To Hear Is Social 

It’s Saturday night. We’re at a restaurant on Tybee Island. A party of nine is at the next table. Five children on one side, four adults on the other.

Three adults sitting in a row can have a conversation. Four not so much. Before long the guy on one end is looking at his phone. 

Same with the kids. The boys bookending the kids side are on their phones. They’re about the same age, could be joking with each other, but since they aren’t sitting together they can’t interact. The three kids in the middle are having a good time. Nine people: one-third on their screens. 

It’s easy to blame the decline in social graces on the rise in screen time, but now that I have hearing support I wonder whether the inability to hear is what pushes many people to their phones, just like those on the fringes of the dinner party of nine. If I weren’t in on a conversation, of course I would occupy myself in another way. I’m not going to sit with a blank look hoping someone notices I feel left out – I’m going to make it appear something else has my interest. 

I believe social connection is the biggest benefit of hearing support. 

My precious Grandma Lillian’s inability to hear caused hilarious (to her grandchildren, anyway) malapropisms. Now, only because I’ve experienced hearing support, I understand she wouldn’t have interrupted a conversation if she had heard it. She would have participated. Joyfully. She couldn’t hear, though, so we missed her stories. 

Ten years ago, some friends told us to click on the subtitles on our TV and leave them on. It was a clue. 

Augmentations like TV subtitles might delay hearing care. There is no equivalent of subtitles to assist my eyesight. When I can’t see well, I pick up cheater glasses at the drug store. When I break a tooth, the choice is between chewing only on one side or visiting the dentist for repair. 

On a Tuesday afternoon George noticed he couldn’t see out of his right eye. Appointments, three surgeries, and two years of painful procedures turned our schedules inside out, but it never occurred to him to consider living without being able to see out of both eyes. 

When he was in his early thirties, George had dental implants. The procedure was experimental and there were no guarantees, but he was happy to spend the money and the time. The perceived risk was worth the potential benefit. 

Why do we feel different about hearing? 

Because hearing deteriorates softly, it’s not urgent. Missing an important word doesn’t equal the pain of putting a hand on a hot stove, or failing to get a driver’s license. The irritating edge of a broken tooth gets our attention. It’s customary to go for an annual eye exam and get our teeth cleaned every six months. 

The ability to see is personal. The ability to hear is social. My grandmother’s hearing loss cost me great conversations with her. I don’t have children or grandchildren, so I have to take responsibility for my own social participation. I am fortunate to have learned I can do that. 

Gratefully submitted,

A big thank you to Wendy for her insightful article and willingness to share with our readers!

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