Watch your ear

Column by Hallie Beard, Junior from Louisville, Ky.

Growing up, your mother may have told you to “watch your mouth,” scolding you for saying something inappropriate. I’ll bet, though, that no one ever told you to watch your ear.

Logically, to watch your ear is to pay close attention to not only what you hear, but what you actively listen to and absorb as appropriate information. In light of the political debates that have happened recently and will carry on for the next year, I advise us all to watch our ears.

Admittedly, politics are not my forte; they are not enjoyable to me, so it’s hard to be motivated enough to keep up with them. Last Tuesday, though, I made myself watch the Democratic Debate. Like all other debates, regardless of party, it was fairly painful to listen to – not because of the content, but because of the highly problematic rhetoric.

The problem – again, apart from any specific content – was that each candidate seemed to talk for minutes without actually saying anything substantial. Anderson Cooper was an efficient moderator in that he tried to keep the candidates from skirting around too much, which seems to be the nature of politics.

While we can’t help that a lot of the candidates’ speeches must operate on hypotheticals – “When I’m president, I will get rid of xyz!” – we can push the question, “how?”

If you don’t watch your ear, you will never want or need to ask “how” or “why,” and that’s a dangerous habit. Too many people absorb the information in front of them without prodding; if they disagree with the information, they immediately discount it, and if they agree, they immediately celebrate it, both without much reason or evidence. We can’t let ourselves be that complacent – there is always more information, a deeper source, or a counterpoint that must be explored.

Beware, too, of bias and politeness when listening to problematic rhetoric; that desire to please becomes a false angel on your shoulder. Manners will always influence your ability to question and (constructively) criticize a person or statement you want to like. Perhaps that discomfort or cognitive dissonance is essential to building strong opinions, though.

By questioning someone, or resisting the urge to accept everything we listen to, we aren’t losing any respect for that person. On the contrary, both parties gain credibility when one questions the other and works toward a clear answer.

Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging students to veer away from politics or stop rooting for their favorite candidate. Voting and political affiliation are hot topics on campus, and I hope to see more students assessing their political identity. If you are going to support a particular candidate or party, though, you have to be able to defend that candidate or party. But to defend a person or group, in turn, is to question them, right? In order to confirm a belief, it must first be broken down and questioned.

So, here’s my advice: the next time you talk politics with a friend or watch a debate, become a skeptic for a little while. See how much mileage you can get out of a politician’s crowd-pleasing rhetoric. Don’t drive yourself crazy, but notice how many undeveloped statements you would have previously let slip through the cracks. Watch your ear, and in the words of Beck, “Don’t believe everything that you breathe.”