Not another Pro-Life/Pro-choice Debate! – Taking responsibility for Respect…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

When I opened up Facebook this afternoon my friend CS had posted a link to a video with the note: “For my friends on BOTH sides of the “pro-choice” “pro-life” debate. This amazing dialogue is one of respect, intelligence and progressive thoughts on the reality of the debate. I highly encourage you to take the time to listen, if you are passionate about this issue.”

Now, I do have passionate opinions about the Pro-choice/Pro-life debate, and to tell you the truth those opinions are pretty well set. They haven’t changed significantly in the last 30 years, and I doubt very seriously they are going to change significantly in the next 30, so why on earth would I want to spend even a moment of my precious Sunday afternoon watching a video about the Pro-life/Pro-choice debate?

The word that grabbed me in my friend’s Facebook note was “respect.” That notion of respect is important to me, because as passionate as I am about “my side” of this argument, I have friends and family on “the other side” who are just as passionate. I would like to find a way that we can have a conversation about this topic – and a range of other controversial topics – that is respectful. Also, to generalize beyond my own circle of loved ones, I believe if communities of people are going to be able to work together productively, solve problems together effectively, and live together peaceably we have got to learn to talk with each other about controversial topics in a respectful way. Even when we disagree passionately; even when we are never, ever, ever going to agree; even when we are not even willing to compromise; even in the face of intractability — we have still got to be respectful with each other. Even when the “other side” is not respectful – I have got to be respectful. I have got to take responsibility for respect. I am not always perfect at that! But, I’ve got to try.

So I watched the video.

I’m glad I did.  I am left with a renewed faith in the idea that “respect” is based on understanding the other person as a whole human with doubts and fears and complexity of thought. The way we ask questions of each other, and the way we listen to the answers, can either contribute to that understanding or diminish it. So how do we start? Even one respectful question is a good beginning. Here are some of the questions from the video (paraphrased somewhat) that I want to remember for future respectful conversations:

Questions for the other person:

  • In your earliest life, and in the path your life has taken since then, where do you trace the seeds of your ideas around this issue?
  • What is at stake in this issue for you?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Questions for myself:

  • What is it in your own position that gives you trouble?
  • What is it in the other position that you are attracted to?


Interested in the topic of respectful conversations in general? Here are some websites:

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