When I saw the title of this talk at the Catholic Family Conference I was intrigued. This is something that needs to be done and needs to be done well. I would like to be able to do it but alas, thinking quickly on my feet and making a persuasive argument are not my gifts. I’d have a hard time selling water in a desert let alone try to convince someone that abortion should be illegal. I want to speak the truth. Very much so. I feel strongly about things. But I clam up, I forget my points, and when other people have strong emotions or opinions, I shrink away.
When I was offered the opportunity to interview Stephanie Gray, the presenter of this talk, I was excited. I did some internet-stalking-type research on her and then I was really excited. Stephanie Gray is a woman who knows the truth and can calmly and logically convince others of it.
Stephanie considers herself a lifelong activist. She grew up in a pro-life family and began her public speaking career in 1999 as a freshman in college when she went to a conference for pro life students and learned how to argue well. She learned how to be persuasive and reasonable when debating controversial topics. She credits Scott Klusendorf with mentoring her and when she finished college she began a career in speaking, writing, and debating about pro-life issues.
I shared with her that I love to write but speaking is not my gift and she surprised me when she said this is a learned skill. “We have our own gifts on how we best express ourselves, we can still learn and do well even if it’s not our ideal gifting,” she said and then, “we are all called to do this.”
That gave me hope but I wanted to know more. She said there are two tactics to take when communicating with someone you disagree with: ask questions and tell stories.
Asking questions is a Socratic approach but also an approach Jesus used. Questions prompt people to think through what they say they believe in. Questions make them decide if they have good reasons to back up their statement. I wondered, though, if by asking questions, I would unwittingly be giving the platform over to the pro-choice speaker who could then convince more people to his or her view. Asking questions might take the pressure off me, but would it take away from my own argument? Stephanie said that if people are embracing falsehoods, there will be holes in what they are saying and they will discover them while they are talking. If someone is trying to convince me that abortion is okay, that is a falsehood and will naturally have logical holes. By asking questions, we can unearth these holes using the other person’s words.
She gave examples of questions to ask:
Why is that?
How did you come to that conclusion?
What does someone who thinks like you want someone who thinks like me to understand?
What do you think about…?
In addition to finding logical holes in falsehood, questions help find common ground. It builds trust in the other person if you can find things you agree on. She advocated using compassionate curiosity: Be genuinely interested in what the other’s argument is and use questions to help that person understand your concept.
Two dogs make a dog. What do two humans make?
So doesn’t it follow that the fetus is human and should be afforded human rights?
Her other tactic is to tell stories, another method Jesus used when he told parables. Stories are good at “activating the imagination of the listener and helping them visualize something they can relate to,” she said. Stories help make principles clear and more likely to be embraced.
Stephanie uses a logical and calm approach, so I asked her how she keeps that up when discussing a topic such as abortion that gets people emotional. She reminded me that anger is a secondary emotion. When someone is angry, there is a deeper emotion underneath being covered up. She tries to remember to not take the anger personally. Something else is making the person angry. She recommends being the opposite of the other person. If the other is loud, she is quiet. If the other is speaking quickly, she speaks slowly. She also prays during the conversation. She wants to see Jesus in the other person.
Stephanie shares her strategies in her book Love Unleashes Life. After talking with her, I bought it and I am learning much. The reality is that as Catholics we are going against the societal grain. If we believe that we are called to speak God’s truth whether it is pro-life or another topic, the blueprint she offers in her book, the same blueprint she uses when speaking and debating, is valuable. Even for people for whom the spoken word is a little challenging.
Copyright 2020 Merridith Frediani