A Call to Dialogue

Last Thursday, members of Stanford Students for Life (SSFL) co-sponsored a debate with two Berkeley student groups—Berkeley Students for Life (BSL) and the pro-choice Universal Love and Peace (ULAP) group. Entitled “When Are We Human Enough to Matter?” the debate brought obstetrician and reproductive scientist Dr. Malcolm Potts and pro-life apologist and author, Scott Klusendorf, to UC Berkeley for an evening of discussion.  Mr. Klusendorf argued for the humanity of the unborn, implying that the four differences that exist between the unborn and born—the size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency—do not justify killing the unborn.  Professor Potts, on the other hand, argued in favor of a continuum of humanity, with each developmental stage being different.  A doctor must therefore use his professional judgment to determine at which point the embryo or fetus becomes a person who should not be killed. Abortion to Dr. Potts can therefore be a life-saving procedure for women in dangerous pregnancies.

The well-attended event reached its most impressionable moment, according to Anne Morse, BSL president, when Dr. Potts presented a picture of a newly fertilized zygote, saying it would be ridiculous to give rights to this entity. Mr. Klusendorf responded, “We have a bad track record in this country of denying rights to others because ‘they do not look like us,’” emphasizing the pro-life ideology that our common humanity—not whether we are “unwanted,” disabled, or are of a certain age or gender—is the only real basis for an inclusive and equal view of humanity.

Impressionable as that moment may have been, there is one thing I found even more striking.  Not only did this event bring our rival schools together, it brought individuals of diametrically opposing ideologies together for an evening of civil and intellectual discussion.  And while one may easily argue that this is not too great of an accomplishment (after all, we are *university *students), I applaud the willingness of pro-choice and pro-life individuals to discuss civilly their respective points-of-view.  I praise the efforts of the primary organizers of the debate—the *Berkeley *student groups—simply because I find that there is a great lack of such dialogue at Stanford.

I write this article on the day that we determine the next president of the United States.  By the time this is printed, we would have ended one of the most polarizing presidential elections in U.S. history, marred in large part by a lack of effort on both sides to learn, understand, and engage the concerns of the other.  (I can still recall the resounding cries of “No” when, at the DNC, Antonio Villaraigosa called for the vote on the amendment that would include the mention of God in the Democratic platform.  In a similar manner, I recall the anger among many conservative Catholics upset that Archbishop Timothy Dolan went through with his invitation of President Obama to the Alfred E. Smith dinner. But I digress.)

Such divisiveness is most salient with regards to social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and very much extends itself onto campus.  More concretely, as a junior I have yet to see the co-sponsorship by conservative and liberal student groups of an event similar to that at Berkeley, an event which allows each side to engage squarely with the opposing viewpoint, responding rationally and *civilly *to the principles put forth.

That is not to say, however, that greater intellectual discourse about these controversial issues will *ignore *the strong emotions that come with the discussion of such hot topics.  Rather, careful attempts to understand the other side’s viewpoint is the best way—the *only *way—to disagree without becoming angry and resorting to obscenities.

To illustrate my point more concretely, I would like to draw a contrast between the two kinds of interactions I have had with social liberals at Stanford (not because I wish to single social liberals out, but merely because I am a social conservative and I have only my experience to relate).  The first is an event I helped put on my freshman year, in which we invited a speaker to discuss the social effects of re-defining the legal of definition of marriage.  Needless to say, one person with whom I had never before had a conversation could not help but scream at me, “What the f***k is your problem??”  But then I discuss the very same issues using the very same arguments with my roommate, she a liberal atheist and I a conservative Catholic.  During the past almost three years, we have had numerous late-night discussions which have not only strengthened our friendship, but have strengthened my conviction in my beliefs.  Her arguments continue to challenge mine, forcing me to study and better understand the stances I have chosen to take with regards to some of the most difficult issues confronting society.  We continue to disagree, yet she is one of my best friends whom I love like a sister.

Regardless of who wins this election, I can only hope that more Stanford students will have the same opportunity I have had.  And while perhaps a strong friendship between groups of people with radically opposing ideologies might be too much to ask, an end to the divisive lack of understanding and irrational arguments is not.  All it takes is a little willingness to dialogue.

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