In search of a common ground: Reacting with respect for both sides

As the WYDaily, the Virginia Gazette, the National Review and The Flat Hat have all already reported, a protest display was removed from the Sunken Garden Sunday, Jan. 28. The display was set up by the College of William and Mary’s pro-life group Advocates for Life in order to observe the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

I am pro-choice. I know that abortion is not for everyone, and I believe that the choice and the reasons for it should be left to the individual. I believe that abortion should be legal and safe for anyone who does choose it. I think that everyone with a uterus has the right to decide what the course of their life looks like, and that they should have every option presented to them equally and without government interference.

I also think the destruction of the pro-life display was immature, pointless, and dangerous to rational discussion of a tough issue.

The initial protest was a solid way to bring up an inflammatory subject.

The student group went through all the correct administrative channels to get its display approved. The arrangement was thought-provoking, but non-intrusive. If one vehemently disagreed with the message, the nature of the protest made it very easy to disregard. They could simply walk away, and if they were particularly impassioned by the subject, they could begin a conversation (or rant) with someone else. Yet, rather than take this easy route, the vandal went out of their way to make sure that other people’s respectfully presented opinions were silenced.

Furthermore, if the goal of the vandal was to silence the pro-life viewpoint, their strategy backfired. Horribly. By ripping up the display before anyone even got the chance to see it, they turned it from a typical student protest into something that has been acknowledged not only locally but on the national level. This national attention did not favor their gusto in promoting a pro-choice argument. Their actions were aggressive. The goal of keeping others from considering opposite viewpoints was questionable to begin with, and the fact that they resorted to such underhanded tactics to “convince” people only made their side of the debate look irrational and devious. It was a poor way to promote their beliefs.

Finally, this is a polarizing issue in a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap between sides and have any kind of productive conversation. I understand the impulse to become angry when someone argues with a political point of view that is personal or that affects loved ones. It is especially difficult not to go with the knee-jerk emotional reaction if a large number of people are affected. Those emotions are not necessarily bad either, but important issues like this one require some kind of mutual understanding. If each side at least understands (and doesn’t assume it knows) the stance of the other and why it feels that way, eventually some kind of agreement can be reached. Unless one is arguing against hate speech, preventing the other side from speaking at all is the opposite of helpful. Empathy goes a long way in understanding one another’s logic and in solving problems, and empathy was unfortunately missing when the pro-life display was torn up.

As it becomes less common to enter difficult discussions with civility, it is important that we as a college community, and as a nation, take advantage of such opportunities when they do arise. With luck, and effort, we can use this event as a chance to assess the manner in which we move forward.

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