Listen or Fight?

posted July 2, 2013

 

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Last month, I signed a deal to write a book on “Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening when the World Wants a Fight.” And now there’s a major political fight underway in Texas, which is testing me, and many others in the pro-voice community, to stay true to our values and beliefs despite the pressure to join in. 

How do pro-voice people keep listening and why should we?

Understanding the big picture of the world we are creating is crucial, so too, is practicing the behaviors that will take us there. “Pro-Voice,” as I said in my recent speech to more than 1,000 people gathered at Netroots Nation, “is designed to give the world more of what it really truly needs: love, support, respect, empathy.”  Pro-voice people believe that we make the world that we practice, so to create one that is more loving and empathetic, we have to practice being loving and empathetic, even if we don’t know the outcome.

One pro-voice behavior that we practice is storytelling as a process to elicit new understanding and build connections. I wrote about the difference between storytelling designed to open conversations and those designed to close them in my post at Storycenter. “Fight the Flat: Open the Floodgates with Emotional Stories” describes how storytelling “designed to make it easy for decision-makers to vote yes or no” - like Wendy Davis did last week in Texas – closes conversations. 

If telling stories on the Senate floor closes conversations, what opens them?

The New York Times is giving unprecedented space to explore the potential impact of women sharing their stories. In Room for Debate, seven people, including me, weighed in with our thoughts. Turns out, everyone who contributed got something right. Across the political divide contributors agreed that compassionate understanding, support, connection, respect and sharing about our experiences are generally good things for women who have abortions, as long as it can be done in ways that put her wellbeing and comfort first. Let's acknowledge how amazing it is that empathy for women who have had abortions is being embraced so universally, despite political differences!  

Not surprisingly, most contributors also thought that women sharing about their stories will have a big impact. Just what that impact is – more or less support for abortion rights – is where the real debate lies. The truth is we don’t know what’s going to happen if more women and men share their personal stories. In "Openness Shouldn't Create Partisan Debate" I argue that what matters most is “the full range of personal experiences women and men have with abortion -- from remorse to hope -- are able to be heard and understood in all their layers and nuances no matter the political outcome.” 

Ambiguous stories invite engagement. 

Exhale’s Sharing Our Stories Tour in February revealed that ambiguous stories, stories living in the grey areas of abortion, are best for opening conversations. To change the public conversation and generate more support and respect, we must create the space to learn and understand personal abortion experiences in different ways. We have to be willing to be surprised. This is what sets Pro-Voice apart. It's a process for change with an unknown destination. 

We make the world that we practice. Pro-voice people practice being loving and empathetic, we practice storytelling that elicits new understanding and builds connections, and we practice living in the grey areas of personal abortion experience.  We listen instead of fight.  We believe our practice is the best way to shape the world we want. 

I encourage you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter about how to listen when the world wants a fight.  

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_small","fid":"222","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"120","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"120"}}]]Aspen Baker, Founder and Executive Director of Exhale

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