I spent yesterday shopping and running errands. It was a good day, as I didn’t really run into any particular difficulty… I wasn’t doing things where I needed to listen or concentrate intently.
My last stop before heading home was the grocery store. It was late, and the deli was actually closed, but I paused in front of the counter to look at some things in the open, refrigerated case below the counter, taking my time to decide what I wanted. Because I wasn’t expecting to see anyone behind the counter, it didn’t occur to me that someone might speak to me from that direction. I happened to glance up, and to my surprise I see a lady hovering and looking pretty disgusted, behind the counter. Obviously, she had been asking me if she could help me find something.
The look on her face was lethal!! I’d seen that look before… it’s a look that says, “I was talking to you and you were rude and didn’t answer.”
I paused, let the moment soak in, and then I spoke those two little words that have the power to make someone melt into a puddle on the floor — “I’m deaf.”
The color drained from the lady’s face and she meekly apologized and slinked away. I went back to making my selection, but had a sense she was still there and looked up again to see her waiting patiently for me to notice her (the counter prevented her from physically getting my attention by touching my arm or shoulder), and this time she offered a sincere and heartfelt apology… she said, “I thought you were just being stuck up.”, as she improvised the sign for “stuck up” by putting her nose in the air and brushing her finger across the tip repeatedly.
I could have accepted her apology and let it go at that, but instead, I smiled, accepted the apology, and then took a minute to really teach her something. I asked her what she learned, which resulted in a confused look on her face. I continued on, telling her that if she truly was sorry that I’d like her to go one step further with the next person she encounters that doesn’t react in the way she expects. I asked that she take a minute to ask herself the question, “Why might this person not be reacting to my speaking to them?” and to remember the time she got upset with the deaf lady at the deli counter and how awful and humiliated it made her feel to find out that the lady wasn’t rude, only deaf.
I went on to tell her that I was in a very good mood after a long, but enjoyable day. But, had my day gone differently… had I been concentrating all day long to hear in meetings and appointments, or had she been the fifth, sixth, or even tenth person to make it seem like I was inconveniencing them by being deaf, I either would have been at the end of my rope and burst out into tears, or I would have taken her head off.
Not only do we have to work harder to understand in the world, we also are held responsible for what we don’t hear and how that makes someone else feel. Wrongly so.
I drove home feeling like I had made the most of that particular teaching moment, and I was proud of the fact that I did it without losing my cool. I allowed the person their humiliation — it was warranted — and then put them at ease in order that I might leave them with something positive… more knowledge to handle the next unexpected reaction in a better way. That’s how we make the world a better place for all of us.
What’s sad? Not too long ago I would have taken this scenario much too personally, and I probably would not have seized the opportunity to make the person own up to their wrong assumption. I would have seethed in silence, which wouldn’t have done anyone any good.
That’s what the SayWhatClub has given me… just by being among others who experience what I experience, and know what I know, I’ve found the confidence to be a better person.