A week ago, Jill Stanek’s weekend question was about one of my pet peeves, sidewalk counselors who yell. I’ve never seen an experienced counselor do this in person (and the only people who I’ve ever seen attempt it were immediately ostracized and soon went away). However, because yellers do exist, there is a certain stigma to sidewalk counseling. I’m proudly pro-life and can be vocal about this (in a pleasant way) if necessary. I don’t talk about sidewalk counseling. Yes, my closest friends and family know that I sidewalk counsel, but it’s not something I advertise.
I don’t tell people what I do on Saturday mornings. Work knows that I have a “club meeting,” which is technically true. Other members of Bama Students for Life are there, we’re a club, we’re meeting. It’s not technically a lie. But I could tell my boss that I really can’t work because, hey, I’m trying to save some lives. She’s pro-life, she should understand, right? Unfortunately, the stigma against sidewalk counselors doesn’t seem to be limited to just pro-choicers. It’s fairly common among moderate pro-lifers, too.
I should know. When I first joined the BSFL, I never intended to sidewalk counsel. It was just too extreme an action for me to take, right there with marching and waving signs. I knew that abortion was wrong, I was willing to sedately help to make it illegal, but I didn’t think I would be willing to tell a woman that I even disagreed with her choice. At that point, I saw sidewalk counselors as crazy people, yelling at and condemning women, spitting hellfire and brimstone (not that I had met a sidewalk counselor before).
But after I had been part of the club for a while, I figured that the counselors I knew were pretty normal. I decided to go once and see what it was like. I wanted to be more involved and sidewalk counseling really seemed like the only option at the time. When I arrived, I met several extremely nice and caring individuals. Each experienced counselor I’ve met has been compassionate and calm with women seeking abortions. That first day, I saw such tragedy that my position on sidewalk counseling completely changed. One woman I saw go into that clinic was obviously and heavily pregnant. She must have been about 20 weeks along and she showed every week of it. Still, the counselors never yelled at her. They begged, they cajoled, they offered financial aid and other services. But the entire morning, they remained calm, never once raising their voices. We have to project, this is true. Our voices have a long way to travel, but we never yell.
Yellers have a lot to answer for. It accomplishes nothing. Women only block the yelling out. They already think of us as sign-wielding fanatics, screaming our heads off about nothing, intent on controlling their lives. Women aren’t going to stop unless we can show them compassion. Yellers just continue to provide ammunition for these misconceptions about sidewalk counselors. They are our worst stereotype and it is shameful that we still have them around.