Tim and Rick resume the conversation on obstacles to listening and discuss two postures that undermine listening: “ambushing” and “dropping the mic.” These postures can have the appearance of listening, but in actuality the listener is pretending to listen to the speaker and is primarily concerned with his own interests. With both postures, the listener is absorbed in breaking down what is said or gaining some kind of advantage, and these postures affect relationships in damaging and hurtful ways. This is part 2 of a 2-part discussion on obstacles to listening.
Rick Langer: I realized that I couldn't answer that question well. Why? I had quit listening as soon as I hit the crazy quote.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name is Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California. I'm also the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project. One of the great things about doing the project and this podcast, you get to do it with friends, so welcome Rick Langer co-host and co-director.
Rick Langer: Thank you, Tim. I'm also a professor here at Biola in the biblical studies and theology department, and I'm the director of the Office of Faith and Learning, but share the responsibilities with Tim for doing the Winsome Conviction Project. We're so glad you've joined us here as we continue our conversation about listening.
Rick Langer: We talked last time, a little bit, about the challenges that come up from listening. We talked about how vitally important it is, how deeply people feel loved when you give them the gift of attention, by fully listening to what they're saying. We also talked about some of the challenges of doing that, the things that shut us down and instantly keep us from listening, which are kind of really dangerous things, because we drift into it really readily. We're picking up on that theme today, and Tim, why don't you get us started with some more obstacles to listening?
Tim Muehlhoff: What's so funny, Rick, is I actually teach a class on communication and listening. My wife, I imagine now, is laughing. Listening to this-
Rick Langer: Yeah, I can only...
Tim Muehlhoff: ... listening to this podcast.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Okay. All right.
Tim Muehlhoff: There's a term that's used, that I think is really interesting. It's called ambushing. Ambushing, is this term that you enter a conversation simply with the goal of winning the argument. Here's what's funny about ambushers, Rick. They're great listeners. They ask phenomenal questions. Why? Because this is a chess match, and they're moving you towards checkmate.
Rick Langer: This isn't a, "I'm curious," this a playing out your strategies sort of question asking?
Tim Muehlhoff: Totally. I've done one official debate, Rick. Just one. When I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), I got a phone message, and the phone message was from the University of Virginia Cru movement asking me if I would debate a leading atheist. Rick, this guy has been debated by everybody. William Lane Craig, Geisler, [Midal 00:02:24] all debated this guy, and he's in the top 2% of IQ. What's that group called?
Rick Langer: Mensa.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, Mensa. I don't even know the name of it.
Rick Langer: Yeah, right.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's how far away I am from it. Okay. I get this message, on my phone machine and I go, "This is ridiculous," I was going to go for a run. I go, "This is ridiculous," so I go for a run and the Holy Spirit says, "What? You're never going to ask me about this. Whether you should do this, you're just going to say no?" The reason they were asking me, by the way, is they had run out of money. The movement had no money.
Rick Langer: Oh, you were cheap. You were cheap.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, yeah, I was cheap.
Rick Langer: Got it. Okay.
Tim Muehlhoff: Ask money and a T-shirt, right? I do it. I agreed to it. I do my first debate. Rick, the place is packed. It is absolutely packed. This dude is an experienced debater. Okay? You get to this point, I do opening statement, he does opening statement, then we each can ask each other questions. Rick, when he asked me a question, it was such a weird feeling, knowing every word would be used against me. Like, "Well, what do you think about the dating of the New Testament? What do you think about the validity of it?" At first, I wasn't very good. I was like, "Well, I would say, not definitively, but some would argue..." Right? I knew every word was being categorized by him, and it's all coming back at me.
Rick Langer: Though he had asked you a question, you realize he wasn't really asking a question, he was setting you up for dinner.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. One of them later was, "Well, do you believe in God's goodness?" And there was a huge pause. The campus director of the University of Virginia later said to me, "I laughed, almost out loud, because you, if I were to ask you that privately, 'Is God good?' You're going to say, 'Oh yeah,' all day long. 'He's great.'" `But he asked me, God, because he said, "There was a pause, because you were thinking, 'I got to be careful here because I know he's going to do the problem of evil.'" Was God good, powerful, all-knowing then why doesn't he stop evil?
Rick Langer: There's kind of a combat version of listening quote, and then there's a community building version of listening, and we need to make sure we do the latter and not the former?
