Good Faith Advice

What is the best way for me to discuss emotionally charged issues such as abortion and rape so that I can express my opinion without insulting others?

Considerate Activist

Dear Considerate Activist,

Sometimes the most important conversations we have, which often focus on controversial or emotionally-charged topics, are the most challenging ones we will have with each other. Even if we try really hard not to hurt someone’s feelings, sometimes we do. We simply cannot control all the ways in which our words affect each other; it is impractical to try.

Conversations about rape and abortion are no exception. Everyone views these issues from their own lived experiences. Some people’s opinions about these topics are completely immovable, whereas other people are still trying to develop their understanding and beliefs about such complicated subject matter.

There is unlikely one fool-proof “best” way to approach these conversations, but we can take various precautions to avoid speaking in careless and insensitive ways. One good tactic is to know your audience well and tailor your comments accordingly. If you know that the person you are talking to is uncomfortable discussing abortion and rape, then you could consider whether there are other certain steps you could take prior to delving into the topic. For example, do you want to talk to that specific person about these issues, or do you mainly want to talk about the issues generally. If the latter holds true, then you should likely prioritize discussing these topics with someone whom is more open to the dialogue; that way, you may be able to express yourself more openly than if you were speaking to a total stranger, for example. However, if your goal is to raise awareness about rape and abortion with people with whom you are less familiar, it could be wise to provide some introductory statements such as, “I know these topics are often complicated and deeply personal, and I would appreciate the opportunity to explore them with you.” You could also preface the discussion by saying, “I know that we may not agree, but I really value your input,” or “I’d like to talk about this, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

This all may seem very cheesy in the abstract, and maybe it is just cheesy period, but, regardless, there is real value in straightforward and honest communication. So much of the hurt that results from conversations about controversial topics is a failure by one or more of the parties to clarify their intentions and recognize the big picture. The more thoughtfully you convey the purpose of the discussion, the more receptive other people may be to engage in rich dialogue about the issues you care about.

Here’s to respectful conversation,
Mary Poppins

Dear Considerate Activist,

When I first read your question, I instantly thought about this quote from a wise person: I can’t take back the words I never said. Ok, so it’s a hook from a Lupe Fiasco song (sung by Skyler Grey), but still, an awesome, wise person once put it in a song. I am of the opinion that if you have a strong conviction you should speak up and speak out. Let your voice be heard. Silence is worse than discussion. Re-reading your question, I realized that this does not address the part about insulting or offending others at all so I will try to refocus.

I understand that there are ways of expressing one’s opinions and convictions about controversial topics that can highly offend others. I also understand that there are contexts where full-fledged debates about rape and abortion are not appropriate. However, I also believe that you should not silence yourself because someone may be insulted that you disagree with them.

As long as you stay respectful, even when another person may not, you should stand up for yourself and your beliefs. I know this is simple, but starting statements with “I believe” or “In my opinion” or “What do you think about” can help keep an otherwise heated exchange relatively civil. It is also crucial that you let the other person talk about what they believe and that you listen to them.

I have my core values and when I see violations or hear someone lobbying for what I see as clear injustice, the worst thing I can be is silent. If no one speaks out that opinion or act goes unopposed and there is not even a registered objector for others to consider. If you stay calm and respectful but still stand up for your beliefs, the worst thing that can happen is nobody changes their minds. The best thing that can happen is we all learn something and nobody changes their minds.

If your question is more focused on the idea that some people are insulted that you have an opinion about abortion or rape and talking about it at all is insulting to them: screw that censorship. Discuss your beliefs… respectfully.

At the end of the day, if you don’t speak out for what you believe, whatever that may be, you can’t take back the words you never said.

Cluing you in,
Nancy Drew