MOST HEALTHY DEBATES NEED A MIXTURE OF BOTH EMOTION AND LOGIC
By Anna Tingley
A few weeks ago, during an interview for a Planned Parenthood internship, I was asked what my stance on abortion was.
What would you say to someone who thought your association with Planned Parenthood was an immoral advocacy for the murder of babies?, the interviewer essentially asked me.
I smiled as she asked the question. I got this, I thought to myself. For years, I have stood strongly behind my pro-choice stances, shrugging off anyone who thought differently as an outdated traditionalist who enjoyed policing woman for their own gain. So when asked how I would rebut against the argument that abortion is murder? I felt fully prepared.
However, when it became time for me to speak, I found myself fumbling across my words, inserting buzz words I knew were relevant but didn’t actually work to form a cohesive argument. I rambled on about why access to abortion is an integral step in ensuring gender equality, the danger of placing restrictions on female medical procedures, on the importance of bodily autonomy.
But ultimately, I failed to get to the point of contention: the question wasn’t whether I believed woman should be granted certain rights. The debate was pointed at the more nuanced questions surrounding all abortion conversations: do the mother’s rights outweigh those of the fetus? If so, why? In the end, I didn’t actively deny that abortion was murder, I just argued that I was simply okay with it.
How could a conviction I held with such durability – one which I knew would never falter – break down so easily? In my head, my array of value-laden opinions stood as champions in the center of the boxing ring. When I finally expressed them, they were left defeated on the mat.
My communication failure during the Planned Parenthood interview is just one example of focusing on the points that directly avoid the exact points that need to be confronted. Most likely, your adversary isn’t disagreeing with some fundamental argument regarding basic human rights, but is pointing out more complicated implications of your stance.
The most compelling arguments are those that break down the strongest opposing premises. If you can’t do that, then they still have a reason to cling onto their beliefs.
However, I can’t blame myself wholly for my gaps in logic. Just like the abortion argument, I often find myself in conversations where I have an emotional stake, ones whose verbal and hypothetical outcomes would lead to my own mistreatment or oppression if placed in the real word.
Minorities of every kind struggle with these conversations everyday. While those that are more distant from a situation will certainly be able to address issues in a more logical, level-headed way, those that are closer will inherently come in with their own biases. But while these experiences can lend themselves to bias, aren’t they also what make us experts? We can serve as first-hand witnesses, representatives, and examples to prove exactly what we’re arguing.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that those with more privilege tend to enjoy taking on the devil’s advocate role. They volunteer information from the opposing sides in order to make sure that any conclusion is well-informed. But while this makes it easier for them to express their reasoning in a logical way, it can also lack first-hand experience that can be integral to coming to some sort of moral answer. Essentially, their detached, level-headed arguments have a lot of value but this shouldn’t be used to silence the voices of those that don’t have the privilege to remain unemotional.
It seems to me that having an emotional stake in an argument shouldn’t be something to be repressed, but rather embraced (with caution). We should use that emotion to inform our flow of thoughts instead of using them to mask our words with hyperbole and drama to make a point. Once we do that, I think more logic can be revealed than what might be expected.
Anna Tingley is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tough to Tame, and an advocate for all things feminist, politics, or ramen-related. Her writing can be found at Billboard Magazine, Her Agenda, The Daily Bruin, and The Richmond Pulse. But for all the dirt, check her out on Instagram @annatationz and Twitter @annatingley.