Yesterday, my wife returned from a trip to the supermarket and related the scene: Demonstrators with signs like, "Get Pelosi Off the Table" and "Impeach Cheney" guarded the entrance, and as she approached, one of the demonstrators tried to strike up a conversation by saying, in an angry tone, "Don't you think Bush is terrible??!!"
There's nothing wrong in principle with public signs or asking someone a question to start a conversation about important political topics. But I doubt the content of these specific signs (featuring strongly-asserted statements) and that specific question (which assumed agreement on most of the discussion even before the discussion started) did anything but alienate the audience at the supermarket today.
After my wife related the incident, we started thinking about a good way to create dialogue using the opportunity. Perhaps one might respond, "What do you mean by 'terrible'?" Or perhaps I might have said, "Is Bush terrible? Only as terrible as me...and you." The latter phrase might succeed in moving us toward a discussion of our own sins (probably not the direction the Bush-accuser wanted to go), but I think simply clarifying terms with the first idea is probably best.
In any case, this also made us think a bit about our own efforts to begin dialogue on issues like abortion. Often, I think, pro-life activists assume too much when they start discussions with people. Instead of asking open-ended questions like "What do you think about this?" or "How did you come to your conclusion?" we many times assume all sorts of things when asking the equivalent to "Don't you think abortion is murder?" or "Isn't it crazy that people murder babies?" Many pro-life activists don't ask questions at all. For them, "Abortion kills babies" is the best they can do.
Now, to be sure, it depends on the purpose. There may be a time to place a statement on a sign to motivate someone to stop and talk. But regardless of the motivating piece, when I have a chance to ask a question, I'm not going to waste it on something that alienates. I'll probably use one of the open-ended questions above because they signal that I'm really interested in listening. Then I'll focus the discussion on areas of real agreement by asking one of the many questions that build common ground. This approach welcomes the person who disagrees and provides the greatest opportunity to actually dialogue about (and yes, to make arguments for and against) our very different positions on what is true. Welcoming questions and common ground seem like unlikely candidates for vigorous debate on issues of truth, but I contend that if you ever want to have a real meeting of the minds (as opposed to shoveling your point of view into closed ears and hearts), these are the best tools to make it possible.