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ArgumentThe wit Sydney Smith was in Edinburgh one day, and happened across two women who were arguing quite passionately with one another across an alley. “Those two women will never agree,” said Smith, “they are arguing from different premises.”

It’s funny but it’s true. So often our most intractable disagreements have nothing to do with the substance of the argument; it is because people have radically different starting points and presuppositions that they can never hope to find a consensus.

Take the example we will see in the news this week, the legislation before the upper house dealing with abortion. Is the foetus a human or not? Does the right to decide lie with the pregnant woman, or the state? Is the issue a medical or a moral one? The two sides disagree so fundamentally that it is hard to imagine a solution.

So what can we do in such situations, as a society? Our Scottish squabblers remind us of what’s obvious: we are arguing with those we live beside. If we cannot hope to agree, we can at least agree on how to live with our differences. And one key to that is to turn down the volume!

When we debate these difficult questions with our neighbours, we need to resist the urge to shout the loudest. Courtesy and clarity are called for. Our goal is to testify to a better life and a greater hope, and we pray for God to open doors past that point. And, of course, we pray.

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