“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
--Dante Alighieri, Inferno
We have all experienced what Dante illustrates here: we have all been lost, confused, bewildered, at one time or another. And we are never more prone to this then when we are in a face-to-face conversation with another, trying to prove a point that they disagree with, such as the humanity and personhood of the unborn. In such a situation you do not have the luxury of being able to google an answer to a question that you are unfamiliar with; in such a situation you do not have the opportunity to crack open a book that you read on the subject and study it aloud.
What you do have merely amounts to whatever information you have been able to pick up along the way concerning the topic of discussion.
So what happens when such information is not enough to answer the question or address the response given by the pro-choicer? What happens when you do not know what to say?
Many of us have heard of pro-lifers experiencing this. Many of us have seen pro-lifers experiencing this. In fact, many of us may have experienced this ourselves. This occurrence of ignorance in the face of opposition is frightening because it is usually unforeseen; it snatches you into the shadows before you even begin to suspect its presence.
So what should we do when this happens to us?
I think it is necessary for us to imagine this first, to visually recreate it in our minds so that we have a better grasp as to what we are talking about, which will give us a stronger foundation to support the answer to the question above.
So envision, dear readers, the following situation along with me:
You are a student on a college campus. You have set up a pro-life display and it is attracting attention. Some of the attention is from fellow pro-lifers, but the majority of it is coming from pro-choicers, and obviously so. A number of people curse at you and spit at you.
Eventually, though, one of these people comes up to you directly, seeking to challenge you on your beliefs. Perhaps they start off by saying, “What gives you the right to have a display like this on campus?” “Abortion is legal already.” “The issue is done. It is just wrong to discriminate against a woman.” “What she does with her body is none of your business.”
You answer this person in the way that you have learned, by saying that you agree with everything this person says IF...if the unborn child in the womb is not, from the moment of conception, a human being with the right to life. You bring up the science which shows that the embryo/fetus is a human being and you bring up the philosophy that shows that it is at the moment that this human being comes into existence that he/she has a right to life. The pro-choicer simply ignores what you say and walks off, cursing you under his or her breath.
But the previous discussion draws the attention of a number of other people, both pro-life and pro-choice. They come to your stand to watch as you engage another pro-choicer. But this time the pro-choicer does some back-and-forth talk with you; he disagrees with your assessment of the unborn and he states why. Fortunately you have heard these responses before, and you know exactly what to say in reply to them.
This back-and-forth goes on for a little while. You feel confident that you know more about this then the pro-choicer does, and you are sure that this discussion will help him as well as the others watching the little debate to recognize the truth of abortion.
But then, it happens…
The pro-choicer gives a response to you, and you do not know how to respond back. Perhaps the pro-choicer gave an argument that you know you have read about, but you did not read enough to know what the proper and accurate counter is. Perhaps you are simply having a lapse in your memory. Perhaps this is an argument that you have never heard of before.
Regardless of what causes it, the end result is the same: a pro-choicer has given you an argument that you do not have the current comprehension to respond to. You have just been heaved off of the straightforward pathway and thrown into the precipices of the dark forest, lost, confused, bewildered.
So again, the question becomes: what should we do when this happens to us?
“QUICK! SAY SOMETHING! ANYTHING!!!” you might mentally blab to yourself. And this is oftentimes the first thing that comes to our mind.
Unfortunately, this always ends up being counterintuitive; it only makes you look worse then you otherwise would.
“Um…Well…You see…The thing is…That logic…it doesn’t…quite work…” is essentially what will be coming out of your mouth, and it never sounds convincing to others. Other people are quite smart, after all. They are usually able to spot when someone is pulling something out of their ass. Such a tactic, then, will not only not bring you any closer to actually answering the question you are struggling with, it will also make you look foolish. A ploy like this IS foolish, so it makes sense that you would appear foolish as a result of using it.
The reasons why it is the first thing we think of doing is, of course, because of our pride or because of our shame. We do not like saying “I don’t know.” Such an admittance seems, to us, to be an admittance of weakness. And to be sure it is in one sense; the fact that we do not know something related to abortion when discussing it with a pro-choicer is proof of our imperfection; and many people use that against us.
However, our journey through life is meant to be a journey towards Perfection. So weakness in that sense should be met with humbleness, which will initiate growth. Yet instead of addressing that weakness openly we seek to deny its existence in the first place, or at the very least try to convince others that it does not exist. And the only reasons why we would do that when the weakness does, in fact, exist are if we think too highly of ourselves or if we are too embarrassed of ourselves; neither of these leads to any kind of intellectual or personal development.
So if it is not to force yourself to blurt out something, then what is it? What is the right way to respond in such a circumstance?
The answer was implied above: we must meet that weakness, that ignorance, with humbleness; and we must do so openly.
Trying to dupe yourself is the wrong move; trying to dupe others is even worse. But if you are frank with both yourself and others, telling them “You know what, that’s actually a really good question that I, currently, do not have an answer to” then a world of opportunities open up.
For one, you will survive. It will not be the end of the world to admit that you do not know something, even when it is on an issue that you otherwise know quite a bit about. Your self-esteem may be shaken a little, but it will recover (if you let it).
Secondly, others will most likely develop a greater respect for you if you are honest with them. Hopefully you will have more opportunities to talk to this person, but even if you never see him again the person that stumps you will have a better likelihood of walking away from your conversation with him saying, “You know, that pro-lifer was actually quite nice and truthful. Discussions with pro-lifers are more pleasant then I thought they would be.”
By being honest about your ignorance, you will plant the seeds for the pro-choicer to be more open to having conversations with other pro-lifers (especially yourself), which will present more opportunities for him to recognize the errors of his position.
Thirdly, you will be more motivated to continue your learning. You will desire to find an answer to the question you were unable to respond to more vigorously; for once you do, you will be able to give an answer to the pro-choicer in a follow-up conversation or (if you are unable to continue the conversation with him) know what the answer is incase another pro-choicer brings up the same question in the future.
I’m sure there are other benefits to such openness, but the three stated above all unite together to form the main reason why it is best to be open about your ignorance: it will lead you to be a more perfect defender of the unborn, a more perfect instrument for the conversion of others, and a more perfect person in general.
So here I will give a little step-by-step process that you can follow if/when you find yourself in such a circumstance. This applies regardless of whether you know the pro-choicer (a friend or acquaintance) or if you have conversed with them for the first time.
Here is what you should do if you do not know how to respond to a pro-choicer’s statements:
- Admit it openly to the person.
- Tell them that you do not know the answer to the question, but that you will spend a week or so researching it and that after that you would like to meet up with him or her to discuss your findings.
- Exchange contact information so that you can plan another meet-up date (if the pro-choicer agrees to meet with you in the future).
- Follow through with Step 2: ACTUALLY RESEARCH THE ISSUE IN QUESTION!!! Find the answer that you have not yet attained. It exists, it’s just a matter of finding it. Do this step REGARDLESS of whether or not you are able to follow through with the pro-choicer,
- Assuming that the pro-choicer has a desire to, follow through with them in the near future.
Do this and you will be able to change hearts in ways that you never thought you could.
Do this and you will grow in your capability to defend the unborn.
Do this and you will be able find your way back out of that dark forest and onto the straightforward pathway.