I love sharing the phrase; you have two ears and one mouth so you should use your ears twice as much as your mouth. I’m not sure where I first heard it or when I started using it, but I found it appropriate in my job working as a facilitator as the Senior Enlisted Academy. One of the topics we cover is effective listening. What better way to listen than to stop talking and use your ears?
As I started writing this it occurred to me I didn’t know the origin of the saying. So I let Google do what Google does, help me find random bits of information. It didn’t take long and I found it. Epictetus is credited with “We have two years and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who was born around 55AD and died 135 AD. I read that Epictetus believed in fate and while people cannot control what happens, they can control their actions.
While I didn’t know Epictetus was credited with the phrase, I had heard of him. Retired Marine Col. Art Athens comes to speak at the Senior Enlisted Academy. He talks about how Admiral John Stockdale remembered the words of the Enchiridion (which was the philosophy of Epictetus) when he was a prisoner of war. For Admiral Stockdale, the words of the Enchiridion helped give him the strength to survive life as a prisoner of war.
This is the scenic road to talking about this phrase, but it all ties together.
I don’t generally consider myself to be a good listener; I would say I am okay at best. I wish I was better at listening and I am working on it. I find that good listening is not just about using your ears twice as much as your mouth, but using your ears twice as much as using your thumbs for texting and your hands for typing and your mouse for surfing the web. There are so many distractions out there that stop a person from being a good listener. So while a person may not be able to control the things around them, they can control whether they eliminate distractions and listen.
So what better way of being responsible for your own actions than being responsible for really listening to the people around you.