Four Points on Respectful Disagreements

I was listening to the radio show Being on NPR (transcript of the show is available at the link) on Sunday and they had an interview with a woman named Frances Kissling. Kissling was raised catholic and was even a nun when she was young but eventually had to reconcile her catholic faith with her pro-choice stance. On the program, she discussed her life and career straddling the catholic world and the pro-choice world.

This is not a blog about abortion or religion but I was struck that so much of Kissling’s career was dominated by trying to be a bridge between groups of people who often disagree strongly with each other on this particular topic. Several themes rose to the surface that could serve well for discussing a wide variety of heated or controversial topics:

  1. Approach every discussion with the knowledge that there is good on the other side: this first tenet is really the crux of Kissling’s approach. She said that she has always avoided falling into the trap that her own view is the only moral way to look at the issue.
  2. Acknowledge that there is a problem: in other words, acknowledge that the fact that your side and the other side don’t agree is problematic for everybody.
  3. Make yourself vulnerable to the other side: acknowledge the problems you have with your own side’s arguments and the strong points of the other side.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular with your own side: Kissling acknowledges that preaching to the choir does not get you anywhere. In order to make headway with your opinion, you need to convince people on the margins. In order to appeal to those people, you will need to try a different tack than the purest hardliners in your group.

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