Concerto for blunt instrument

An irregular heartbeat from d.o. to you. Not like a daily kos, more like a sometime sloth. Fast relief from the symptoms of blogarrhea and predicated on the understanding that the world is not a stage for our actions, rather it is a living organism upon which we depend for our existence.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Suffering in silence, sort of

This is not so much about living with a hearing disability as about observing others living with my disability. Not being one to make much of an issue of my own problems, I am often silent on such matters. In fact, frequently I can be found grumbling on about the cult of self-absorption soooo pervasive in our society these days. Having said that, it is still rather curious how people react in a group setting when someone with a hearing loss is among them.

Beyond the considerations of, say, providing signers at public presentations (something we see less of in recent times) or volume controls on public phones, the person with a partial hearing loss often finds difficulty in more intimate settings. In meetings and modest-sized events where exchanges of information and ideas take place, I will usually point out during introductions that I am deaf as a post, and ask those among the group who happen to be soft-spoken to please speak louder. Interestingly, and this speaks volumes about our culture, it is most often women who are among the quietest speakers.

Be that as it may, regardless of gender, as the meeting progresses, people invariably slip back into their accustomed levels of audibility. Often this happens in a matter of a few moments, and I am left to wonder not only what the individual is talking about, but whether they suffer from short-term memory loss as well! On occasion I can patch together some semblance of the speakers' meaning by catching a word here or there while observing their body language and facial expressions. As I'm sure you are aware, our bodies make up for shortcomings by strengthening other capacities.

I certainly do not blame these soft-spoken people for their habits. Who among us does not recall some teacher admonishing a quiet member of the class to "Speak up!" ? Being singled out publicly at a tender age this way, probably throughout all their school years, soft-spoken people must harbor a good bit of resentment that may manifest itself in a kind of quiet entrenchment. Unfortunately, their rebellion or retreat becomes my inability to communicate effectively with them and thus, I, too, am inclined to retreat into silence.

Rather than constantly remind folks of my inability to hear them during the course of the meeting, something that itself may be disruptive, I will often cup my ear with my hand as a way of both focusing my aided ear toward the speaker and, hopefully, focusing the speakers' attention to the fact that I'm having trouble hearing him or her. Sometimes it works, but more often it doesn't (one of the reasons may be that many of us do not focus on individuals as we speak). Additionally, there may be background noise such as machinery or other activity nearby causing me difficulty in differentiating sounds. Standard hearing aids do not filter such sounds very well and may even exacerbate directional identification. Add to that my own internal cacophony of noise, something called tinnitus that many hearing impaired people deal with, attributed to picking up the sound of one's own blood surging through vessels in the brain or high-pitched ringing of the ears. All this can make a simple meeting a bit of a struggle.

But this is not a big problem. Meetings aren't much fun anyway. If it means I see less of them it may well be a blessing in disguise! And, I might add, the world is such a noisy, dysfunctional place. It seems to grow noisier and more dysfunctional every day. This fact is more of a problem for you with good hearing than for me with progressively worse hearing. Who knows, perhaps the Great Spirit is turning down my volume as the gods of industry crank up yours! Am I really suffering in silence?

First published in The People's Voice, a Western Mass. newsletter published every solstice and equinox.


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