Somewhere in the Psalms (or maybe Proverbs?) it says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I take that to be a great little tidbit of wisdom. What good is it, after all, to only converse with people who have the same point of view as yourself? What do we learn? Nothing. We become dull. We need sharpening. Constant sharpening.
Someone somewhere once said, “Can you listen to the poetry of your enemies?” In other words, can we enter into the deep feelings, desires, fears, hopes and hates of “the other.” We don’t have to agree, but until we understand, how do we build any lasting peace?
So it was a Big Thing for me, The Unfriending. A Drastic Step, not to be taken lightly or without thought.
I thought I was over it, the unfriending thing and the hurt that led up to it, but it seems I’m not. It seems I have the need to work through it, to say a few things, if only to the aether.
Thank goodness for the free therapy offered by the blogosphere!
Let us call the offending friend “Marty,” which is not his real name. Whatever did Marty do to cause me to end our digital relationship?
Well, there were many things over the course of time, but there was indeed a straw that broke the camel’s back. Here’s what it was.
Marty: “Pro-lifers are all such hypocrites!” This statement appeared above a link to an article about one “pro-lifer” whom Marty deemed to be acting in hypocritical fashion.
Well, Marty is well aware I’m pro-life and anti-abortion. Mostly, I embrace the progressive platform, but not on this.
So it seems I am, in Marty’s far seeing wisdom, a hypocrite.
I don’t necessarily want to debate here the pros and cons of the pro-life vs pro-choice arguments. This is not a new debate. We were writing papers on it back in my College Freshman days, in Ethics class. That was a while ago, back before the Earth cooled and when Pluto was still a planet.
I have many friends who fall on each side of the Great Divide. And here’s a shocker: every single one of them is a person of conscience and goodwill. My Pro-Choice friends are not hedonistic, irresponsible, sex-crazed baby killers. My Pro-Life friends are not fascist, right-wing, uneducated haters of women who bomb abortion clinics. Shocking, I know, but it’s true.
My friends on each side of The Great Divide have given the issue real thought, engaged in real soul searching, and have come to different conclusions regarding what is the greater good. How do I know that? I know because I encourage and engage in open discussion about anything and everything whenever possible. I try to listen, to hear, to appreciate the poetry of the other side. Do I always succeed? Of course not. I do try, though. So do most of the folks I know.
Marty is a person of conscience and goodwill. Marty goes about doing a great deal of good in the world. So it was shocking and painful for Marty to get up in my face and shout “You’re nothing but a faker and a hypocrite!”
Now, that’s not what happened. But that’s how it felt.
All pro-lifers are hypocrites. You’re a pro-lifer. Ergo…
Basic logic 101.
The problem with the scatter blast, the shotgun approach rather than the precision of a sniper’s rifle, is things get hit you might not have intended to take out.
Perhaps I might have taken the time to call Marty out, to argue my point rather than hitting the “unfriend” button. The response, as it often is with people using the shotgun approach, would no doubt have been “Well, I didn’t mean YOU.”
No of course not.
But I got hit in your blast, none the less.
All pro-lifers are hypocrites. You are a pro-lifer. Ergo…
You see, I really really do believe in open discourse about everything and anything, no restrictions, but there’s a caveat. A thing that allows the discourse to continue without people coming to fisticuffs. It’s not just discourse; it’s got to be civil discourse.
Whatever happened to that?
I disagree with you. You’re an idiot. These are not interchangeable sentences.
Now what if Marty had posted the article, and said, “This pro-lifer is being a real hypocrite.” Well, that would have been fine. I might have disagreed with him, but I wouldn’t have felt personally attacked. I wouldn’t have felt as if Marty had slapped me in the face and called me a scumbag. (I don’t disagree by the way. The person in question was undoubtedly behaving in a seriously hypocritical way.) I wouldn’t have felt like I was standing there wiping virtual spittle off my cheeks.
I wouldn’t have been left standing there with the terrible urge to call Marty out and demand satisfaction, sabres or pistols at dawn and all that. (So slowly does the urge to violence die.)
I wish I could introduce you all to Eldest Daughter. She is a petite, darkly beautiful young woman in her early thirties, with a psychology degree and two published books of poetry to her credit. She is intelligent, compassionate, socially conscious, talented and generous. She is an asset to this weary old world in every way, and we are lucky beyond kenning to have her.
