The current state of public discussion on abortion is typified by a newspaper photo out of Buffalo this past April. The photo shows two men standing in the middle of a crowd, nose to nose, mouths wide open, screaming at each other. They don't stand out in the crowd, because they're not unusual--everyone else is doing the same thing.
Most of us are familiar by now with the kind of closed-mindedness typified by those two: People on both sides of the issue have become so entrenched and so reactive in their opinions that rational discussion, compassionate dialogue, seems impossible.
The venom is not confined to public demonstrations; it crops up in living rooms and in churches around the country. When I travel to speak on nonviolence, people bring up lots of questions: What do you think about Eastern Europe? What tactic should we adopt here? What's the most loving (or nonviolent) way to cope with this situation? These are real questions, and we explore answers together, looking for solutions that will be the best we can do.
Such dialogue implies respect but not necessarily agreement: It implies that we have some common interests; it assumes that we take each other's words at face value. Dialogue of this type allows us to explore the implications of our own ideas and to change them in response to other people's perspectives. It requires that we be willing to test our own preconceptions.
No one, it seems, talks about abortion that way anymore. When the issue is raised at all, people say, "I don't know what you think about this, but I think...." The clear implication is there: If that's not what you think, I don't want to hear about it!
We seem to talk only to those who agree with us, and often we talk about the other side. Rarely do we talk with those on that other side to try to find out why they think as they do, or where we might share a common concern.