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Core Values: Dignity-Affirming and Persuasive Dialogue

Early in the conception and development of Life Matters Journal/Rehmanize International, our team was convinced of the need for a space for people to be able to talk about these often-heated topics in a respectful, rehumanizing way. I think the story of how I arrived at this conclusion will illuminate why I was so committed to this idea. 

I had experienced the polarized, cacophonous rhetoric during my time in undergrad. Almost every time I participated in activism or outreach on abortion, euthanasia, or similar “pro-life” issues using the rhetorical stylings that prevailed, I was met with screaming and counter-protests. I could see the looks on my peers’ faces as their walls went up and any opportunity for personal encounter, dialogue, and changing hearts and minds was completely precluded. 

It was in processing these experiences and learning from my own contrasting conversion to a pro-life viewpoint that I recognized that change for most people requires a feeling of respect, safety, and community. I’m autistic, so my own conversion to this philosophy was very logic-based (though emotional at times), and unfortunately resulted in a lot of isolation that I was more or less content to suffer for my convictions. As a stubborn neurodivergent, I didn’t care if my newfound commitment to nonviolence made me “rebellious” and unpopular — I leaned into it and was fine being a “punk for life.”

But eventually I came to realize that, for most people, change is really freaking scary. It involves reevaluating paradigms and relationships and past actions and often making different plans for the future. Change involves upheaval and discomfort and introspection. And with a change as central to moral understanding as the commitment to nonviolence (and the often-unpopular commitment to it that challenges both party lines), it can really shake up a person’s life.

Therefore, this sort of change often comes in the sort of spaces where we are allowed to be vulnerable, where we are welcomed with our uncertainties and humbly accompanied in a space of authentic encounter. Of course, change happens as we learn new things and process their implications within a larger context, but perhaps more important than pure facts alone, change happens when our minds are pulled and we feel safe and sure enough in our new footing and relationships. It takes trust in a new community for most people to even entertain the possibility of change because, when it can mean the uprooting of our social life and allegiances, change requires that a new community be there to catch us. 

Thus it was that I realized the truth that, if someone is continually being screamed at and protested with a violent pathos, then of course they wouldn’t feel welcome or safe among those protesting them. There, the motive to maintain the status quo and resist change is strong. 

But instead, if such a person were approached in a way that is rehumanizing, that is friendly and curious, that is hospitable and welcoming, then there is a solid foundation for a sustained change. So if we want to reach everyone with our message, no matter how persuasive we think it might be, we must be kind, humble, and most of all able and willing to see the dignity of our interlocutors. We have to rehumanize both those whose rights we’re struggling to protect and those who embrace ideologies of dehumanization and violence because our ultimate goal is protection and care for each and every human being…even those who are guilty of such viciousness.

Though this task might be a difficult one for us to achieve with our latent biases and prejudices, it’s vital to our philosophy and to our movement to be gracious, kind, and hospitable in dialogue. In another vein, it’s also likewise important that we be well-equipped with up-to-date facts and logical talking points, to be able to make the most persuasive arguments that we can. For this, I would recommend reading my book, Rehumanize: A Vision to Secure Human Rights for All; keeping Google news notifications on for keywords related to CLE topics; and having deep conversations with your circles about the “what if” questions that your ideological “opponents” might bring to the table. Being ill-equipped to have these often intense discussions by lacking the necessary factual and contextual knowledge is a missed opportunity and can often leave one’s interlocutors with a bad taste in their mouth, giving the impression that one is a mindless ideologue. So, coming prepared for discourse is a vital necessity for this core value.

Nonetheless, even with the best arguments, it remains sorely vital that our posture be one of authentic curiosity and openness. That means we ask lots of questions — lots of “why” inquiries — that help each person to understand where the other is coming from. And it also means having humility when you talk: to first affirm the good you see in the other’s perspective and to admit when you’ve made mistakes or errors in recall or past judgment. 

In all my years of outreach, I’ve hardly met anyone who openly said only malicious or hateful things; so, when you meet someone in the process of your work, always invite with a question where you can find common ground (e.g., “So, would you say you support human rights?” or “What issues of life and death are you passionate about?”).

Remember: we’re not here to be antagonistic, but to encounter. In engaging in this conversation, we need to always keep at the front of our minds the inherent dignity of the person in front of us, and remember sonder: the idea that each other human’s life is as vivid and complex as our own. We have no idea what circumstances led this person to believe what they do, to hold it as loosely or as fiercely as they do, or to feel such deep or light emotions as they do. To sonder is to rehumanize: to transfer our own understanding of how difficult and beautiful and awful and awesome it is to be human – for every single human being. And sonder can help us see the good in others, and draw them back to that goodness.

“Calling in” is different than “calling out”: for most people, you’ll want to do the former. I tend to reserve “calling out” for the people who have power: the president, national politicians, sometimes a state representative, CEOs, corporations enabling violence for profit, etc. These are entities who would be rather unlikely to actually sit down and have a conversation with us where we would actually feel heard: so, we protest them, we bring our megaphones, and we march to their offices and make them uncomfortable with our presence. 

But, for most Jo(e) Schmoes, whom we encounter in our daily lives, not only do they not have power, but they also tend to be much more approachable. So, the work there is “calling in,” or recognizing the good they believe in, and inviting them to a more holistic, more consistent approach to ethics: the Consistent Life Ethic, where every human being is respected, valued, and protected.

I won’t lie: more than likely, you will not change someone’s mind in the first conversation you have with them. Heck, you might be friends with someone for decades and they might still be firmly planted against your philosophy. 

First, I have to say: it is still good if you maintain a friendship with someone who disagrees with you, even if they never change their mind. Having diverse friendships is good because it saves us from being stuck in epistemic bubbles or echo chambers. 

Second, I must also say that: instead of building up antagonism, instead of constructing walls of ire, angst, and judgment, hopefully, you can develop a friendship that will create the space where they would feel comfortable changing their position and joining our community, if the logic and emotions were to align in the future. By creating a space where others feel safe, respected, and curious, you’ve built a good foundation that — I think — is crucial for changing hearts and minds.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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