NRL News

Habits of the Heart (and Mind)

by | Jan 9, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

Dave Andrusko

Dave Andrusko

The countdown is now really in earnest: 13 days [!] until we commemorate the 40th anniversary of a legal decision that tore through our landscape like a Kansas tornado: Roe v. Wade (along with its companion case, Doe v. Bolton). As we have for weeks, I’m reproducing various articles from National Right to Life News going back to the 1970s. The following ran in the  October 2001 edition.

“And so, to actually describe the course of a real human journey – – which is partly logic, partly will, partly heart and so on – – is more logical because it is the description of reality, rather than those whose arguments are purely logic in a narrow sense. And very few human beings live on pure logic alone, even philosophers.” — Author Os Guinness

Whenever I give a talk, pro-lifers inevitably will share “conversion” stories with me and whomever else is hardy enough to stick around afterwards to chat. As I listened to what brought them into the fold, I always am reminded that what works on one occasion (and one person) and fails on another.

But that should come as no surprise. People process/integrate/assimilate information – – especially the kind that is at odds with their worldview – – differently, depending on a raft of factors. For instance, I am not the man I was 20 years ago when I got married. Indeed, while in many ways I have not changed, in many more ways I could not be more different than the shallow kid who walked up to the altar two decades ago.

The way I respond to most everything is fundamentally different, based on all that has happened. And there are countless other reasons besides life experiences that shape the way people will respond to our entreaties.

Which is only to state the obvious: what bowls one individual over – – knocking aside every objection – – can be totally missed by the next person. Or the some individual at different points in his or her life!

For the most part, however, there is one constant when making the case for unborn babies: to be persuasive we must engage the listener’s heart and mind.

The heart often acts, if you will, as the mediator, the go-between between our more analytic side and the decision of our will to act. The subject matter of an article that I recently ran across by Gary M. Burge is not abortion. But the truths he reminds us of are directly applicable to pro-life education.

First, apropos Guinness, Burge insists that our hearts and our minds must work cooperatively. We can articulate what (to us) seems to be compelling arguments, so airtight that people ought to rush to sign up.

But in the context of abortion, that appeal to the head must be complemented by a passionate empathy not just for the little one but also for his/her mother. On some occasions our message will carry the day on its own; it’s so powerful our job will be to just get out of the way. For others – – those who see us in a cartoon-like fashion – – they must first be shown that we are human beings just like they, fellow seekers searching for a win-win solution.

Second, even as we repeatedly teach the facts of the story (which are second nature to us), a “curriculum of life” must be seasoned with a transparent love of women facing crisis pregnancies. If the “facts of [unborn] life” are to become part of what Burge calls the “mental furniture of our lives,” this will only take place if they are taught in a manner that shows that our concern for the little ones goes hand-in-hand with an equal concern for her mother. They are intertwined, interrelated, and interconnected.

You and I can list a thousand reasons why it is unjust to take the lives of innocent unborn babies. They are helpless, for one.

Because these little ones did not create themselves, those who did bring them into existence have implicitly assumed [willingly or not] a moral obligation to care for these most vulnerable human beings.

We can also show that abortion shatters the most fundamental bond in human culture, the one which connects a mother and her unborn child. Properly conveyed, it is relatively easy to show that this example of human interdependence and mutuality is the paradigm for all human relationships.

We can also make a wonderfully compelling case that the womb must remain a sanctuary. You and I can demonstrate that violating what ought to be an inviolable safe haven acts like a universal acid that dissolves post-natal bonds.

And because most people have been touched by abortion, we can persuasively demonstrate that abortion frequently shatters a woman’s psyche, destroys relationships, upends families, alienates parents from grandparents, enshrines death-dealing as the “solution” to difficult situations, and subverts the fundamental principles of justice and equality that are the foundations of our great country.

But even as we follow Burge’s admonition “never fail to re-plow familiar ground,” we cannot assume that  it would be enough if the images and stories that formerly were found in the storehouse of our common culture once again shared by a significant proportion of our society. As powerful as these “givens” may be, they are still “head knowledge.”

To move the heart in order to change the will, it is essential that we remind people of the moral sentiments that undergird respect for innocent human life. These truly are written on our hearts. But how?

Consider Guinness’s observation: “Evil hardens the heart to the point of fearlessness and it takes goodness to crack the heart open.”

Acts of kindness can be random, but not when a desperate woman is struggling with the decision whether to extinguish the life of her child. Kindness in these instances must be systematic and available–a habit of our minds and our hearts.

There has been a lot of talk in the aftermath of the ghastly September 11 terrorist attacks, that there is abroad in America a new found courtesy, civility, kindness. How long it will last, no one knows.

But I believe this renewed appreciation of our interdependency represents fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of a respect for life. If this be so, it is up to you and me to do the spadework that will make possible a great harvest.

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Categories: Pro-Lifers