Friday, April 1, 2011


After a few months of feeling lost and dealing with death, I have decided to stop worrying about what other people think of me. Life is short. You have to do the best you can. You have to assume other people are doing the best they can.

Thinking this way is changing the way I feel about being deaf. I used to worry that if I joked about my deafness, other people would think I am not a serious person. Or maybe they would think being deaf does not matter to me. I am a serious person, but I also love to joke around with friends. I can see that laughing together makes people closer, but here is the problem; I do not hear the weird rumors and funny stories that are floating around. And I definitely do not catch the one-liners that people toss around in groups.

When there are a lot of people around, very few people stick with one-on-one conversations. People jump in and out of conversations all the time. It is not that they want to interrupt an ongoing conversation. They are just simply adding their thoughts and then the conversation takes a new direction and then someone else adds a thought and things go in a completely different direction. I think of this as "multi-conversing."

Hearing people do not need a word for this because it comes so naturally to them. It is easy for them to talk to more than one person at a time or keep up with more than one conversation at a time. Due to my deafness, "multi-conversing" does not work for me, even though I see that it is lots of fun for hearing people. I am not sure deaf people can "multi-converse" even in ASL because you really need to pay attention to the speaker and, in any case, I am not fluent enough in ASL to know for sure.

I worked hard to become an oral deaf person. Most people think I rely on lip-reading to understand what people are saying, but that is not completely true. Lip-reading is very complicated. Every person's lips are different. When I meet someone for the first time, it takes a while before I can read their lips. It is sort of the way hearing people have to adjust to an accent. At first they might not understand the person fully. I do not really hear accents, but I can see speech differences in the lips. That assumes, of course, that I can see a person's lips. If I have a professor with a thick beard, I would not be able to read his lip clearly at all. Fortunately, my hearing aids help me hear just a little bit and that fills in some of what I cannot do with lip-reading.

The bottom line is that often I do not understand what people say to me. I have never known how to let people know that I am not getting what they think they are communicating. It is embarrassing for me--maybe for them. Anyway, today I thought I would try something different. They say if you always do the same thing, you always get the same results. So this was my experiment to see if doing something different would produce a better result.

I was at a meeting, and my all-time favorite professor was there. We were having a conversation one-on-one and, at one point, I made a small sort of pointless joke. I could tell my professor did not catch what I said, but he laughed anyway. I decided to bust him: “You have no idea what I just said, do you?” He responded, “Nope!”

In the past, I would have felt frustrated. I know when people do not understand me, but I do not usually speak up. But today, I felt as though his failure to understand gave us something in common. I have been in that particular situation so many times in my life. I know what it is like to be clueless about what was said and laughing along with others even though I do not know what's funny. So I gave him a huge smile and said, "Welcome to my world." He grinned and laughed and gave me a big hug. That was definitely a better result, and I was trying to figure out what made the difference.

I think in the past I have been really sensitive about my “deaf feelings.” I do not want to be explaining my situation all the time, but then I feel angry—at other people for not understanding and at myself for not helping them to understand. This situation worked because I was able to use humor. Just a small joke about a small mistake turned a potentially negative experience into a positive experience. Humor changed an awkward experience into an experience that helped the other person understand my situation better. I think I’ll try this “experiment” again!