The extraordinary synod has drawn to a close, and the Church is entering a year of reflection and discussion in preparation for the 2015 synod. Each side has accused the other of not listening, and argument has been intense. What is really happening, in part, is that each side is making arguments persuasive to themselves that have no bearing whatsoever on how the other side makes decisions. So the longer and more intently they listen to each other, the more bored and the more annoyed they become with each other. Listening is not the problem.
In the interest of Church unity, here are a few tips from the legal world on writing and speaking to persuade, drawn from the work of appellate lawyer and teacher Myron Moskovitz:
1. Any lawyer trying to win a Supreme Court case knows that he or she has to come outside of themselves and realize that the justices do not think the same way. An attorney who only makes arguments that persuade him or herself is going to lose a lot of cases. It is necessary to keep in mind that what is persuasive to others is often not the same thing that would persuade ourselves.
The liberals have not laid an adequate theological foundation to show the conservatives that the result they want is consistent with well established Church teaching. The conservatives have not made an adequate policy argument to show the liberals that the result they want is just.
The end result needs to be laid on an adequate foundation of both theology and justice. If we can get to that, we might just have a real consensus.
Here's an article by Myron Moskovitz on writing to persuade appellate justices whose values are not the same as the attorney's. It is worth considering before you write your next blog post or e-mail to your bishop:
2. Read a book, take a class or hire a consultant. Good lawyers don't go into the court of appeals without making sure they know how to write and speak successfully in that court. Neither should Catholics sit down and write to persuade those who disagree with their perspective without educating themselves sufficiently to do so successfully. Here's a book suggestion from the legal world:
3. Write clearly and be aggressively reasonable. Again drawing from the advice of Myron Moskovitz to appelleate attorneys, "Unless your writing is clear, your brief is worthless. Appellate Justices and law clerks are busy." Being reasonable is not the opposite of being aggressive. "You can do both."
4. Don't attack your opponent. Pope Francis's address at the end of the synod called on people to avoid several temptations, including the temptation to "hostile inflexibility." Snarky hostility is ethically wrong and unpersuasive. In one of his course materials for a seminar on appellate practice, Moskovitz says, "Do not simply attack your opponent’s arguments. The appellate justices are not voting for the best lawyer or the best brief. They are trying to achieve justice, and they might rule for the appellant even if his brief is weak." The same is true for anyone deciding what they think of this Catholic issue. They are not voting for the best blog post or letter. They are trying to achieve justice.
5. Adding my own advice: Take your letter, your homily, your blog post, your article, and read it out loud to your child or to your pet. If it sounds pompous when you say it to your dog, it probably is. If it is so verbose that you get tired of reading it, cut it.
And pray. Prayer involves lifting our concerns to God in God's presence with an openness to His will and listening to God's response within our hearts. It is not a time for advocacy, as when someone praying aloud in public delivers their perspective in the form of a prayer.