Listening to Each Other

Earlier this week, I met a lovely woman through our local food pantry.  This was her first visit to the pantry so we had a thorough interview ahead of us.  Her hearing impairment meant that I, with no signing abilities, would have to be creative in my communication.  Her impairment actually meant I had to pay careful attention to her while I communicated.   What occurred was a mixture of hand gestures, writing, and pointing to blanks on my computer screen.  Sometimes, when things got confusing, she’d look intensely at my face.  I’d try to speak clearly, she’d watch my lips and then nod and dig into her purse for the information required.  A couple times, I needed to get her attention and touched her knee for her to look at me again.  It seemed we both had to put energy into our time together.  Mostly, though, it really wasn’t difficult to accomplish what was required because of all the effort she put into “hearing” me.

As she waited for her bags to be brought out, she signed to someone she was “talking” to on her iPhone.  (The ability to communicate through video calls must be life-changing for these folks.) Watching her smile and sign and “listen” with animation was fascinating and, somehow, even refreshing.

In light of experiencing the effort she employed to listen to me, I’m struck by how sloppy I can be as a listener.  I make assumptions about where someone’s going in a conversation. Beginning to formulate my response, I quit hearing all that’s being said. I interrupt, afraid I won’t get to have input.  I physically multi-task and stay preoccupied.  Because I can hear, I think I am listening.

She knew she couldn’t hear so she listened to me very carefully.

It’s ironic – of all the people I’ve been with this week, she, with the worst hearing, made me feel the most listened to.

posted by Kathy Reiter on September 19, 2018

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