What’s different about Catholic Voices is that it has worked out a method of doing this in a way that fits the fast-moving world of 24-hour news and the culture of contemporary journalism, nurturing people who have a desire to serve the Church and the media in this particular way. We describe ourselves, a little jokingly, as “media-friendly, studio-ready, and ego-free”; that captures something of our spirit and approach. Reframing neuralgic issues by entering into the positive intention of the Church’s critic to enable us to communicate the Church’s truth and reality — that’s what we do. It works, and it has a broader application that we’re been working on ever since the 2010 papal visit. In addition to the intensive speakers’ trainings we’ve done this year in Ireland, Mexico, and the U.S., we have given many workshops on how to explain the Church’s positions on hot-button issues over a beer at the bar. The book is the fruit of that. We’ve found that the two situations — the studio and the bar — are not so different. People either switch on or switch off to you in the first 40 seconds. And if you can’t say it in three or four minutes, you’ve probably failed the C. S. Lewis test I mentioned above.
How does this fit the U.S.? Who invented 24-hour news?
LOPEZ: “Empathy is the beginning of dialogue.” Can it also make you soft? Often our political opponents, using the tools of the state, consider us at war with them; don’t we have to engage similarly?
IVEREIGH: In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt has a helpful metaphor to describe the relationship between our deeply held, intuitively grasped core convictions on the one hand, and our reason on the other. He calls the first the elephant, and the latter its puny rider; the elephant leans one way, the rider paddles furiously in the same direction, to justify the stance. The book dismantles the rationalist myth that we reach our most deeply held convictions through ratiocination. Opening peoples’ minds means speaking to their “elephants,” in a friendly, trusting environment; almost all other exchanges — debates, arguments, discussions — involve no changing of minds at all. “Dialogue” for me means being able to speak to peoples’ elephants; to shed light, not heat. It’s not the soft option. It’s much easier to rehearse familiar arguments. But communication happens when the elephants lean in one another’s direction, and the riders try to understand where the other is coming from.
LOPEZ: How do you find “common ground” without diluting your moral values? What is the “art” to “dialogue” we’ve missed in a lot of our post–Vatican Council II discussions?
IVEREIGH: A lot of post-conciliar dialogue has been attempting to find common denominators, and that’s great in so far as it builds the trust without which there is no communication. But too often it’s been seen as a kind of market trade, settling on a halfway price, and then saying, “Well, at least we can agree on that.” The kind of communication we’ve developed in Catholic Voices doesn’t set out to reach agreement with anyone; it’s about clearing the lenses — wiping off the myths and the misunderstandings — so that people can see the Church and its thinking more clearly. We want to show the plausibility and desirability of the Catholic faith. What people do with that enlarged understanding is a different matter.
LOPEZ: Reframing debates is important to you. But can you really turn the tables, in a quick TV interview or Friday-night bar discussion, to where we’re having a discussion about palliative care?
IVEREIGH: Yes you can. In our media-interview training we encourage people to “set out their stall” with their first answer. It’s a key moment; you will win or lose people at that point. That first answer is the fruit of a lot of thinking and working-through of the question, so that by the time you’re in front of the microphone you’ve learned how to connect with the positive intention of the critic, reframed the question so that you’re no longer performing the role cast for you in the existing frame, and communicated the essential points.
The thinking-through of the issue with the help of our method — which is what’s bottled in How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice — is what enables you quickly to get to the heart of the other person’s concerns or criticism. In the case of assisted suicide, the concern is for people suffering in pain and alone, for whom that suffering is meaningless. Our reframe on that question is basically: “No one should have to die in great pain and alone; that’s why we need to extend the culture of palliative care pioneered by hospices.” And then you go on from there to show how assisted suicide would undermine that culture. It’s moving the discussion away from the very narrow autonomy matrix — “If I want to do this, what right do you have to stop me?” — to a much broader one: the effect on others, on the community, of legalizing suicide; the importance of palliative care; the recognition that dying is an important part of life and the need for more resources to help people on that final journey, and so on. On the way, of course, you find yourself scotching a few myths: No, the Church does not believe in keeping people alive at all costs; no, we don’t believe that God wants us to suffer, although we accept that suffering is necessary for change; and so on.