Tim Muehlhoff: Then let me just... All right, so I'm going to be transparent here. I am, absolutely an ambusher, because I was on the debate team, so my-
Rick Langer: They train you to ambush.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, they train you to ambush. If my kids are having a disagreement, I'll just ask some questions. "Well, okay, so do you believe the Bible's authoritative?" They're like, "Dad," they call me out now, "Dad, that is a pseudo question, man. You do not care about my answer, because you're going to use that." You know what I mean? Ambushing is in the DNA of academia. I mean, we're sort of... Even when you go to an academic conference, there's a responder. In most times there's a person responding to academic paper. I just realized, Rick, I am geared to be an ambusher. The nicest ever, but I'm an ambusher.
Rick Langer: All right. Let me give you one, that again, this is these moments of self-reflection whereas I hear a thing like this, and I stop listening. This is the crazy quote, and it doesn't matter what the quote is about. It just strikes me as crazy, and notice here, I'm not saying it's an objectively crazy quote. I will certainly feel it's subjectively crazy of course, but I'm acknowledging the fact that that's my perception. I'm simply saying when I perceive it as being crazy, I'm just like, "Yep. There's no point in listening to the rest of this thing." I'll always be polite. I don't give them the raspberry or just shut my eyes, saying, "Are you done yet?" But I have mentally ceased to listen.
Rick Langer: Let me unpack this. I realize there's kind of two different ways this happens, and I think both of them are really good for us to kind of build our awareness of. One, is this, the crazy quote, and let me just give you an example of a crazy quote, the thing that I just hear and go, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me." In this case, it actually attaches some to what we've talked about in the previous podcast about differing definitions though, of terms, but the package makes it really crazy.
Rick Langer: This is in a curriculum guide, Stride 1: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction. This is part... Well, let me just read the quote. This is a workbook for teachers to help them deconstruct racist practices in math education. Help them shift their instructional beliefs and practice towards anti-racist math education. Now there's lots of things already that I... I was a math science guy growing up, all the way through college. Chemistry major and all that.
Tim Muehlhoff: I was going to do that, but I went theater. Go ahead.
Rick Langer: Yeah. I'm sure it was nip and tuck for you, Tim. The irony of this is that part of why I love math. I tried to avoid the entire humanities side of campus. I discovered German counted as both a social science and the humanities, so I took German. Why did I take German? Because you know, the funny thing is in German, there's right and wrong answers to the question. There's grammar, and you can learn the grammar, and you can get it right or you can get it wrong. It was a lot like math that I could get right or wrong, or chemistry that you could get right or wrong. I didn't want some subjective teacher grading my paper and saying, well, your paper wasn't "well argued," or some other thing that sounds soft and mushy, so this is me. This is my disease. I'm just letting you know ahead of time.
Rick Langer: When I get a book that's telling me that the focus of my math education should be deconstructing these racial practices and doing anti-racist math education. I'm surely not in favor of racist math education, but it isn't clear to me that math is a sort of thing that goes one way or another, so you can feel me already rising intention. Then, we see white supremacy culture show up in the mathematics classroom even as we carry out our professional responsibilities as outlined in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. Using the California Standards for the Teaching Profession as a framework, we see white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom can show up when; and then they have a kind of a whole set of context. Let me just lift three of the ones from... And they probably had 20 on this first page.
Rick Langer: Number one, when the focus is on getting the right answer. See Tim, I don't know if you heard that.
Tim Muehlhoff: You are so judgmental.
Rick Langer: Tim, laughed on the other side.
Tim Muehlhoff: Rick, you are so judgemental.
Rick Langer: Second one, when students are required to show their work, and the third one was addressing mistakes. Let me just tell you, that when I read this, this does the crazy quote function for me. I'm just like, "I'm sorry. It's white supremacist math education when the focus is on getting the right answer." That just leaves me off the bus. Now, let me point out that I think at the end of the day, no matter how well I listen to something like that, I'm probably going to have some pretty profound disagreements with the people who were drawing up this whole curriculum designed to give to math educators. It's kind of a workbook to refine their teaching skills and make them more anti-racist.
Rick Langer: Yeah, we'll probably disagree, but here's the interesting thing. In fact, it was highlighted when I just mentioned this quote kind of sideways to a colleague, that we were having a discussion about something else, but I just read this, and so it was fresh in my mind and she made this wonderful observations as well. "What context was that in?"
