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