Talk To Me: Getting Along

For much of the past 37 years in which I’ve been, let’s say, “engaged in hearing loss,” I’ve played the good soldier. I reject labels like “suffering from,” and try to limit my whining unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I get my hearing aids, have the appropriate adjustments made, employ compensatory techniques and body positioning strategies, and bluff my way through thousands of interactions. By necessity I curtailed listening to and making music and attending concerts, shows and events, stayed home a lot, endured the requisite stress, embarrassment and isolation, and came to look upon my hearing loss as a kind of badge of courage.

And in all that time, I have done my part to be a good listener, too, because, well, that’s what we do, isn’t it? It’s up to those of us engaged in hearing loss to try and fit into the hearing world, right?

Then, a while ago, it hit me.

I experience multiple communication challenges each day, and have observed that many of those fails are not to be blamed solely on my ears. Hearing AND speech communication go hand in hand, don’t they? In fact there is an entire universe of professionals, organizations and agencies making that point every day through their work and missions.

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Then why do many of us continue to talk about the challenges of hearing loss in a vacuum?

Many of us have succeeded in teaching our families and friends how to communicate with us more efficiently. But too often, we bear alone the burdens of not only hearing loss but also the lack of attention to our joint communication fails — and more importantly, to others’ complicity in it. Good communication for those of us with hearing loss ought to involve more than a request to others to just “face me, speak up, or speak slowly, please.”

As I see it – or rather hear it – many of the communication problems we face today are not someone’s “fault.” Hearing and speech are abilities we have to varying degree depending on our circumstances and the influence of technology and training to enhance them. Communication, on the other hand, is a skill to be learned and refreshed by all of us throughout our lifetime if we expect to have successful personal and professional interactions — whatever we deem “successful” to mean.

Now that we interact daily with ever more of us in ever more settings, it seems to me that the ways in which we talk and hear and listen have been seriously compromised. And that there are many challenges to that communication that go way beyond the fact that 1 in 6? 7? 8? 10? of us have a hearing loss. What’s really got my attention is that so many of my “hearing” friends and associates have noticed the very same thing.

Is it ironic that this situation grows more serious although we have remarkable hearing professionals, technologies and techniques to assist us?

Or is it because those on the other side of us – the “speakers” in all those settings  have a larger role to play than we or they have been willing to talk about?

Next: “Talk to me. But first, let’s agree on some rules.”

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