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Dear Editor: Two Ears and One Mouth; the cost of T&T’s communication problems

“Be it Petrotrin, Roodal Moonilal’s Keith Rowley allegations, religious organisations seeking to deny persons their rights on the basis of their sexual orientation or just for not belonging to one belief-group or another, the Chief Justice and the Law Association, and the habitual venom of social media.

“[…] It can all be laid partly, if not wholly, at the door of a fundamental ignorance of why the Almighty—or the Theory of Evolution—gave us two ears but only one mouth.

“Putting the physiological aside, I think SHE intended for us to listen twice as much as we speak. She intended for us to collect and then analyse information before reacting and responding. She perhaps also intended that in that analysis we would focus on the origin and accuracy of the information; the motivations behind the communication; the circumstances that may be impacting upon the communicator (baggage!), what is feared, what is hoped for; the effect of the information on others as well as on ourselves; and its effect on the present as well as the future…”

In the following Letter to the Editor, contributor JJ Brown urges Trinidad and Tobago stakeholders to apply more thought to their communication:

Photo: Shhh…

I am contemplating writing a book entitled Two Ears and One Mouth: When Will Trinis Ever Learn?

It would be a hopeful but sad analysis of the root of our problems as Trinis: our unwillingness to listen to each other and our inability to communicate effectively; our arrogant assumption that we are right and everyone else must be wrong; our dogged refusal to walk in the other person’s shoes; our willingness to ignore, even trample upon the rights of others, even as we boast of democracy and religious values and that “all ah we is one”; and finally, but most regrettably, our cruelty.

I would suggest that every issue currently or recently in the media headlines speaks of these unfortunate characteristics. Be it Petrotrin, Roodal Moonilal’s Keith Rowley allegations, religious organisations seeking to deny persons their rights on the basis of their sexual orientation or just for not belonging to one belief-group or another, the Chief Justice and the Law Association, and the habitual venom of social media.

You name it! It can all be laid partly, if not wholly, at the door of a fundamental ignorance of why the Almighty—or the Theory of Evolution—gave us two ears but only one mouth.

Putting the physiological aside, I think SHE intended for us to listen twice as much as we speak. She intended for us to collect and then analyse information before reacting and responding.

She perhaps also intended that in that analysis we would focus on the origin and accuracy of the information; the motivations behind the communication; the circumstances that may be impacting upon the communicator (baggage!), what is feared, what is hoped for; the effect of the information on others as well as on ourselves; and its effect on the present as well as the future.

Photo: Listen before you speak…

Living up to that intention, be it in our daily lives, in our homes, our parental and romantic relationships, in our worker/employer relationships, in our schools, in our churches, in our offices, in our government, in our parliament, in our businesses, would inevitably lead to a de-emphasising of ego and a reduction of the need to win and conquer at all costs.

Imagine if these rules of engagement were applied to the kinds of issues that bedevil this country. Imagine if they were applied by Mr Wilfred Espinet and Mr Ancel Roget; imagine if they were applied by Mr Rowley and Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Imagine if, before the anonymous blogger sat in front of his device to spew words of mindless hate or the agitated commentator called in to the talk radio show, these rules were applied. Imagine if they were applied by the religious leader speaking against what he fears or does not understand.

How much easier would we find it to communicate effectively, to explain our positions, our needs, to find ways of understanding and living with each other that were based on at least minimum levels of mutual respect and consideration?

How much easier would it be to appreciate the institutions and offices like our courts, regulatory agencies, even enforcement agencies who are charged with ensuring that the law—the law by which we are all bound even when it works to the benefit of the person or party opposing us—applies equally to all of us?

Photo: PSA union boss Watson Duke leads a protest for public servants.
(Courtesy Power102 FM)

Before the Chamber of Commerce bitterly attacks the Industrial Court might it be minded to pause and consider the obligation of that court to abide by the dictates of the Industrial Relations Act and our country’s obligations to the International Labour Organisation?

Would they reflect on the laws and norms that are applied with great success internationally where business manages to thrive even at the same time that the rights of workers are protected? Would they consider that cases such as the Arcellor Mittal matter were treated by other courts—the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council—in the same manner and with the same result as the Industrial Court, so perhaps that court and its judges are not the problem?

Can our union leaders see beyond their limited interests to instead embrace realities based on information rather than emotion?

Where opposing interests meet in conflict, can there really only be one winner? Must there be a loser? Must we always pursue the language of personal attack and shame and eschew facts, logic and analysis? Must engagement be so rife with bitterness? Are we not able to take opposing positions without that bitterness; without hateful language?

Is everyone who disagrees with a statement of the Government, for example, to be vilified as “unpatriotic”? Is every opponent and opposing view, “evil”?

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

If we valued listening over hastily responding, would we be more inclined to ask questions and carefully consider answers; to seek truth? Would we take things less personally and put defensiveness and anger aside; would we give more thought to our similarities rather than our differences, to our common goals rather than the need to gain or retain power?

Could this be the key to what ails us? That we discover and use those Two Ears? And having found that key, is there now hope?

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  1. Well that’s my philosophy. I have discovered they hear quite well. They’re not interested in anything progressive or unifying. They’re interested in vengeance and consumed in their own moral righteousness. And unless it changes, it’ll be the reason they’ll be their own path to destruction.
    Nice piece.