With the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,  Americans need to work harder to understand each other. Persons on either side of the pro-choice/pro-life debate need to step back, reflect and listen.

In this debate, as in so many others in America, many people pick a side, stick with it and close their ears—and hearts—to people on the other side.

Before either side can listen, both sides need to tone down their volume and their rhetoric. It’s hard to listen to folks when they’re shouting at you.

If we can all stop shouting for a while, talk in a conversational tone and show respect for the inherent dignity of people with different views, we will set the stage for empathy, allowing one heart to listen to another.

Pro-choice persons need to listen to pro-life persons and try to understand what has led them to their perspective. Often it comes from strong religious principles, sometimes from carefully considered ethical principles.

For pro-choice persons, it’s also not helpful or accurate to say they’re “pro-abortion.” As a friend of mine named John said to me, “There is a world of difference  between saying you’re ‘pro- abortion’ versus saying your ‘pro-choice.’” Few, if any, pro-choice persons believe that abortion should be the main method of birth control.

Moreover, most pro-choice individuals believe, as do most pro-life persons, that this country needs to better advocate for a sensible approach to birth control and sex education, along with expanded health care for pregnant women.

Likewise, pro-life persons need to listen to pro-choice persons, especially women who decided to have an abortion because of factors over which they felt they had no control.

Pro-life persons also need to explain to pro-choice persons that they agree with them on the dignity of life after birth through childhood, adulthood and old age.

Pro-life and pro-choice can both support measures and programs that help mothers, especially those with little or no income, ensure their babies and later toddlers have enough food, clothing, shelter and health care, not only to survive but to thrive as human beings.

Both sides can agree on the critical importance of working to prevent children from being abused, malnourished, neglected or abandoned and to help children who already suffer from mistreatment.

More listening and less shouting would go a long way. But to do that we have to get close enough to other people in “safe places,” where they don’t feel intimidated, and they both feel safe in sharing their honest thoughts and feelings.

Where can safe places occur? Maybe at first in the corner of a coffee shop; maybe later, as trust builds, in each of the living rooms of both persons.

The debate over abortion is just one of many places where we need to, as my friend Ben puts it, check our animosity, fear and anger at the door and then sit at a virtual round table where each person’s thoughts and feelings are respected.

I’m guessing that many of my readers will remember times in their lives when they and another family member or friend–sometimes after weeks, months or even years of antagonism–were able to sit in a kitchen or living room and talk things out.

And when that was over, they felt better about the other person and moved forward. Not that they were in perfect agreement, far from it. But they understood the other person better and could get along with them better even though they disagree.

We need more of that understanding and civility in our neighborhood, community, region, state and country, not only on the topic of abortion, but on the issues related to guns, water, religion, taxes, climate and a host of other personal and political topics.

We desperately need more of that mutual understanding today.