitterness of the conflict is more than painful – it’s downright destructive. Let me offer just a few examples here. For starters, people who have something to say that don’t fit into the points of view of those two sides are drowned out and neglected. Voices of complexity, moderation, or conciliation – including the voices of people dealing directly with abortion in their lives – are not tolerated, leaving out whatever contributions they might have to make toward better policies or greater understanding. Beyond that, the increasing polarization prevents both activists and policy makers from listening to one another’s actual arguments, understanding one another’s concerns, or working together collaboratively on points of mutual interest. At the same time, the public at large increasingly gets turned off by waves of demonizing rhetoric and oversimplifications. Sick of hearing the same angry conversation over and over again, people tune out and stop engaging in a social issue of great importance.

By contrast, a pro-voice approach argues for rooting our public conversation in the full complexity of people’s actual experiences with abortion rather than the caricatures and one-dimensional language that dominates the public conversation. A pro-voice orientation emphasizes creating space for people to share and listen to one another’s experiences with abortion not as a way to create ammunition for one ideological side or the other, but to rehumanize, revatilize, and de-polarize this crucial and profound social issue. As a student and practitioner of conflict transformation – a subfield of conflict studies focused on changing how we engage in our disagreements so that we can advocate for our values without destroying our own dignity or the dignity of those with whom we disagree – I embrace Exhale’s pro-voice vision and believe it can play a foundational role on a long-term path towards meaningful, restorative culture change on abortion.

(more…)

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In celebration of our 5th Anniversary of expanded service, Exhale is excited to present a very special award – our “Pro-Voice High-Five” – to five individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to creating a more supportive and respectful social climate for women who have had abortions.

Our “Pro-Voice High-Five” Awards go toooooo……(drumroll please)….:

I invite you to read the interviews of each of our awardees to learn more about their passion and commitment to creating something positive, purposeful and powerful for every woman who has experienced abortion.

Congratulations to all of our “Pro-Voice High-Five” Awardees!

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