She is also the mother of Eldest Grandson, a bright, kind, energetic, talented young man just growing into himself. I can’t wait to see who he will become. This world is also very lucky to have him.
Yet one hot, dry July afternoon, in a little bitty Texas town, the forces of social correctness, social convenience — weighty things that they are — gathered to crush the life from these two beautiful beings before life was barely even begun.
You see, I was sixteen, just barely. And I was just barely pregnant.
We’ve come a long long way since the late 1970’s, and thank God for that. It’s hard for people now, people born, say, post 1990 to grok what a different world it was then, especially in the sleepy backwaters like that little West Texas town.
My mother sat with me on the front porch, drinking iced tea. It was hot and dusty and dry as it is in West Texas on a July afternoon. The only place to be is in the shade. The only way to be is as still as possible.
My mother wanted me to have an abortion.
It would have been easier. I was “just barely” pregnant. No one would even know. Nothing would change. Life would go on. Prom. Graduation. College.
No one need be embarrassed. It could all be swept under the rug.
Every October I celebrate the birthday of Eldest Grandson. Each March I celebrate the birth of Eldest Daughter. Time and distance and financial concerns prevent us from seeing much of each other, but oh I am so very, very thankful for their lives.
Their lives hung in the balance that July afternoon. There is a tremendous amount of pressure a family and a community can bring to bear on one sixteen year old girl, pregnant and vulnerable, with only that family and that community to rely on.
Where will you live? How will you support it and yourself? You’ll have to forget college. You’ll have to forget marriage and other children; no decent man will ever have you.
These are some of the things my mother said to me on our front porch, that hot July afternoon.
She meant well. She was offering the only solution she could see. She was trying to save her family and her child from a type of ruin barely contemplatable now, but make no mistake. She was advocating the death of my child, and that child's child, and all that might come after.
I have no idea where that sixteen year old girl found the strength, the courage, the determination to stand up and fight for the life of her unborn child. I confess I’m a little shocked when I think about it. I’m not a particularly strong, courageous, or determined person. But I know this; I believed even then with every fiber of my being that the child entrusted to me had every right to be born and to live. She deserved her shot. She deserved her chance.
And by God she got it.
And I’ll tell you another thing or two, Gentle Reader. I did go to college. I did have more children, two of them, beautiful, bright beings who burn with a radiant light on this old planet. And a decent man does have me, though I wouldn’t quite phrase it that way. The Spousal Unit has been a delight in my life for many years now, and I expect him to be so for many, many more.
Was it easy? Of course it wasn't. Did I have help? Of course I did. Did it change my life, inconvenience and embarrass my parents, cause rifts in my family and bitterness toward my community? Indeed it did.
Was it worth it? Of course it was. Without a doubt. There has never been any question about that.
So Marty, don’t you tell me all pro-lifers are hypocrites. Don’t you even think to dare. I have stood toe to toe and face to face with The Choice, with my child's life hanging in the balance, and I chose life despite odds you can’t even imagine stacked against us.
My daughter and my grandson are alive today because this pro-lifer, while burdened by many flaws, was not a hypocrite. Even at sixteen.
I do not, I cannot condemn any young woman who makes a different choice. First of all, it is not, thank God, my place to pass that kind of judgement. Secondly, unless you’ve been there, you cannot imagine the sorrow, the stress, the pain of that decision. Are there some who make it lightly? Maybe, though I haven’t known any. I know a few other women who have stood where I stood. None of them chose lightly, whichever choice she made.
What I do and must condemn is a society which brings young women to face such a dilemma. Where birth control for teenagers is made practically impossible to come by, where sex education in the schools is outlawed and where abstinence, laudable but impractical, is maintained as the only solution for preventing teenage pregnancies. Until we have universal access to birth control, there will be abortions. And although I don’t want any young woman to have an abortion, I also don’t want us return to the days of women bleeding out in dark alleys under the knife of some backstreet abortionist because she feels she has no other choice and cannot get help at a legitimate hospital.
I yearn for a day when every child is welcomed into the world and into a loving family with open arms. When every child conceived has the support of a community; when the resources to grow and thrive aren’t reserved to a privileged few.
If we are going to come to that world, if we’re even going to have a chance, we have to keep working at it. We’re going to have to keep talking. We are going to have to relearn the rules of civil discourse.
“You’re an idiot” is not a valid translation of “I disagree.”
stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of short stories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!