McBrayer: Use the things on each side of your head

Ronnie McBrayer
Special to The Detroit News

“You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.” My father recited this proverb to me more than a few times as I was growing up (Along with the snarky, “Children should be never heard and rarely seen.”). I can’t say that I fully heeded his lesson: I make a living by speaking, writing, and spouting words.

Yet, some of his wisdom has stuck with me. I’m learning how to say less and listen more; to value the quiet and cherish silence; and I’m learning that I don’t have to have a protracted opinion on every single issue — religious, social, political, or otherwise.

Everybody is an expert on everything, it appears these days, and they must tell the world. Give it a few more years and the majority of the population will be writing opinion pieces on “Drudge,” the “Huffington Post” or every ideological rag in between. All this explaining, defending, and pontificating is exhausting.

Enough already. Enough with talking heads, rotating contributors, viewpoints with more ideology than insight, and the intentional positioning of conflicting arguments just for the sake of heat and no light. Oh, God save us from the avalanche of analysis and the cacophony of commentary!

It’s Shakespearean, that’s what it is: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage … It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or as Shakespeare borrowed from Plato: “An empty vessel makes the loudest noise, and those with the least sense are the greatest blabbers.”

Here is a holy alternative: Be quiet and listen. Close your mouth. Resist commenting. Don’t contribute to the noise. Yes, I know it is a 21st-century practice to react to everything, but it’s not required, and it’s even advantageous to remain quiet — especially if it’s a topic on which you have no knowledge. It is, ultimately, impossible to have an erudite opinion in ignorance.

And when someone asks you, as they inevitably will, “What do you think about (fill in the blank here with the latest click-bait discussion),” you can simply smile and tell the truth: “I haven’t really thought about it,” and you can stop right there.

A dear friend of mine calls this practice, “cultivating indifference.” I don’t know if the term is original with him or not, or who exactly should be credited with coining it, but I have commandeered the phrase for my own personal use. This “indifference” is not apathy, a lack of compassion, or an act of surrender. It is healthy detachment, however, and the confession that I neither know everything, nor must I speak authoritatively on every subject.

Jesus often said when attempting to communicate an important truth, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Those fleshy instruments on the side of your head are not for decoration, in other words, use them. And as daddy told me, “Listen twice as much as you speak.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor and author of multiple books. Visit his website at