Every friendship, every relationship relies on communication. It all relies on the ability and willingness to have a conversation.
Here, I’ll quickly touch upon the fundamentals of communication, and how I’ve had a unique experience with this throughout my life.
Why Communication is Important
We all know that two beings cannot have a connection if they’re not able to understand each other. Otherwise, they’d be two mutes awkwardly staring at each other in an empty room.
Granted, not all communication is verbal. At this moment, my dog is laying to my left, on my bed. He’s putting his paw on my forearm, gazing at me intently, and wagging his tail.
Clearly, he wants my attention (Sorry, Bailey, but this blog won’t type itself).
While canids like Bailey cannot communicate verbally, they have to use physical touching with their primate compadres (that would be us, humans).
Dogs cannot get through the day without some form of touching. Whether it’s lying on your lap, asking for a tummy rub, nudging at your hand to pet them, etc.
They need to touch and be touched because it’s how they communicate. Primates only accept touching when they complete the verbal phrase first.
You can’t have a romantic connection with someone without a few conversations first. Romance is rooted in understanding the other person: what makes them tic, what they’re passionate about, and so forth.
Communicate from a distance first, and watch that physical gap shrink overtime.
Of course, you’re wondering why I’m writing about this.
I mean, I’m spouting everyday knowledge here, right?
Thing is, for most of my life I’ve had a somewhat synthetic relationship with the art of conversation. What exactly do I mean by that?
I was born Deaf and learned to speak manually (moreso than others, if you will). I had to periodically go to an audiologist and learn to move my mouth properly to verbalize certain syllables.
For as long as I can remember, I could always speak coherently. It was hearing/understanding others that was a struggle.
And I mean, a major struggle. More on that in a bit.
Learning speech would not have been possible without the aid of hearing aids and cochlear implants.
My cochlear implant can process sound with only has 22 channels (compared to the several thousand that the “hearing” brain has).
Fortunately, only 8 channels are needed for speech, explaining my ability to sound like I’m hearing.
Often, though, when I’m conversing with somebody their words can get jumbled together. To me, it sounds like gibberish.
For much of my childhood, I lacked the courage to ask people to repeat themselves. My main fear was them saying “forget it” or “never mind” and walk away.
To my own detriment, I would simply look at the person, smile, shrug, and hope they weren’t asking me a question.
You can only imagine what people thought of that.
A few years ago, I was a student at UConn. During my first two weeks there, I was invited to as table of girls at lunchtime. The students at UConn were a very friendly, down-to-earth bunch. Of all the universities I’ve been to, their student body holds the largest place in my heart.
They mostly invited me because I was the new, deaf guy on the block that knew American Sign Language (ASL). Naturally, they were curious and wanted to know more about my background. People like variety.
As I sat down, one of the girls started speaking so rapidly that I couldn’t process a single word she said. She was excited, I mean practically busting at the seams, capitalizing on an opportunity to ask me something.
But she kept going and going and going. I had already locked up at that point. She sputtered out 3 entire paragraphs worth of verbal noise (I hope that doesn’t sound insulting).
As soon as she stopped, I made a faint shrug and hoped she only made a general comment. I mean, was I to ask her to repeat allllll of that? All 3 paragraphs worth of speech? Nah, maybe it’s better to just leave it hanging and say nothing of it.
Instead, her enthusiastic smile (God, it pains me so much to type this) quickly dissolved into a frown as I changed the topic by asking everybody else “so what are your majors?”
The girl in question didn’t say anything else for the duration of the conversation.
Looking back, I feel so terrible about it.
What if she said something like, “Hey, I have a friend that is deaf, could you teach me to sign?” or something along those lines?
The worst part is, I never even got her name.
In fact, I don’t remember any of their names (I was extrememly reclusive that year. It was no one’s fault but my own. The UConn students did what they could to make me feel welcome.)
Since I don’t have any of their names, I have no way of tracking her down on social media.
This brief interaction, in particular, will haunt me for the rest of my life, all because I didn’t have the courage to say, “Haha, could you slow down? I didn’t catch that. :-)”
It’s been a horrendous habit of mine since I was a kid. Granted, I was a lot worse back then with the art of conversation.
You see, even if I could hear what people said, I didn’t know how to respond to it properly.
I did not know how to carry a conversation with anybody. I didn’t know what people usually talk about.
Your average person learns the art of conversation by mimicking family members and following their example. The people in my household were quite aloof (won’t get into that), so I had no reference point when it came to interaction at school.
Since I couldn’t learn by hearing them, I would have to learn visually.
Visually Learning an Art
And that’s where my local deaf school and ASL came in.
I started attending a Deaf school during my sophomore year in high school. It presented a challenge, I not only had to learn a new language, I had to learn how to interact, too.
Private conversations, in deaf schools, are virtually non-existent. Everyone can visually-see conversations being carried out from across the room! Little social perk of ours. 😉
As I saw these conversations being carried, I began to study people.
I studied how they utilized facial expressions and eye contact in certain moments. More importantly, I learned about the content of the conversations themselves (“what exactly is it people like to talk about?”).
I wasn’t learning how to converse. I was learning how to be human.
That was…quite a creepy thing to say, pardon me.
But as time went on, I got better. I became more sociable and improved how I presented myself to others. The art of conversation was granted to me at last. The winter clouds parted and the summer sun shone through from the heavens!
Though I’d like to say that I’m one hundred improved, it simply isn’t the case.
Diamond in the Rough, Still
My anxiety still rises to the point where I can be nonverbal sometimes. It acts up to the point I can come across as cold and uncaring, just like what happened with the girl from UConn.
If she’s reading this, I hope some closure can be found. I know some people see me as a representation of an entire Community. Sometimes I leave a bad impression, because at the end of the day I’m flawed.
Just not as flawed as I used to be, and for that I’m grateful.
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