I had to laugh when I saw the “Puffy Shirt” episode of Seinfeld when Kramer’s girlfriend, who talked very quietly, asked Jerry to wear a feminine, puffy shirt that she had designed. He didn’t hear her, so he asked her to repeat. She repeated herself, but he still didn’t hear. He asked her to repeat so many times that it was embarrassing, so he said yes without knowing what she had asked. So he was stuck with wearing a feminine, puffy shirt for his appearance on The Today Show.
That’s what it is like to have a hearing loss. It’s not that we wear puffy shirts, but that we are sometimes forced to do things that aren’t comfortable. It is not comfortable to ask for repetition more than once. Not for us, or for the person who has to repeat.
Because of that discomfort, sometimes we smile and nod and pretend to understand. We wing it. I’ve never met a hard of hearing person who didn’t admit to winging it. We all do it.
Sometimes winging it is okay. Sometimes it is dysfunctional. Even some people with normal hearing wing it sometimes—like Jerry. The difference is that this is a permanent condition for us. If we do it too often, the world will pass us by.
The small stuff is important. Small talk, jokes, quick asides are all important. That’s how we learn about the world. But the reality is, sometimes the flow of information is disrupted while we are trying to figure out what is going on. So we wing it.
By doing this, how are we helping other people to understand hearing loss? When we wing it, we are misleading them. We need to take some responsibility here. The flow of conversation will be altered by our presence. We need to accept that. The alternative is to have the conversation flow around us, without our input.
If they think we understand, when we haven’t, communication has stopped. Communication is a two way street.
If it comes down to having to write it on a piece of paper, in the sand, in the air, it doesn’t matter. Communication is still happening. It is also happening on another level that we might forget about—when we take pains to understand, we communicate to other people about hearing loss. We show them how frustrating it is to us. We show them a little piece of our world. And we make it easier for next time.