Spoiler: The vast majority of Deaf people are not upset they can’t hear.
A few years ago I went from being a regular hearing person to having what is classified as a severe hearing loss. I am not going to pretend it hasn’t been a difficult transition because it has actually been really really tough.
What I want you to know is that I have since learned it was actually the “change” in my hearing situation that made it so difficult – not the loss in function itself. What I mean is that I think it would have been just as distressing to me if I had been born Deaf, and then was suddenly able to hear.
It appears that change was my real adversary.
They say that your loss is someone else’s gain so you can see why a lot of Deaf people prefer the term Deaf Gain to Hearing Loss. You didn’t lose as much as you gained in a new way to live your life.
You gain a community of people who when they are listening to you – they are REALLY listening to you. You gain a new perspective – one that is not overwhelmed by constant noise. You see more … a lot more. You gain a new identity, a culture, and a whole new world. You gain a Deaf life, and that’s good news!
Recently my Deaf Instructor asked me why I was taking his class to learn ASL. I explained what had happened to me and his face lit up, and with genuine joy he signed to me:
“Hooray, more Deaf people! That is so great!
Now I have told hundreds of people about my hearing changes over the years, and I mean hundreds because you can’t avoid bringing it up sometimes. I have NEVER had anything close to a response like that – it was amazing.
Most of the time the reaction I get feels more like I am being spoken to in the receiving line at a funeral, “I am so sorry for your loss” (in a hushed voice while holding back tears).
When I first had a major change in my hearing these responses would shake me. To me, they were a reinforcement that something really negative had just happened, and so I was justified in my devastation and desire to withdraw from the world.
I feel differently now so when I get that type of response to my hearing disclosure today it actually kind of annoys me.
I feel like saying: “So are you sorry enough to make a donation? How about $20 so I know that you are really busted up?”, or on a bad day “Oh, well I am sorry that you are so ugly – that must be so hard for you.”
Fortunately, I was reminded by a kind acquaintance that when people say “sorry” it is only because they are uncomfortable with what I have just said. He said I should be patience, and allow them to work through it. In other words I needed to learn to suck it up.
But now that you are aware of my feelings on the subject I am going to have to ask you to consider a different approach next time.
Actually, I am going to suggest that anytime someone shares news with you that is personal, unexpected, makes you feel uncomfortable, or fills you with fear such as:
I am getting divorced, I have cancer, I got fired, I’m Deaf now, etc.
that you resist the impulse to offer condolences as your first response.
Instead of the, “Oh I am sorry to hear that” (sad eyes) response – be more ‘Deaf’ in your approach: be honest, and really listen to them. Make it your first priority to understand what the person is saying rather than just listening enough to them so you can offer a canned reply.
There are countless great and interesting things that happen to be people when they are forced to change, and I believe that when we lead with negative comments (e.g., I am sorry) we often lose the opportunity to have those amazing things shared with us, or to help that person discover those pearls for themselves.
I have no problem with empathy – just don’t lay on so heavy that you block out the sun.
Yes, life is hard, but it is also so very interesting….wouldn’t you agree?!
“There is beauty in the struggle”