Tim Muehlhoff: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, that's good.
Rick Langer: I realized, that I couldn't answer that question well. Why? Because I had stopped listening. Even some of the things I've shared to explain its context, don't make me feel a whole lot better, but the striking thing to me was I couldn't even tell her that, because I had quit listening as soon as I hit the crazy quote. I didn't even bother to think, "Okay, what's going on? What are their concerns? Did they really want to dismantle right and wrong answers for math?" I don't even know the answer to that, because I refuse to continue to read or to continue to listen. That's one way we do this.
Rick Langer: The other thing, this is kind of like a microculture thing where they have one framework, I have another, and so the thing sounds crazy. The other thing we do that to, all the time, is historical issues. We read a historical thing from the past, and we just say, "What is wrong with those people?" We were just having a conversation with Julia Wood, you've probably heard our podcasts with her talking about women's suffrage. Women, not being viewed as full citizens, not having the right to vote until we had the 19th amendment in 1920, I guess it was. These are all things that we all hear in 2020 mindset, and we just go, "Man, this is crazy. What was wrong with our country and the world?"
Rick Langer: I'm not really planning on defending all of those things, but could we understand a bit of the context? Pop quiz, what percentage, when the American revolution took place and we were complaining about taxation without representation, what percentage of the people in the United Kingdom or in England at that time actually had the vote? Not of women, but of men, or of anybody. The bottom line is the only people who had the vote were property owners above a certain amount. That meant about 10% of England had the vote at that point, and we have therefore British pamphleteers who are writing to America, saying you guys are freaking out about taxation, about representation, because you're not getting represented. 90% of England doesn't get to vote either, but we're still one of the more democratic countries in the world. They were proud of their parliament, and you know who one of the guys who wrote one of those pamphlets is? John Wesley.
Rick Langer: I'm like, "So what do I call John Wesley?" Who was an advocate for abolition, all kinds of other wonderful associations, but he didn't seem concerned at all that a vast majority of people didn't get the vote. England had a major revamp of its suffragette laws around the same time that we did the 19th amendment. At that point, 60% of men in England could vote, and we assumed that it was a hundred percent of men, 0% of women. It's like, well, no only 6%, and why? It was still the residual property ownership laws. When women can't own property, it has the side effect of women can't vote. It isn't actually a separate decision that was made. It's an artifact of the first decision.
Rick Langer: What does that make me feel about everything? I'm saying, look, there's still, of course, is a huge problem in all of this, but could I at least pause long enough historically to understand the context of that problem? Or do I quit listening once I hit the crazy quote, "Women can't vote..." I'm done.
Tim Muehlhoff: All right. This is convicting. Rick, have you ever been asked to leave a college class by the professor, asks you to leave it?
Rick Langer: No, but I did have a couple of moments that were close. I do remember one moment where a teacher, I had apparently an inappropriate look on my face when they were making some claims that sounded a little outrageous to me, and a professor pointed to me and said, "Langer, this is not funny," but they didn't ask me to leave.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, I officially got asked to leave.
Rick Langer: Ooh, what did you do?
Tim Muehlhoff: I'm a leader with Cru. I'm at Eastern Michigan University. Right? I'm in a class called Bible As Literature, and in it, the professor is dismantling anything supernatural, but this is the first day, and she makes the comment, "And obviously seas don't part. We just know that." This was most likely the Reed Sea, which was more like a marsh-
Rick Langer: A marsh, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... than a thing, right?
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Rick, that woman doesn't even finish the sentence. My hand is in the air and I go off on her bias against supernaturalism and there's actually very good evidence that it was the Dead Sea and blah, blah, blah. I just went after her. Uncharitable tone, a punk sophomore. I wouldn't say I was a sophomore. Afterwards, she dismisses the class, "Mr. Muehlhoff, could you stay?"
Rick Langer: We need to have a chat.
Tim Muehlhoff: I sat down, and she just said, "So are you here to learn, or are you here to debate?" I said, "Well, I think that was unbiblical, what you said." She goes, "Okay. I'm going to assume debate. This is not place for you. I asked you to come here and learn, and in one class period, you surmise my entire position. I am a Christian," she said to me, "but you should not be in my class, because this is going to be miserable for both of us."
