I’ll never forget the words of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Gallagher, who always used to tell our class: “You have two ears and one mouth — so use them accordingly.”
(Actually, the dearly departed Mrs. Gallagher used to have quite a few wise sayings for our class — one, in particular, about the word “assume” and a certain beast of burden stands out in my mind — but this past weekend, I couldn’t help but keep going back to the one about having two ears and only one mouth.
Her message, really, was simple but effective.
Talk less and listen more.
Like seemingly everyone else in this country — and certainly everyone else who has a Facebook or Twitter account — I watched as NFL players protested what they feel is the systematic mistreatment of people of color in this nation by kneeling or other symbolic forms of protest during the national anthems that preceded their games.
I watched for several reasons — first and foremost, there’s a good chance if there’s a football game being televised and I’m not covering it, I’m probably going to be watching it. And this weekend, it was pretty much impossible to watch a football game without actually seeing the protests taking place or hearing the commentators talk about the protests that already had taken place.
Much more than that, though, I watched because I genuinely wanted to see and hear how people on both sides of the issue would react to such statements. I wanted to be more educated by both sides. I wanted to learn more about what the NFL players were protesting and I wanted to hear from those who felt their actions were disrespectful.
I wanted to hear things out and figure out if, hopefully, some middle ground could possibly be found in what is quickly becoming a burgeoning divide.
And as I listened in, here’s what I heard: Yelling.
Lots and lots of yelling. Maybe not so much actual yelling in terms of volume — although, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that involved, too — but more just a tone and obvious expression of feelings that leads me to believe the gap between both sides won’t be closing any time soon — and, if anything, may only continue to grow in the coming days, weeks, months and years.
We have seemingly reached in impasse, because both sides seem so intent on yelling their message from the rooftops that nobody has any desire to hear what the other side has to say. Nobody is willing to admit the other side may have a point. It’s as if giving even the smallest amount of ground would be conceding complete defeat.
Even if we can’t get either side to agree on anything, at this point I’d at least accept civil debate. That, too, seems to have gone by the wayside. If you have any sort of social media account, I’ve sure you’ve seen that for yourself. Intelligent thought has given way to name calling and personal attacks. Seems like every day there are friendships lost and families being torn apart — all right there on social media for everyone to see.
And don’t get me wrong — those of us in the regular media must shoulder some of the blame for this, as well. Well-reasoned opinions rarely make for good ratings or sell subscriptions. There are times when those of us in the media are only serving to feed the beast that threatens to consume us all.
In general, we have given up on expressing ourselves and our beliefs in any way that helps further our own causes. We are so busy yelling and screaming name calling and typing out 140-character insults that our message has completely gotten lost. And I’m talking about both sides — not only in this issue, but seemingly in any politically charged issue we are faced with as a nation. And I’m not just talking about the national issues, either. I’m seeing the same vitriolic debates when it comes to local issues, whether it be bike lanes or school levies. It’s not pretty.
We have two ears and one mouth — but we aren’t using them accordingly.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong