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Engaging the listener’s heart and mind when making the case for life

by | May 22, 2019

“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

By Dave Andrusko

A quick reminder. Be sure to read our post today about the upcoming NRL Convention in Charleston, South Carolina, July 5-6. If you want to the best-educated and motivated pro-lifer possible, please sure to go to

Besides covering the convention, I’ll be part of a workshop addressing the issue of pro-life persuasion. Whenever I give a talk, pro-lifers inevitably will share “conversion” stories with me and whoever else is hardy enough to stick around to chat. Truly it is amazing what works on one occasion 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 38 years ago this month when I got married. 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.

Unsurprisingly, 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 a total non-starter for the next person. (This is also true for 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 by Gary M. Burge that I recently re-read after many, many years 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 seems (to us) to be compelling arguments, so airtight that people ought to rush to get in line to sign up.

On some occasions our core message– it is wrong to kill defenseless unborn children– will carry the day on its own. It’s so powerful our job will be to just get out of the way.

But in many instances, for that appeal to the head to succeed it must be complemented by an understanding on the listener’s part that our passionate empathy for the little one extends to his/her mother as well.

Remember, courtesy of our “friends” in the “mainstream media,” we are often portrayed in a cartoon-like fashion. The individual we are trying to win over must first be shown that we are human beings just like they are.

They must come to see that we do not believe in either/or but in both/and. We always, always, always are looking for a win-win solution.

So, as we teach the facts of the story (which are second nature to us), we know that this “curriculum of life” must be leavened with a transparent love of and for 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, interconnected.

Think about it this way. 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 of all human beings.

We can 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 gradually dissolves post-natal bonds.

And because the lives of so many people have been touched by abortion, we can persuasively demonstrate that abortion frequently damages 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.

Burge’s admonition, “never fail to re-plow familiar ground,” is one I have never forgotten. And you and I will. However even if the images and stories that formerly were found in the storehouse of our common culture were once again shared by a significant proportion of our society, we cannot assume that it would be enough. 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 is this accomplished?

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.

A renewed appreciation of our interdependency would provide the fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of a respect for life.

It is up to you and me to do the spadework that will make possible a great harvest.

Categories: Pro-Lifers
Tags: life