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Book Review: Common Ground without Compromise

Book Review: Common Ground without Compromise

Feb 21, 2008 / By: Jeffrey Jones
Category: Miscellaneous

Have you ever had difficulty starting a conversation on the subject of abortion, whether with a close friend or random stranger? Have you ever had difficulty continuing a conversation about abortion with someone who seemed combative and/or unreasonable? Have you ever had difficulty treating someone who disagreed with you about abortion with civility, humility, and respect? Have you ever had difficulty not coming across as arrogant toward and/or unconcerned about the values of your opponent in a conversation about abortion? Have you ever had difficulty listening to and learning from persons with whom you disagree about abortion? Have you ever had difficulty finding any sort of common ground with someone on the opposite side of the abortion debate? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then I have a marvelous little book to recommend: Common Ground without Compromise: 25 Questions to Create Dialogue on Abortion by Stephen Wagner.

In essence, Common Ground Without Compromise aims to give you, whether you are pro-choice, pro-life, or undecided, tools to make conversations about abortion more productive. It goes without saying that abortion is one of the most difficult topics to discuss, where emotions run high and any sort of agreement between the two sides seems impossible. A writer once said, "each side of the abortion debate has an internally coherent and mutually shared view of the world that is . . . completely at odds with the world view held by their opponents," and that "the two sides share almost no common premises." [1] Added to this, while the two sides claim to respect and value human rights – either the rights of the unborn or the rights of woman – quite often neither seems to have any sense of respect and value for the human being with whom they are disagreeing. Abortion debates regularly go nowhere and are routinely carried on with little civility and concern for those on the opposing side. All this makes it difficult to have a productive conversation. Enter Common Ground Without Compromise. Steve Wagner's unique book attempts to remedy this problem by encouraging those on both sides to build "common ground."

By "common ground" Steve does not simply mean we should find areas of agreement so we can all be nicer to one another. He readily acknowledges that tension is unavoidable when two opposing beliefs collide. However, he believes that finding common ground on a contentious issue is a vital step in the mutual pursuit of truth. In his own words, "[t]he main purpose is to begin a discussion in which we seek the truth together" (29). "Common ground" is a starting point to move the discussion along toward truth. Working together to get closer to the truth is the goal.

And how should we go about that? First, while Steve is a decidedly pro-life advocate (which he has actively been for many years), he does not think we should attempt to merely blast the opposing side out of the water, but rather we should listen to each other. He wants us to get past the typical banter that normally characterizes the debate and be open to what the other side has to say. Second, he encourages the reader to avoid the tendency toward one of two possibilities. One is the tendency toward being like "Mrs. Never Wrong." She stands "toe-to-toe" with her opponent only aiming to prove that she is right and the other side is wrong. The other is the tendency toward being like "Mr. Disengage." He may have an opinion but doesn't want to step on any toes. Instead of standing "toe-to-toe" or trying to avoid "stepping on toes," Steve suggests that we stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" looking at the abortion issue together. Ultimately, he encourages all parties to seek truth with honesty and humility, believing the best way to do that on a contentious issue is to build common ground through goodwill dialogue.

If you are thinking such a thing impossible, I dare you to read this book. The book contains 25 dialogue-promoting questions (as mentioned in the book's subtitle) where both pro-choice and pro-life advocates can find at least some common ground (except for maybe question 20 which seemed like a trick question). These questions really are helpful in starting productive conversations. Moreover, each chapter comes with commentary, follow-up and reflection questions, and practical suggestions to help you create conversations on your own. This book will both encourage you and challenge you. It will make you think. It will help you share your perspective with both humility and conviction. I strongly recommend you read this book.

If interested in purchasing, visit the Stand to Reason web store.

For additional resources related to the book, click here: www.STR.org/CommonGround


[1] Kristen Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, pp. 159, 2

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