Rick Langer: Wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: While being teachable, I came to the next class and she starts to say something, and honest to goodness my hand starts to go up, and I pull it back down and go, "She's right. This is going to be miserable." I wasn't interested in learning anything, Rick. Nothing. Biblical criticism, didn't want to hear a word of it, right? By the way, that would so frustrate me as a Christian professor. Let's do the inverse. I'm at a secular university, and I start to bring up Christianity, and the words aren't even out of my mouth, a person has their hand... "That's a hate-filled religion." I'd be like, "Well, come on now, can you put your hand down and let me talk a little bit." Rick, I totally agree with that, is that I stopped listening, and because I've already associated and I'm just ready to go. Boy, yeah, that's a good one.
Rick Langer: I'm not saying with this, that once you listen, you'll end up agreeing with them, but at least understand what's going on and show them the human courtesy of hearing them out, and it is amazing. Like I say, with the history things, I'm not giving these as an argument to say, "Oh yeah, we should repeal the 19th amendment, because of what voting rights were in England." It just is, we indict an entire section of humanity's moral judgment, and we haven't even taken the time to understand how they understood their own culture and their own situation.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's such a good point. Okay. Let me, I'll share one. I want to call them gotcha moments where I believe I have a drop the mic response. I mean, I'm listening to you, I'm listening to you talk about whatever, and the whole time I'm having this internal dialogue, and it's like, "Okay, I need to be respectful, so I'm going to wait a minute as you talk, because once I talk, the mic will be dropped and this conversation is over. I have such a devastating rebuttal to what you're..." By the way, this could be marital communication. It could be anything, "I'm about to dismantle you, but I'm going to be a little charitable and give you just a little bit more time to talk, because we're about to wrap this baby up." Okay? Let me give you for instances, okay?
Rick Langer: Okay.
Tim Muehlhoff: We did have Dr. Julia Wood on our podcast, a brilliant gender theorist, so when the gender conversation happens, and again, I'm not saying I'm fully up on it, but when it happens and we're talking about six year olds, and again, I'm not attributing any of this to Dr. Wood, right? None of this, this is just me. This is surmising the argument, is that some people are saying that six or seven year olds should have the decision to make about their gender. Right? What gender am I going to pick? Well, I came across an article. I actually sent it to you, Rick, that there's a huge debate happening today in Japan, because the age of consent-
Rick Langer: For sexual intercourse, age of consent.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. Is 13. The third lowest in-
Rick Langer: In the world, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... in the world, because there's a huge uprising in Japan saying, and literally, I gave you a quote of some experts saying, "A 13 year old does not have the cognitive ability to give consent to sexual activity." I have a son who's in law school. We were watching something about the gender fluidity thing and allowing eight year olds, nine year olds to make huge decisions, and even take steps of permanently changing their gender. My son says, as he sits on the couch, "Well, isn't it ironic that if a ten-year-old killed somebody in the United States they would be judged as a juvenile, not an adult.
Rick Langer: They couldn't be tried as an adult. Couldn't be tried for murder in a sense.
Tim Muehlhoff: Could not, and why, my son said, "Why is that true?" I said, "Well, because they don't have the cognitive abilities." He said, "Absolutely," so now I'm locked and loaded, Rick. Now I say-
Rick Langer: You have a drop the mic argument right there in your hip pocket.
Tim Muehlhoff: My gun is cocked, and I'm desperate to fire this gun, Rick, because this to me, makes total sense. By the way, let me just be the first to say it is really minimizing and stereotyping people who do argue that an eight year old or nine year... I fully consent to that, that there are deeper arguments. These people aren't idiots, there are arguments to be made about gender dysphoria and things like that. Okay? But none of that matters, because I'm ready to go. I'm locked and loaded. Let's do it. Bring up this objection, please, because I'm going to lower the hammer. Man. That makes me a really poor listener.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Interesting, as I think about that, as you feel kind of exculpated from the responsibility, it isn't a problem for you to fail to listen, because you know where this is going and you know it's wrong, because you have the drop the mic moment and it keeps you from learning things, I think sometimes. We had this experience, relative to the transgender issue, talking about pronouns and how big a deal they are or they aren't. I am not particularly sensitive on that count, in terms of being inclined to the arguments that we have to redo how we do all of our pronouns, which identify their favorite pronouns, but I realize you get the drop the mic argument, and you don't even feel obliged to understand why a person sees it differently.
