I'm Already Listening as Hard as I Can!

by Tina Blue
August 26, 2000

          There is a young woman who is trying to become my friend, because she is lonely and she sees me as someone who might help her deal with the difficulties in her life. She used to live with relatives in in an apartment near mine, but now she lives several blocks away. She still shows up frequently, though, seeking me out for advice or just to have me listen to her problems.

          One reason she has sought me out is that I ran a daycare home for eighteen years, and she knows a couple of the people that I used to babysit for. They have told her that I am great with kids and that I can give her advice on almost any aspect of childrearing. They're right. I am. I can.

          Since she has a two-year-old son, she has often asked me for advice or information, and I have been glad to tell her what she needs to know. Too many young parents these days don't have anyone they can turn to for trustworthy answers to such questions as they arise.

          Basically I am a kind person. Although I don't really have any free time, and her drop-by visits inevitably interrupt my work, I would still be willing to welcome her, to talk to her, and to give her whatever advice or information I could concerning her questions about childrearing.

          Except for one thing. She will not, I mean absolutely will not make any effort to speak so I can understand her. I realize that some people have naturally soft voices, but barring an actual physical problem, they could still pick up the volume a little to help out a person with a severe hearing impairment. Besides, I know she doesn't have such a physical problem, because I have heard her yell at the cousins she used to live with when she was still my neighbor.

      When she wants to be loud, she can be quite loud.

          But when she talks to me, she will not bring her voice up at all. Fortunately, she usually finds me at a friend's apartment. He lives upstairs from me, and I use his computer to write and post my internet articles and to do any of my other work that requires a computer. When she tries to talk to me, I watch her lips, I cup my ears, I turn my hearing aids up full blast, and I ask her to please speak up--all to no avail. Then I turn to my friend Michael, and he tells me what she has just said.

          I cannot have a conversation with this woman unless Michael is there to translate for me. Sometimes he is there, sometimes not. So when she shows up looking for company and he is not there, I now turn her away.

          I say, "I'm sorry--I have a lot of work to do, and I wouldn't be able to hear anything you say anyway, so it would just be a waste of time for us to try to have a conversation. I really just don't have time to waste when nothing productive can come of it."

          You would think this would encourage her to speak up when I do talk to her, when Michael is there. But it doesn't. And it isn't just my lousy hearing, either. I'm so good at making out what people say, that many people can't even tell I have a hearing impairment, much less a severe one, unless I tell them. I strain to hear. I pay very close attention to context and to all available signals--like body language, for instance. I do a lot of work to understand what people say to me.

          But I cannot understand a word this mumblemaster says!

      Once when she had just left, Michael turned to me and said in exasperation, "She won't even try!" He had trouble hearing her!

          Besides, it isn't fair that he should have to drop what he is doing just to translate what she says so I can follow her conversation. I do wonder, though, whether this refusal to help me hear is just a way to try to force extra attention out of me. I have seen people do that. And it could be that in her loneliness she subconsciously likes the fact that by making a translator necessary she gets two people to talk to instead of one.

          But if that is what's going on, consciously or subconsciously, her strategy is self-defeating. I avoid all conversation with her unless I have Michael to translate, and he is so annoyed by her unwillingness to try to speak up that he doesn't want anything to do with her.

          Now we screen calls with the answering machine, and seldom pick up the phone if she calls. We also don't answer the door unless we are expecting someone in particular, because she has a penchant for dropping by uninvited.

          This may seem mean, but I think it is mean to deliberately make things difficult for a person with a handicap. I have no patience for such nonsense, and it also seems kind of dumb to act that way toward someone you want something from. She is the one who wants to have a connection to me--I never wanted the connection in the first place.

          And yet I think it is so common for people to refuse to help the hearing-impaired that they will behave that way even when it does them harm.

      I am very busy, and I have a lot of good friends. I don't feel any need to find more people to talk to. But a lot of people really want to talk to me. In other words, I don't seek people out for conversation--people seek me out.

          What many of them don't understand, though, is that when they have a conversation with me, they are, in a sense, auditioning. If they don't make an effort to help me understand, then I don't want to waste my precious time struggling to hear them.

          I have excluded from my life many people who wanted very much to be a part of it. All because they were inconsiderate of my handicap.

          Some people would say this is selfish of me. But I wonder, would they expect a blind person to hang around with someone who deliberately tripped her or moved things so she couldn't find them? Of course not. Yet for some reason, few people with normal hearing seem to think that being considerate toward those with a hearing impairment should be expected, much less required, of them.

          Well, I require it. I'm already listening as hard as I can!

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