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Learning from Experience

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the November 1995 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter

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Suggestions are always welcome. Maybe you know of a better way to do something or an easier way to accomplish something. Maybe I had already thought of that, but decided against it for whatever reasons. Perhaps you might learn from my decision. Or perhaps I should rethink that suggestion, possibly learning something myself. Giving suggestions, however, is different from giving orders. One has the hope of improving and the other has the hope of followers. If you want followers, you better make sure they see you as a leader. One of the best ways to become a leader is to have thorough knowledge of a particular subject. If you try to be a leader with limited understanding, you will only frustrate yourself and others.

One day, when a girl and I were visiting someone, the two of them were talking together too fast and too low for me to understand. I asked them what they were talking about and the guy explained the conversation but the girl looked at me funny, almost embarrassed. They continued to talk in the same way so I stopped them a few times. When the other person stepped out of the room briefly, the girl quietly told me I should not ask hearing people to repeat things.

Did I hear that right?

Yup. Never ask hearing people to repeat things because it only frustrates them. Besides that, this was a conversation between her and the other guy and I shouldn't be interrupting when they are talking. Anyway, my interruptions cut into the flow of the conversation and killed the social atmosphere. I mumbled something about knowing him for a while and he's used to it, but otherwise kept quiet.

My first reaction was anger which never solves anything for me. Anger is of course a legitimate emotion and important to release, but for me I avoid using anger to solve problems or else my attempts for resolution will backfire. The other person may also get angry, perhaps back off, maybe shut me out, whatever. At the very least anger is a negative emotion and builds a block virtually destroying anything positive from happening, such as learning.

So I waited until my friend and I drove home when I was calm enough to talk to her about her comments. I told her after years of learning about and coping with hearing loss, her suggestion would literally take me back to the dark ages undoing everything I've build myself up to. If I cannot ask hearing people to repeat things, then I cannot follow the conversation making me just as frustrated as hearing people. No one can expect to find a social cure-all. More important, she was giving me a suggestion about something she just started exploring. She would be better to slow down and learn more about deaf and hard of hearing people before making suggestions.

She said fine, great, no problem. Let's do some research. So I started to think of some ways for her to learn more about deaf culture and hard of hearing experience, but instead she asked me: What I could do to completely avoid asking people to repeat yet have full participation in hearing conversations? Wrong question. Even so I showed her a list from SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing) on what hearing and hard of hearing people can do to ease conversations. However, as good as the list is, she felt it is almost the right answer. She thinks I would still be frustrating hearing people. What she really wanted was that magic something for me to completely avoid asking for repeats. After much discussion, the only thing I could think of was having other person write things down. She thought that was a wonderful idea. Instead of them repeating, I can simply read the words. No hassle, no mess. Problem solved. Right?

Well, often times, people learn better through experience than words. Of course, hearing people cannot experience the deaf or hard of hearing world, but they can experience observation. Since my words had no effects, I let her observe.

About a week later, we met several friends at a restaurant. The first conversation I jumped into the speaker made a joke which I naturally missed, but armed with paper and pencil, I handed them over for him to write down what he just said. Confused, the person, rather than inscribing details of his latest computer story, set aside the paper and pencil and simply repeated what he just said. After a few similar attempts with other people, I gave up and spent half the evening with my usual past-time of examining the aesthetics of salt shakers and sugar packets. Once again, my friend was embarrassed.

I fit nowhere in her world. My hearing loss became disruptive to her but I found it impossible to hide it and pretend I am a hearing person. My ears is as much part of me as the color of my eyes. My hearing friends, family and co-workers all sometimes become frustrated with my inability to hear as well as they can. I get frustrated too. However, we all work together to support each other finding solutions to minimize problems. That is why they are my friends, family and co-workers. Otherwise, if I try to hide my hearing loss, I could also try to shut my eyes.

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