I hear you …

Sometimes, after repeatedly telling us to clear the table, or unload the groceries, or fold the clothes, my mother would shout in frustration, “Do you hear me?” To which the answer might be a whispered response meant only for another sibling’s ears, “We hear you, Mom. We’re just not listening.”

I thought of that rejoinder the other day, only in reverse: “I’m listening. I just don’t hear you.” As the people around me get older — I, myself, am ageless– 😉 I’ve noticed an uptick in hearing issues, and an increase in miscommunication. A hearing aid could solve the problem in many cases, yet the reason given for not getting one is that they don’t want others to view them as old folks.

Oh. OK. Because nothing says young and vital like asking “What? What did you say?” every time someone finishes speaking. Unless it’s watching TV with the volume up to 500, of course.

Lest I seem unsympathetic, let me hasten to say that I do understand the hesitancy to wear your imperfections for all the world to see. After all, I came of age when glasses were considered a social handicap, not a fashion accessory. Still, the advantages of actually being able to see, pretty much outweighed the uncoolness and inconvenience of wearing glasses.

It’s true that mild to moderate hearing loss isn’t the worst problem in the world. Sometimes, the misunderstandings it leads to are more funny than serious. As when you madly try to find an excuse not to attend the polka party you were just invited to, only to discover you were actually invited to a poker party. Occasionally, it can also lead to awkward conversations. For instance, when you believe a co-worker has said, “Can I get a loan from you?” but he’s simply requested a ride home.

But even when a mix-up in communication isn’t serious, it’s usually frustrating. The person who has a hearing loss hates to keep asking you to repeat yourself.  The person bellowing in response may regret ever starting the conversation. More than once, as I’ve finished retelling at maximum volume a riveting anecdote such as,  “I SAID, I BROKE MY SHOELACES TODAY, AND I HAD TO BUY A NEW PAIR, BUT THEY MOVED THE RACK AT THE STORE. AND I COULDN’T FIND ANY BLUE ONES!” I’ve had the mortifying realization that much of my conversation isn’t worth saying in the first place, let alone worth saying again.  At such times it seems to me the appropriate response to a request to say it again is  “No, that’s OK. It was nothing. Never mind.”

The trouble is, the reluctance to ask on one part, and the reluctance to shout on the other can lead to social isolation for people with hearing loss.  It seems to me that there are enough things that separate us from each other, literally not hearing doesn’t have to be one of them.

Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people. – Helen Keller


Only Connect …

“Only connect …” E.M. Forster

Over the last few years, I’ve read quite a few articles about the isolation of the modern age, the faux friendships of Facebook, the lack of human contact that seems to be the result of this digital age we live in. I have sometimes nodded in sad and perhaps slightly smug agreement with the lament for the loss of “real” communication, the absence of true connection between people.

But as so often happens to my reflexively held but ill-thought-out beliefs, circumstances have forced me to adjust my biases over the past month or so.  I understand a little better now what it can mean to be part of an online social network, how it can amplify the feeling of connectedness and care that immediate family and close-by friends provide. The magic of the online world is that it can bring to you messages of support, contact from long-ago friends, and even the solidarity of strangers at times when you need it most.

I’m immensely grateful for all the outreach from people I know well, but I’ve also been cheered by FB posts and private messages and comments on my blog from those I know only slightly, and in some cases, not at all. When you’re hurting, connection of any kind means a lot. In the wee small hours of the morning, it can be surprisingly comforting to read a line of encouragement from a stranger, to know that someone you’ve never met is wishing you well, to feel, if just for an instant, what all humans long for (yes, even introverts) a sense of connection. Social media provides a conduit for that caring,

Of course I’m still aware of, and horrified by, the ability of social media to spread hatred and lies, to wound instead of comfort, to divide instead of connect.  But when I track back the source (once a reporter, always a reporter — I always check the source)  of some of the kindest messages I’ve received, I often find evidence of a person who holds cultural and social views diametrically opposed to my own. Someone with whom I would not expect to have much in common, and from whom I would not expect empathy.  And yet there it is.

Everybody hurts. None of us escape this life without losing someone or something we love. And when we hurt, we need to connect, to share the pain, to help diffuse it into something manageable, and our better instincts are to reach out, regardless of differences, to someone suffering.

It’s true that social media can isolate us, lure us into walled off areas of like-minded people, block us off from other points of view, bolster flagging self-esteem with mindless “likes” and support the illusion of friendship built on a list of strangers’ names. And yet. Division and isolation are one side of the social media coin, community and connection is the other. I hope when you toss the coin, it comes up connection for you.

“What are we here for, if not to make life less difficult to each other?” George Eliot.