As a society we are having different conversations. Instead of finding a middle ground, we polarise arguments and opinions until there is no return. We are not moving forward because we are scared of losing.
“Life doesn’t fit neatly on posters. When you try to oversimplify it you sometimes end up telling lies.” - Chris Fizpatrick; consultant, obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Coombe.
This quote came into my life at the time of the Irish abortion referendum and has stuck with me ever since. Life is not simply yes or no, right or wrong. Life is life, and that is individual. Although this message has been applied directly to the abortion discussion, it resonates with multiple aspects of human life. Particularly the fact that we, as humans, polarise every discussion. We isolate ideas and group them with certain sides, and because we do that we can never find a (healthy) way out. We go round and round in circles, chucking ideas and values at each other when everyone thinks they're right.
Yes, we all know. Abortion isn't black and white. It is the reality of women lives, the joy and the struggle. Abortions are everyday decisions. On one side we have the arguments that support women's autonomy. The side that fights for positive, accessible reproductive healthcare for all, because they are issues of all. The side that tells us that 1 in 3 women have abortions and abortion is actually 14 times safer than childbirth. If a woman cannot control their reproductive rights, then how are they supposed to control any decisions in their lives? I have always stood on this side. I have always known that I place my loyalties with women.
And while all of this may be true for me, the person on the other side is having a completely different conversation. For them, the most important thing is protecting life and abortion is talking life. Or potential life, or an opportunity to life. Abortion does take that away.
We are having different conversations.
Attempting to underlie or denounce those arguments is wrong. These notions that women who chose abortions don't respect life, and that those who oppose don't respect women, isn't working. Valuing autonomy and respecting life are not competing. Women are not on one side or the other, they are complex and dealing with issues of their everyday lives. The women on both of these sides are real women. Women who choose adoption and women who want nothing more than to fall pregnant but can't. Women who choose abortion who live below the poverty line. Religious women who choose childbirth or adoption, and who also choose abortion. Women who are already mothers, who choose abortion.
We need to begin to acknowledge the depth and gravity of both sides because women deserve better. We need to move away from theses polarities. Start acknowledging life, potential life, and that love for that life can happen instantly, but also women lives. Choosing adoption, childbirth, abortion can all be moral decisions. Acknowledge that all of those decisions are moral. Move away from the idea that women have to be selfless and that good, moral women choose pregnancy. Move away from the idea that abortion is selfish.
These women are making the hardest choices of their life, for some that choice will be
excruciating, some will be relieved and joyous or for some just it is what she needs to do.
We can transfer this onto any social issue we have. Stop shouting your ideas and listen. Listen, then debate, discuss and create something positive from that. This is not saying that moral compasses change. Or that nothing is truly moral or immoral in itself. There are, of course, things that are right or wrong in themselves, regardless of opinion. But for some issues, we cannot progress if we cannot hear both sides. There is no point in me discrediting a pro-life discussion purely because we value different things. I know what pro-life stands for, and yes it may not align with my views or experiences, but I will accept what they value.
We find a middle ground. Something to work with that both sides can run with.
Racism, for example. Something which (I hope) the majority of individuals would say is intrinsically wrong and immoral. Yet there are obvious issues within this. Firstly, the discussion of what racism actually is. Which I am not even going to attempt to define for myself, but when we define race and racism individually we create room for disagreement. That added to the fact that most of the times when we hear about racism, we only ever hear one side. We can't move forward.
Probably the biggest problem I have with people, and society, in general, is generalisation. I just hate it. I don't believe anyone should be shut in a box because their demographics say they should. One prominent issue I'm facing at the moment is the discussions and debates surrounding the Gypsy and Traveller community in my local area. As a member of the public, I only ever hear one side of this debate, and its not from the Gypsies. All I hear is how society views them, which almost all of the time is negative. There's been a few issues with where they're 'allowed' to park and camp and while I understand the communities problems, I also don't want to take away from culture.
In this case, we may only be listening to one side, and yes hearing the other side would be helpful. But at the end of the day, the issues we are facing with this community are not things to take lightly. On one side we have individuals who own their own home or pay rent, council tax, road tax and everything else. And on the other, we have a culture who have been travelling for their whole existence. It isn't fair to take away a culture's lifestyle, just because it doesn't fit with ours. We need to push beyond that and beyond these differences to make any progress.
Another example; the legalisation of marijuana or prostitution. There are arguments on both sides, and quite honestly it doesn't matter where you stand as long as you listen. When we undermine peoples values we create more conflict. If we are always fighting ourselves then we can't solve problems. We ignite them.
Move beyond the debate and acknowledge the complexity and change the conversation.