Ask questions with an open heart, listen to understand another person, and find common ground whenever possible. These are three essential conversational skills which have transformed the way I communicate my beliefs about abortion, and by extension, anything controversial.
Since 2019, I have been able to work closely with Justice For All as a volunteer and an intern. The organization teaches people to equally love the woman, the child, and the person with whom they disagree in every moment of the conversation.
Many people are uncomfortable talking about abortion for a myriad of reasons. For some it is deeply personal and painful. Others have been yelled at, called names, and treated poorly just for sharing their perspective. Some have only seen conversations about abortion take place in the context of fighting, anger, and hatred towards others. It is no wonder that even saying the word “abortion” out loud in the ear shot of others can cause stress for someone with these kinds of experiences. I think we all have had them. If not about abortion, maybe it has been about another controversial issue which influences so many people’s lives.
There is a way to have meaningful, productive, and civil conversations about the most difficult issues. In order for that to happen though, we must check our own heart and prevent ourselves from assuming what others think, feel, or intend. In the book of James, he reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Good conversations are built on a foundation of listening to others to ensure they are understood. If that does not happen, people can end up talking past each other about things none of them actually believe.
Good and productive interactions take time. We are not going to have good conversations with people if we are too quick to show people how “right” we are. Changes of mind come slowly when people have space to really contemplate ideas. The foundation for sharing the truth is most compelling when it clearly comes from a place of genuine care and love for another image-bearer of God. Conversations should emanate from carefully thought out questions which invite another person to articulate and think about their views more carefully.
There is quite a balance which needs to be made in the world of conversations. While we listen, ask questions, and find common ground when possible, we also must not shy away from communicating the truth to those God sets on our path. We are called to give an answer to each person and in the overarching context of Scripture, that means speaking to people with patience, love, and concern for their eternal souls.
The account of the fall in Genesis 3 gives us the perfect example of how we should respond to people. When Adam and Eve had just brought sin into the world and ruined a perfect creation by their willful rebellion against God, instead of coming into the garden with anger and fury, God calmly walked into the garden and called their names. When the confrontation took place, God asked them questions.
There is such power in patiently asking questions when the stakes are high. When we ruined a perfect world, God stepped in and asked us questions even though He already knew the answer. In response to our sin, He promised redemption in the future.
That example shows us how we should respond to people in the face of difficult issues. I have learned from talking about controversial issues that asking questions is the most important part of the conversation. Understanding people and why they believe what they believe and why they do what they do is crucial for knowing how to respond to someone. People are complicated. It takes time to know where they are coming from. When the right questions are asked in a kind and loving way, difficult conversations and conflicts can turn into fruitful, patient discussions about hard things. God did that for us. We can do that for others.
In a world of so much shouting, so much name-calling, finger pointing, and impugning bad motives to unknown people, let’s strive for a different kind of conversation — one where we recognize the value of each person, slow down and ask each other questions for the purpose of understanding each other.