"THAT'S what it's like. That right there." He pointed at the screen. "When we go out and people don't get it, that's what the whole night is like."
The "it" Dale is referring to is being hard of hearing. According to the NIDCD (National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders), Dale is one of approximately 37.5 million American adults who has some trouble hearing. Percentage-wise, that's fifteen percent of Americans over the age of eighteen.
That means that fifteen out of a hundred people spend a portion of their time nodding politely and then leaving as soon as they can. Fifteen out of a hundred people who visited your church, spoke with you as part of your work, or tried to get to know you at a mixer will not cross your path again. Why? Did you you say something insulting? Was it that garlic hummus you sampled in the break room? Are you a putz who sucks all the oxygen out of the room and makes people visualize chewing off a limb to get away from you? I can't really speak to whether any of those things are true about you, but there is one thing I'm pretty sure about. That fifteen percent who walked away? They didn't understand a word you said.
"Oh!" You nod at me. "That's easy to fix. I'll just speak up."
No. No. Here's the thing. You're plenty loud enough. Dale can hear you. My mother, who is also hard of hearing, can hear you. The people down the block can hear you. In fact, noise-sensitive me would be happier if you (and nearly everyone else) dialed the convo volume from ten to five or six. This is not about loudness, it's about clarity.
When you look down or turn your head, most of my family and quite a few of my friends like Dale have to contend with a head-thick buffer between you and them. Your skull, your hair, and all of those lovely brains muffle what you're saying. And when you do look up, you don't have to stress. ev. er. y. syll. a. ble. All you have to do is speak clearly.
To be fair, most of you, probably every one of you who doesn't know (or doesn't know that you know) someone with hearing issues had no idea this is something that is so easy to fix. Dale admitted to me he doesn't always let people know he's missing out. My mom, like many hearing impaired people, is on the shy side. Her hearing loss is part heredity, part age-related. She agrees it would be nice if people just did these things automatically but it helps to be up front about being understood. The most important thing is they've promised they'll say something and not just go away feeling sad and shut out. They'll speak up and explain this to people. Chances are they'll be much better at it than I am.
You and I already know it's just good manners to look at people while you're talking and to look at them when they're talking to you. If you need higher stakes, make it an act of social inclusion. Rebel against the mumbling zombitude that is a side effect of screen addiction.. You know how you always talk about wanting to be a better ally? Here is your chance to be inclusive in way that will make a big difference in someone else's life. One of the worst effects of standing in a room full of people and feeling like you're sealed in a big wad of bubble wrap and duct tape is the way it makes it make you feel isolated. Imagine everyone in the room having lively discussions and all you hear is Miss Othmar's "wah wah wah". After a while, it gets frustrating and maddening and some people actually get depressed because they feel this big wall of sound with no coherence, no aural Rosetta Stone to help them connect to the people and things they care about. It's a cold, lonely place to be, which I'm sure is something none of us intend to create. They call it face time for a reason. Let me and everyone else see all of yours.
*Shut up. If you don't love Peanuts cartoons, you hate America.