“With Mutual Respect”–An Exercise in Eloquent Listening

“With Mutual Respect”–An Exercise in Eloquent Listening December 6, 2022

On the last Wednesday of September, an event took place on my college campus that was several months in the making. Called “With Mutual Respect: Discussions on Contemporary Challenges,” it was the first in a projected series of dialogue/discussion event on controverial topics initiated by the President of the college last May. In the interest of starting with the most controversial topic imaginable, the issue under discussion was abortion. On a Catholic campus. Imagine that.

I wrote early in September about how this event came to be.

Abortion and Faith Discussions: Begin How You Want It To End

As the planning committee continued to shape the event during the final weeks of preparation, it became clear what a big deal this was going to be. I originally was slated to be the moderator of the discussion as we on the planning committee hoped that the four panelists, two pro-life and two pro-choice, would all be women. It turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to find two women on the faculty willing to publically take the pro-choice position on our Catholic college camups. I ended up being the second pro-choice panelist, teaming up with a colleague from sociology who is the director of the Womens’ Studies program. Our colleagues on the pro-life side were two professors from the theology department. A colleague who is a professor in and chair of the political science department was the moderator.

By every measure the event was a huge success, even though in the weeks leading up to the event numerous faculty, included some of my best friends on campus, asked me why I had agreed to get so involved in an event that was sure to be a well-intentioned train wreck. The room in which the event was held seats 400 and was full to capacity, with 100 more in an overflow room. I would estimate that at least 300 of those in attendance were students. I have never been involved in any public event that brought more positive remarks my way–even now, more than two months later, students and colleagues occasionally stop me on the sidewalk and thank me both for helping to organize the event and for what I said in the discussion. These comments often come from people who I know have entirely different views on the abortion issue than mine. My fellow participants have reported during the weeks since the event that they have had the same experience.

In his opening remarks, our moderator quoted Langston Hughes in asking the audience to commit themselves to “eloquent listening.” I invite you to take them time to watch and listen to the video recording of the event below. It’s 90 minutes long and well worth the time commitment. I am the guy in the bottom right corner of the recording–I first make an appearance at 24:00, but I urge you to start from the beginning. Thanks–I would love to read your reactions in the comments.

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