Two Ears & One Mouth

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

How does this quote make you feel? Does it resonate with you? Does it convict you?

I believe that this type of thinking is very rare in our society today. It seems like everyone has something to say, but very few are actually listening. I know that I have been guilty of sharing my opinions without keeping an open mind to the viewpoints of others. Have you?

In my interactions with teenagers, I find that many people want to air grievances, but few want to actually meet and talk with the people who have allegedly harmed them or bullied them. I get it. Who would want to spend more time with the person who has been tormenting them? The reality is that this is one of the most productive ways of resolving conflict between young adults. Get them all in a room with a facilitating teacher or administrator, and have them communicate openly and honestly about each party’s rights and responsibilities. Let each side share out while the other side actively listens without interruption. Many students are hesitant at first, but eventually most of them warm up to the idea that they can actually communicate with “the other” without being humiliated in front of their peers.

I am not so naive that I think this strategy works in every situation or with all types of students, but overall it has been extremely effective in my experience. Many individuals realize and acknowledge for the first time that they are doing or saying things that hurt others. They see that their joke or social media post disrespected someone else. Many of the victims in these situations tend to see how they played a role in the bullying experience by either provoking the alleged bully or by not communicating their displeasure to the alleged bully early on. In almost every case, all involved see the situation from the other person’s perspective. They see the other person as a real human with hopes, fears, scars, and feelings. This is so important!

So does this aversion to conflict resolution and open communication end when one becomes an adult? Hardly. Whether the disagreement is focused on race, gender, sexuality, religion, or politics, many American adults simply get more vocal about their opinions while avoiding peaceful interaction with “the other.”

During the last several years, it seems like the national protocol about police shootings of black men has followed a similar template at least from my perspective.

A. A black man gets shot by a police officer.

B. The media jumps to conclusions and creates a narrative long before any thorough investigation occurs.

C. Many in the Black Lives Matter crowd shout about systematic racism and racial profiling.

D. Many in the Blue Lives Matter/All Lives Matter crowd shout about African American culture and crime.

E. Both sides speak some truth. Both sides ignore some truth.

F. Neither side truly listens to the other side’s viewpoints. Few on either side truly ask the other side questions and then sincerely listen to honest answers. Many on both sides use their ears to hear their opponent’s argument only to decide which pre-manufactured response they will use

G. Another black man’s life is ended, and another police officer’s life is ruined. Family of all involved are deeply hurt by hateful words uttered in ignorance or anger.

How can this happen on repeat? The truth is complex and multifaceted, but I believe (like Dan Carlin does) that the internet and social media play a significant role, and they do more to exacerbate the problem than they do to fix it. The internet provides us with a vast multitude of information on any and every given topic. This is awesome! It is also dangerous. We are able to choose news sources, sources of social commentary, blogs, and podcasts that back up what we believe. This is not a problem as long as we also open our minds to the sites and videos of those with whom we disagree. Better yet, it is not a problem if we physically interact with people that are different from us religiously, racially, politically, etc. These interactions challenge our world view in a healthy way, and they force us to see “the other” as a human just like us, but with different opinions. In addition to this, we avoid being intellectual yes-men and yes-women.

If you lean left politically, you might be thinking, “Yes! I totally agree.”, but I would then ask when was the last time you allowed yourself to have a civil conversation with a Donald Trump supporter without merely trying to prove them wrong? When was the last time you listened to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, even when the bias was overwhelming? When was the last time you made yourself watch an extended segment on Fox News? When was the last time you engaged in respectful dialogue with that uber conservative that you know? Maybe you would find that not every Republican is a close minded and hateful bigot like many on social media portray.

If you lean right politically, when was the last time you listened to the Rachel Maddow Show or the Daily Show with Trevor Noah? When was the last time you listened to NPR, even when they started showing clear bias? When was the last time that you read a lopsided New York Times article and actually gave the writer the benefit of the doubt? When was the last time you pursued thoughtful and intelligent discussion with that crazy liberal you know? Maybe you would discover that not every Democrat is a communist snowflake lacking morals like some in your friends list suggest.

If you are a Black Lives Matter supporter, have some respectful and open minded discussions with police officers. If you are a Blue Lives Matter/All Lives Matter supporter, ask some African Americans that you know what they think about the issue of race in our country today.

If you are a social justice warrior, have a conversation with those that you label as oppressors instead of doing this. You might just find that they do not oppose you nearly as much as you think they do. If your are a WASPM (White Anglo Saxon Protestant Male) like I am, hear out those who feel that you are the enemy. Get to know their opinions. Ask them questions. I have met many students and adults who have truly been victims of racism and discrimination. Their stories deserve to be told and heard.

In any of the above cases, truly ask questions, and then ask even more clarifying questions without letting your temper rise or your comeback darts fly. Also, do not volunteer any of your viewpoints unless you are asked. Just pursue these discussions for the sake of learning the opinions of others. It means so much to be heard and listened to without feeling like the questions were just a setup for the other person to spew their beliefs.

If you are a Christian, and you oppose my stance, check out what the Bible says about this topic.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” – James 1:19-20

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” – Romans 12:16

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” – Hebrews 13:1-3

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” – Colossians 3:8

Am I being too idealistic and over simplified by encouraging open communication as a means to heal the divisions in our nation? I think not. If a black musician can change the mind of a KKK leader through nothing more than friendly, respectful conversation and interaction, I think much more can be achieved between people that have less extreme differences. I am not saying that this is the only solution to the racial and political issues in our country, but it is one heck of a start.

My good friend, Kyle, and I differ on many political issues, but we have never left a discussion feeling angry at each other (although I suppose I can only speak for myself here). When I say something he disagrees with, he asks me a clarifying question. When he says something that I disagree with, I do the same to him. Sometimes I walk away with my opinion unchanged. Other times I leave the conversation with a different opinion than when I entered it. Every time I leave with new perspectives, and I have a ton of fun. Whether I agree with Kyle or not, I better understand why he believes what he believes instead of listening to others hypothesize his motives. I admit that not every conservative and not every liberal are capable of disagreeing peacefully, but seek out those who can, and learn a more holistic view of the issues facing us today.

Just this weekend I overheard a conversation in a hotel breakfast room where someone said that a poor boy from podunk rural Oklahoma could not be expected to break out of a cycle of poverty, obesity, addiction, and a lack of education. As a former poor boy from podunk rural Oklahoma who has broken out of the cycle of poverty, obesity, addiction, and a lack of education, it surprised me about how wrong this lady was regarding my reality. Then it made me think, how often do I do this same thing to those who are different than me? I think it happens more often than I am aware.

What is lacking is honest, respectful, and open communication between the various groups (real and perceived) in our country. What stands in its place is a bundle of assumptions, more isolated and insulated conversations, and a desire to prove “the other” wrong. It is easy to vilify those who differ from us when we never learn from them, and instead we learn about them from those similar to us. Many Americans exercise their freedom of speech, but how many exercise their equally important freedom to listen. We do not have to wait for our politicians to lead us in this endeavor. How often has that worked for us in the past? Instead, We the People can start to interact with each other, taking the power away from the media, the activists with malevolent agendas (not all activists), and the politicians and put it back where it belongs: in our hands. Instead of expecting others to come across the aisle first, let us follow the advice of Gandhi when he said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” King did this. Cory Booker has done this. Gandhi did this. It is time for us to do this.

Do you speak twice as much as you listen, or do you listen twice as much as you speak? Please join me in pursuing the latter while moving away from the former.


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