The Story: In a recent talk at the headquarters of Google, Stephanie Gray showed how to make a compelling case for life to a crowd that supports abortion.
The Background: Stephanie Gray was the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and served as its executive director before starting the ministry Love Unleashes Life. Earlier this year Gray gave a presentation as part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings “the world’s most influential thinkers, creators, makers, and doers in the same room, so you can hear what they have to say.” (TGC vice president Tim Keller has given two talks at Google as part of that series.)
In her talk Gray invited the audience to be “pro-conversation” on a topic that can be most divisive. She also shows how it’s possible to be gracious and respectful when encountering different ideas.
Why It Matters: Think back to the last time you had a discussion about a controversial issues like abortion. Was it difficult to find common ground, much less reach a common consensus? Did you feel as if you were talking past each other?
The reason, economist Arnold Kling proposes in his book The Three Languages of Politics, is that our disagreements tend to be based on fundamentally different visions of how the world works. According to Kling, conservatives see the world as a conflict between civilization and barbarism, liberals see it as a conflict between oppressors and the oppressed, and libertarians see it as a conflict between liberty and power.
Kling’s “three axes” model is admittedly simplistic. Yet it’s surprising how often it works to explain the differences between political worldviews—and to explain why we can’t reach agreement.
When advocating against abortion, for example, conservative pro-lifers have historically focused on the civilization/barbarism axis. Think about the pro-lifers who hold up signs displaying pictures of dead fetuses. They are trying to communicate that abortion is a barbaric act against an innocent child. The protestors believe by merely seeing the outcome of the barbaric act they can convince their idealogical opponents to recognize their moral error and join the side of the “civilized.”
This approach almost never convinces those more inclined to think about the issue of abortion through the lens of oppressor/oppressed or liberty/power. By speaking another “political language,” these pro-lifers fail to be heard.
In her talk, Gray shows how civility, storytelling, and a Socratic method can be employed to make a compelling case against abortion. But what makes Gray’s approach particularly refreshing and effective is how she uses language and examples from the oppressor/oppressed axis that are more likely to resonate with a socially liberal audience in Silicon Valley.
For example, she uses examples that compare the unborn child to a rape victim and a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. By subtly weaving these oppressor/oppressed comparisons throughout her talk, Gray forces the “pro-choice” advocates in the audience to consider themselves on the side of the oppressors against the oppressed unborn child. To those who believe they’re on the side of the oppresed, having to consider oneself as on the side of the oppressors can be uncomfortable and challenging.
Gray likely didn’t convince many pro-choice Googlers to change their minds about abortion. After all, people rarely give up their strongly held political opinions after a single discussion, no matter how persuasive it may be. But by using language that fits with the audience’s political worldview, she may have been able to get a hearing in a setting where the pro-life perspective would usually be ignored. Gray has crafted a model for engagement that should be adopted by all pro-lifers.