5 ways for pro-lifers in the modern world to overcome fear and witness boldly
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at Love Unleashes Life on November 21, 2019. It is republished here with permission.
October 19, 2020 (Love Unleashes Life) — In the first film from Lord of the Rings, Frodo says to the wizard Gandalf, “I wish none of this had ever happened. I wish the ring had never come to me.” And Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Speaking to a medical audience of physicians, nurses, and medical students in early November, I used those words to capture the sentiment pro-life medical professionals often feel in this world that is increasingly hostile to a pro-life worldview. At a time when abortion is widespread, assisted suicide is increasing, and conscience rights are lessening, understandably the pro-life medical professional thinks,
“I wish none of this had ever happened.”
And of course, that’s a good wish. But the reality is — it has happened. All we have to decide is how we are going to respond. And now, more than ever, we need pro-life medical professionals to respond with courage, not cowardice.
The challenge? Fear.
Fear can be paralyzing but it doesn’t have to be. Fear is the tie that actually binds both courage and cowardice. What separates them, however, is how each responds to fear. Courage controls fear. Cowardice is controlled by fear.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., remarked, “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society…”
Ah. A thermometer versus a thermostat. One tells us the temperature. The other changes it. The courage we so badly need at a time like this involves being thermostats. It involves recognizing the temperature needs to change, and being the ones to change it, channeling any fear we feel into energy that drives change forward.
What helps us be bold? What enables us to courageously change the temperature to the level it should be? In my presentation I focused on 5 things:
1) Know your why
2) Unleash the power of your mind
3) Study people who said no
4) Practise what you preach
5) Be magnetic
Know Your Why
Author Simon Sinek has given one of the most popular TED Talks and he speaks about the importance of knowing the reasons behind the positions we hold. Pro-life medical professionals need to make sure they know not simply what they believe but also why, and be trained to articulate that winsomely, as that will give confidence, and confidence is an ingredient for controlling fear and driving change. Clicking here and here and here and here are good places to start to know your why.
Unleash the Power of Your Mind
Have you ever gone car shopping, perhaps for a white Toyota Corolla, test driven one, and then the following week noticed white Toyota Corollas everywhere you go? It’s not that Toyota is following you and planting their cars so you buy one. Instead, what we think about — what we put in our minds — becomes part of our reality. There aren’t more Toyotas on the road the week after you test drove; instead, the car is in your mind and you are more prone to notice what you had previously ignored.
If the thoughts we put in our head are what we end up noticing, what thoughts are pro-life medical professionals putting in their heads? If it’s overwhelming fear of losing one’s licence, of possible complaints by patients, etc., then, well, that is more likely to come to fruition. If, instead, pro-life professionals focus on being the best doctor, etc., to their patients, of having the best bedside manner, of building an excellent rapport with patients, etc., then not only will they experience the good fruits that flow from that, but if there are complaints there will be an army of patients rising up to defend the beloved physician. Having said that, I’m not saying we should be naïve and unprepared for challenges or critiques that could come. I’m saying that we should be wise about the present reality, equipped for possible negative outcomes, while not being obsessed or overly focused on them. It’s the old adage, “Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.”
Study People Who Said “No”
If you were to ask a crowd of people what comes to mind when you say “Tiananmen Square” they will likely recall this photo. The quiet but steady defiance of one man against an army of tanks is an example for us all. Sometimes to unjust power structures we need to simply stand up and say “No.” Come what may. Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to give up her bus seat in 1955, is another example of the power of saying no. So is Dr. Halima Bashir.
She’s a physician from Darfur who wrote the book “Tears of the Desert.” In it she shares her story of witnessing, in an emergency room, the results of genocide. When asked by media about what she was observing, she spoke. Several days later, a group of men showed up at the hospital to try to intimidate her into not speaking out again. Fast forward to when she moved to work in a small village. One day, people ran to her clinic carrying blood-covered children. Soldiers had invaded a school and gang-raped children as young as 8. Dr. Bashir did what she could to respond to what was a scene from hell. A short while later, as word spread about what happened, UN officials showed up to ask her if the reports of the gang rapes were true. Dr. Bashir could have been influenced by the intimidation and threats previously directed at her when she spoke up at her other job. She could have been silent. But she knew that silence in the face of the injustice was the wrong response. So she spoke. But it came with a horrifying personal cost: Dr. Bashir was kidnapped, beaten, tied in a dark room with rats, and gang-raped for days — all because she spoke up; all because she said no to corruption and to cover-up.
Practise What You Preach
What is at the heart of the pro-life message? What are we asking of women in crisis pregnancies? What are we asking of patients with illness or disability who don’t know when their life will naturally end? We are asking them to let go of control. We are asking them to ride the waves and float into the unknown. We are asking them to consider the long-term effects of their choices, not just the short-term. We are asking them to not create a false dilemma where it’s a) or b) — that sometimes c) “none of the above” can be their story. We are asking them to do the right thing even when it’s hard. We are asking them to remember that it is better to suffer evil than to do evil.
And so, for the pro-life medical professional who is scared about speaking out, about the risk to their job, etc., they need to heed those same messages about control, long-term focus, resisting false dilemmas, and doing the right thing.
Magnetism is an extraordinary ability, or power, to attract. Our pro-life professionals may have unpopular positions but if they are known for being experts in their field, and for having compassionate doctor-patient interactions, this will attract people. Sure, there will be an element of mystery (“I don’t get it; she’s such a great doctor but her view on abortion is so strange”); however, it’s that mystery that will draw people in more. And we want to draw people in, for it is probing that leads to discovery.
I am reminded of a TV show my mom and I used to watch together, Columbo. In this mystery series, a homicide detective’s work always leads to a discovery of who committed a crime, but it’s his personality and approach that is magnetic. He appears simple, and a little odd, but he’s actually quite shrewd. He asks lots of questions, draws people in, and in doing so, exposes the true criminal.
The person who asks the questions controls the conversation. When pro-life medical professionals come under fire, they should respond by asking questions of their interrogators, Columbo-style, compelling them to stay in conversation, to think through their claims, and to attempt to defend inconsistencies or problematic positions they hold — which will expose the false worldview for the shaky ground on which it’s built.
Another way to be magnetic is to be real, to not be afraid to show the fullness of your emotions. Jordan Peterson is an example of this. Although there are plenty of people who do not like him, he nonetheless has an aura of intrigue, even to his opponents. He’s an intellectual and academic but he’s known for frequently getting emotional. In fact, if you search “Jordan Peterson crying” you will get results like this, a 15-minute compilation of his various bouts of weeping.
When I neared the end of that clip I thought to myself, “What kind of person makes a video like that?” It seemed like such a strange thing to do. But the final screen put it all in perspective: “Jordan Peterson gets a lot of unfair and undeserved criticism. That’s why I created this video, to show that a man that breaks down when talking about the suffering of individuals and the way to overcome it, can’t have any other desire but the deep desire to reduce suffering in the world and to oppose anything that causes its increase….This video is the best way to show to those who oppose Jordan that what they think of him is wrong. This video has the potential to decrease the amount of criticism he gets, and show that he deeply cares about people.”
It is this blend between the head and the heart, the intellect and the emotion, this fullness of what it means to be human that attracts people to pay attention to him, even when they don’t always agree. It’s magnetic.
Note: The author is scheduled to debate prominent pro-abortion philosopher Peter Singer. Find more information here.