Communication Ethics in Action

There’s long list of nouns that could preface my name: wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, music teacher, choir director, runner, writer, friend, student and more. After this eight-week study, I would add another, and probably write it in capital letters: LISTENER. Sure, I’ve learned a number of theories and can recite a whole litany of communication scholars, but when all is said and done, listening appears to be at the crux of communications ethics literacy. Almost two millennia ago, Greek philosopher Epictetus (55-135 A.D.) agreed saying, “Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak” (Epictetus). Instead of assuming that our agenda, our schedule, our way of doing things is the right way, this course has taught me the importance listening to others – truly listening – without preconceived notions of how the conversation will develop.

In today’s world, listening isn’t always easy. There are so many inputs coming from all sides, that it’s sometimes difficult to discern what’s important and what isn’t. Do you listen to your husband describe his day, or do you catch the six o’clock news on television while cooking dinner, answering emails, and helping a little one with spelling homework? Do you listen to a preschooler tell a “looooonnnggg” tale about what happened at bath time the night before, or finish setting up the music room while going over the new Halloween song in your mind and confirming the interview that afternoon by text? Do you give your mother your full attention while she’s calling long distance to talk about an aunt in a nursing home that you barely know, or do you put her on speaker phone while balancing the checkbook, then rudely interrupt her with a shout of victory when you find the $1.62 that was out of balance?

Sadly, I’ve don’t always make the best choice (just ask my mom.) I don’t always listen as carefully as I should, and I’m not always been present in the conversation even if I am standing face to face with the other person. Often, my time appears to me more important than the Other, and my way of doing things more efficient. My political views are more logical, and my philosophy of life better thought out. But throughout the class, our text kept reminding me that (even though I’m an only child) it’s not all about me. As Arnett, Fritz and Bell say, “this contention over the notion of the good is at the heart of crisis communication, which reminds us not to assume the Other will think as we do or value what we hold dear” (Arnett, Fritz and Bell, 2009, p. 212). I know this, of course, but it’s easy to fall back on the premise that my good is the only/best/reasonable/logical good worth considering.

With the knowledge I’ve gained through COM616, I feel I’ve become a better listener. I find myself making a conscious effort to focus on the conversation and contemplating what the other person says before I respond. When I read the newspaper each day, I do so with a more open mind, trying to put myself in the Other’s shoes to see what it is they see even if I vehemently disagree with their actions or point of view. Our text refers to Levinas who “reminds us over and over again, ultimately, it is not theory that calls us to responsibility for another, but a human face. The face of the Other offers the ‘why’ to bear any ‘how,’” (Arnett, et al., 2009, p. 229). Communicating Mindfully has helped give life to theory and make the Other real for me. The lessons I’ve learned have made me a better wife, choir director, writer, etc. as I’ve found a new commitment to listening mindfully, learning from others, and incorporating communication ethics in my daily life whether at home, work or play. For that, I am grateful.


Arnett, R.C., Fritz, J. M.H, Bell, L. M. (2009) Communications ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Epictetus (n.d.) The Golden Sayings, Section 3, VI. Retrieved from

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