Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Whisperers Aren’t Necessarily Deaf

When I awoke yesterday, I had no voice. “Good morning,” did not sound the way I had intended and I was shocked. Of course, the head cold and cough were red flags-but in the past my vocal cords had always escaped even the broadest scope of my sinus infections.

Yet there it was, no sound-or, more accurately, there was no recognizably human sound-coming from my open mouth.

So, of course, I began to tick off my week’s “to do” list involving any sort of gathering with my peers and friends. And right off the bat, some four hours into the future of the day was a board meeting with a report by me on the agenda.

I felt fairly good, so I really saw no reason to skip it just because I would have to whisper my brief report. We were meeting in a nearby house, just about twelve women and me, so the meeting would be on the casual side. I decided to go forward and attend.

The room was noisy as I entered, so smiling my hello went unnoticed and I found my seat. The meeting was soon called to order, with little chatter in my corner of the room. All too soon it was my turn, and I immediately stated that I was sorry to have lost my voice and asked everyone to bear with me.

“Oh, my God!” “You’ve lost your voice?” “Are you alright?” “She can’t talk!” Everyone commented on my dilemma at once. But I was able to whisper, and I felt my three sentences wouldn’t suffer too much from my decision to address them anyway.

It was later that I witnessed a phenomenon that I had seen only once before. Those sitting close to me were talking to me very loudly and slowly, while I gave them a puzzled look and tried to deal with this behavior. “Why are they doing this?” I asked myself—I can hear them, and I certainly can comprehend what they are saying; although they are taking too long to get to the point!

I was transported back to a time nearly twenty years ago in the local drug store where I stood next to my mother, who was suffering from the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease (which, among many other things, ultimately robs you of your voice), as the local pharmacist attempted to answer her rather simple question by practically shouting in her ear words that a five year old would understand. My mother’s faculties were probably sharper than his, and I stood there amazed and surprised by what he was doing.

And now, I get it. Somehow, when another displays a weakness (such as whispering implies), human nature connects all sorts of other abnormalities to it and makes an immediate and incorrect conclusion that other things aren’t working right as well. So when you whisper, people incredibly assume you cannot hear—and, worse, that you cannot make sense of what is being said to you!

Try whispering your conversation sometime. And then understand what a person feels like who has permanently lost his ability to speak in a regular fashion, as others go out of their way to enunciate and volumize their own speech to “compensate.”

My regular voice is slowly returning, but I won’t soon forget the little life lesson I’ve learned in the process.