Rick Langer: You feel good about not feeling that, because you know you're right. I think this stuff, far more so, the examples that you were giving of the drop the mic relative to age of consent things, when you're talking about major interventions in terms of biological, biochemical, biophysical things going on, if you're going to do gender reassignment interventions, either surgically or hormonally, it really becomes to me, a thing that just saying, how can you say that a person can't consent or understand what murder is, why do you think they can unpack the nuance of gender assignment?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Let me give another illustration. I was in grad school and had a... Oh, Rick, this guy, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson is just brilliant. Social constructivist, cultural critic, a believer. He says, he's a believer. We were in this class where I called the politics of gangster rap music. Right? He is defending songs that are indefensible, indefensible. He again-
Rick Langer: In terms of the lyrics, or content, or whatever?
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, the lyrics. Oh Rick, I can't even say any of them on our podcast, because there's no way they would make it through. I made an offhanded comment to a fellow grad student, and the comment was this, "There is no defense for that song. There is none." Okay? Then, literally two months later after he laid out his argument, she turned to me, said, "Do you still think it's indefensible?" I was like, "You know, I hate that song. I get the politics of gangster rap music. It's being used as a resistance movement." I didn't know any of that. By the way, I'm still saying that song is deeply offensive and problematic, but now it's kind of like what you said. I put it in a context and Dr. Dyson's a pretty brilliant guy. To me, that was very powerful to say. He's not a... Why does a really smart man or a woman believe something I think is blatantly ridiculous. That's a really good exercise to say, I'm going to find out.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Well said, Tim, because I think that is part of the deal to say... I think this will be true. We will probably in the course of events, do some podcasts dealing with historical figures, like perhaps a Nietzsche, or a Marx, or a Sigmund Freud, or some of these people that are far, far different, distant from anything that resembles Christian belief and are antagonistic to it, but at some point, I want to say, but these were brilliant people. I mean, just objectively, brilliant people. Why is it that they thought that way?
Rick Langer: Merold Westphal has written this wonderful book called Suspicion and Faith, and he calls it a Lenten devotional that basically takes readings from Marx, from Nietzsche, and from Freud who are all deeply suspicious of religion. He says, "What I want us to do is to have this as a season of lament, because their critiques about the Christian faith always have an element of interesting truth in them, and we need to be able to listen to our critics." Notice again, this is a million miles away from saying we need to agree with our critics, but rather say, "Oh, there's a reason why a thoughtful person might think this, let me at least understand that." That's a valuable exercise, and it requires us to listen even after we know we have some knock-down drag-out argument at the end that won't make us have to agree to that point. Nonetheless, it might help to understand it. Go ahead.
Tim Muehlhoff: G.K. Chesterton had a wonderful phrase, "My beloved foes," and I think we're going to do a segment on this, Rick. You and I have talked about who are the movers and shakers that we disagree with, but you've got to listen to Foucault, Nietzsche, Sartre, right? We got to listen to them, and with charitableness, where do we agree as we move towards disagreement?
Rick Langer: Although perhaps even more challenging is having those listening moments with people who are within your camp as a Christian-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's good, yeah.
Rick Langer: ... but with whom you profoundly disagree. There's quotes that come from people that we hear, and we're just like, "Oh no." Well, we just talked about, will the crazy quote keep you from listening? I would be the first to admit that oftentimes it does. I mean, like I say, this wasn't some abstract exercise. This is a product of self-reflection.
Tim Muehlhoff: You got one more for us?
Rick Langer: No, but I think it's time that we probably wrap up, because I think we've used up our time.
Tim Muehlhoff: We have used up. Man, that went fast.
Rick Langer: It did. We thank you for listening, because we're asking everybody to listen, but thanks for joining us at the Winsome Conviction Podcast. We'd love to have you be a regular listener by subscribing on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, wherever you like to get your podcasts.
Tim Muehlhoff: If these topics are of interest to you, please go to the resource section of the winsomeconviction.com, our website, because Rick and I have written about this. Winsome Persuasion was our first book, and that was how do you listen and engage to those outside the Christian community. Then our second book, Winsome Conviction is, how do you listen to people inside the Christian camp? We're kind of using these podcasts as teasers a little bit. Give you good information, but then we know these are bigger conversations, so please go to winsomeconviction.com and check out our resources.
Rick Langer: Thanks so much for joining us. It's great to have you, and we strongly encourage you to join us in the project of cultivating meaningful convictions, but holding them in ways that avoid dividing our communities.