Beyond Division

By Melissa Ohden

Editor’s note. Melissa is a survivor of a 1977 saline abortion. She speaks all over the world, including at many National Right to Life Conventions, and is a prolific writer, including for NRL News Today. This appeared on her blog.

Melissa Ohden

It’s a funny thing, living a life that is seen as “controversial.”

My life shouldn’t be seen as such, but we know the way that I entered this world is seen as controversial; so by its very nature, I, myself, am lumped in with it.

Some might argue that if I had just kept my mouth shut, if I had never shared my story publicly with the world or taken a stand in regards to legislation or politics, I wouldn’t have been seen as such, but let’s be real here:

I would have always known in my heart that my very nature is controversial to the world, that my very existence goes against the narrative of our society that says that abortion is just a choice, a right, even.

Sometimes, you just simply can’t avoid controversy or division.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

Our world seems to be getting more and more divided by the day—polarizing issues, differences in firmly rooted beliefs—people appear to be moving farther and farther apart from anyone or anything that doesn’t fit with their viewpoint or experience.

I get it. I do. I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like for me to have a friend tell me that although they’re sorry for what happened to me, they’re vehemently pro-choice. I’m sure you can understand the awkwardness I feel sometimes at family and even church functions when someone argues their pro-choice opinion and all eyes turn to me. I bet you can empathize with nasty comments being posted about me on Internet news stories.

I can understand why some would rather cut off communication with people who disagree with them, or in some cases, not have any relationship with them. It’s frustrating sometimes, trying to communicate with those who don’t see eye to eye with you. It’s exhausting, sometimes, putting yourself out there with people, and having them reject your beliefs, and, in my case, my very being. It’s tiring, oftentimes, loving people who are not easy to love or who don’t love us in return.

But this is not a new thing. These types of disagreements, differences, and difficulties have been occurring since the beginning of time.

Will we move past this point in our culture? Of course. Will it be for the better? I sure hope so. But it’s going to take all of us to get there.

I don’t have all of the answers, but what I can tell you is that in my experience, there are a few things we can each do to shift our culture away from the divide that exists and scale back the combative, polarizing times we are living in.

  • Listen. Listen to the person, even if they’re disagreeing with you. You don’t have to take being disrespected by someone, but if it’s not an outright unsafe argument, listen to them. And listen without trying to plan out your reply. You know what I mean?
  • See the person for who they are, which is a mix of experiences and circumstances, just as you are. There is likely a story behind someone’s belief about something, especially abortion.
  • Be willing to accept that you may not agree. Not right now, anyway. I am totally okay with planting a seed in a conversation, not in winning an argument. A change in someone’s perspective takes time. It takes a relationship and many conversations in the midst of that relationship to bring about conversion.
  • To go hand in hand with that, be patient. If you cut off communication with someone or end a relationship with them, how will any possible change come about? We thwart the ability for conversion and change when we’re unwilling to be patient and we walk away or hit that unfriend or unfollow button.
  • Don’t take things too personally. This used to be a tough one for me, because it’s really hard not to take it personally when abortion has had such a huge impact on my life and the lives of those around me. When people attack me or my pro-life beliefs and activism, I have come to realize that it really isn’t me they’re attacking. I’m just the messenger. Once you separate yourself from the issue or the argument, hopefully you will find that you can have a more open conversation with someone.
  • Respect people. Even when you disagree. I have tried to shake hands with abortion lobbyists who turned on their heel and walked away from me. However, I’ve also had some of the best conversations with pro-choice activists who, although we disagree on abortion, found that there are things about one another that we respect and appreciate.

As prolific as division is in our culture, there is hope to be found when we each do what we can to break down the walls of difference and indifference that are being built. Let’s be willing to listen, to try and understand someone, to stand firm in our beliefs but share them in ways that are respectful of others’ experiences.

If nothing else, you’re setting an excellent example for them and everyone around you, and that’s certainly something we need more of in our world.